Should teachers 'promote' British values?

Sports spectator with abundance of Union Jacks

Come September and every school in England will be required to promote British values.

Promoting something is not the same as teaching something or having respect for something. One can respectfully disagree. One can inform without endorsing.

What Michael Gove is demanding is that every school in England tell pupils that British values are as good as or better than other people's values.

The distinction is important. Independent schools, academies and free schools must already ensure pupils "respect" British values. "This will be strengthened so that schools must 'promote' British values," says the Department for Education.

"We want to create and enforce a clear and rigorous expectation on all schools to promote the fundamental British values of democracy, rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs," department officials explain.

Is that what teachers should do? We may hold these values dearly. We may believe they offer the best chance for a stable and happy society. We may regard them as superior to all others. But should children be told that as a matter of fact?

Start Quote

Would promoting the rule of law make it more difficult for schools to teach about civil disobedience? ”

End Quote

Let us take the first of those values - democracy. "Democracy is the worst form of government," Winston Churchill told the House of Commons in 1947, "except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

It was a good joke, but also a reminder that there has long been a debate about the best systems of governance. Would a teacher who drew pupils' attention to the weaknesses of democracy be in breach of his duty to promote it?

Would promoting the rule of law make it more difficult for schools to teach about civil disobedience? The works of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and John Stuart Mill wrestle with the concept of individual liberty. What definition of this controversial philosophical concept are teachers to push?

And when it comes to mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs, how respectful and tolerant should one be? Traditional religious and cultural views on homosexuality, the role of women or sex outside marriage are deeply offensive to many people.

The phrase "British values" is used to mean contradictory things. For some, it is about British as opposed to foreign values, reflecting the traditional conservative instincts of the population. For others, it is about shared values of tolerance and broadmindedness within a multicultural society, a progressive ideal.

David Blunkett Former home secretary David Blunkett urged ethnic minorities to become "more British"

These two definitions do not sit happily together. One is a singular fixed identity, the other is an evolving multi-faceted concept. You cannot have both at the same time.

This is not the first time in recent years that politicians have pressed the button marked "British values". A decade ago Gordon Brown encouraged the nation to "think of a Britain rediscovering the shared values that bind us together". David Blunkett, as home secretary, urged ethnic minorities to become "more British" and swear an oath of allegiance.

After 9/11 in 2001, and again after the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005, there was much debate as to how our moderation should suffocate extremism, a belief that British tolerance and fair play be deployed as a weapon against Al Qaeda.

Now Michael Gove demands that England's schools should join the fight by promoting British values. But is that what education is about? It could be argued that instructing schools to be propagandists for anyone's values is a thoroughly un-British thing to do.

Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

'Don't give up on us,' police tell ministers

A typical day in a typical force has been calculated - and an increasing amount of time is being spent on public safety and welfare work.

Read full article

More on This Story


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    It's rich saying "individual liberty" is a British value when our government has consistently restricted freedom of speech in this country, You can be arrested for saying something mean on twitter? Some individual liberty there. How about we get a government that respects these values as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    "the fundamental British values of democracy, rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs"

    I don't see how British values are different from any other country in Western Europe. Most British people are decent but I've met quite a few who have no tolerance or respect at all for gays and foreigners.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Are we at last realising that the term "multicultural society" is self-contradictory? A society spawns its own culture, which in turn glues that society together until it's difficult to know which came first. But one society, many cultures? I've never actually seen it. The nearest I've seen is different cultures rubbing along side by side, with a little mixing at the edges.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    What we are looking for is a level playing field at school where all children are treated equally and are expected to fit in with the "School" values.

    That means ALL schools, should be mixed, non-religious, have a simple uniform, and should not conform to any culture.

    So, no veils, no crosses, no kippahs, no afros, no miniskirts, no ....

    At what point do we upset everyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Teachers have quite enough to do without getting all jingoistic. British values is not curriculum subject. No exams are set for that one

    Best thing that could be done is ban all religion from schools the same as France. No burkas, no Christ nailed to a cross. These things have nothing to do with education & should not be in schools at all

    Problem would simply go away if the nonsense was excluded

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    So when trying to define British values the top rated comment is a whinge about foreigners.

    Well played GB...Well played.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    I bet I could find thousands of people from "ethnic minorities", who have done a lot more good for Britain than David Blunkett , but very few who have done more harm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Gove is interested in spouting soundbites that get him attention, but British values? Presumably this means the views of the equally fantastical 'indigenous Briton'. It worries me that a culture of xenophobia is growing daily as neo fascist nastiness finds its way into the mass media. Farage and the Tory right have forced open a door to an unpleasant future that will be hard to close. Scary times.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Why do you need to ask this question? Been patriotic is a natural obligation of the heart and soul. Our government are selling us to the highest bidder and we are paying for the privilege.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.


    In primary schools stocked with library books promoting stoning, clearly a wide range of "other" values.

  • Comment number 40.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    It be great values that are universal, Kindness, to the young and respect to the elderly. Caring for the vulnerable, Giving in chaity. Having respect for women especially your mother. Working hard, being honest etc oops sorry but that sounds too Islamic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Gove didn’t even have WW1 or WW2 on the history agenda…


  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Simple to answer. Do teachers in in other countries promote their own values and beliefs? Of course they do and we should be no different. We should however teach tolerance and understanding even though I'm not convinced that other countries do in some cases.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    #16 I do not regard our history as a burden of shame. GB engaged in the slave trade when that trade was considered a normal way of life encouraged not just by European nations but by African tribes as well - and had been for centuries. The fact that GB took the moral stand to abolish the trade is something to be proud of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Of course all children in the UK should be taught British values.

    How did we ever get to having to ask this question?

    Of course I know the answer, politically correct multi culture idiots who do not represent the majority of the population pandered to those who come here but do not accept our values and culture and do not want to live by our laws.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Can we not just give kids the tools to think for themselves rather than a extreme religion here or a nanny state there. Reasonable, objective, educated people do not feel the need to maim in the name of any ideology.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    British values of democracy, rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance

    Daily, HYS posters fail to display such values.
    Herein lies the problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Nationalism is a retrogressive force - we are moving into a supranational age. It would do the youth better to be instilled with internationalist values and an appreciation for the fundamental ideals of their species

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Sorry, Mark, but you are completely wrong. You appear to have bought the multicultural claptrap wholesale. I don't want to find towns and cities which are largely little Pakistan, or little Poland, or anything else, where I feel like a foreigner in my own land. I want everyone who lives in this country to speak English to a reasonable standard, and to uphold British law (not sharia law).


Page 39 of 41



Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.