Should ‘Britishness’ be taught in all schools?
The new Ofsted report is out. It raises important, not to say disturbing, questions about what schools in the United Kingdom should teach.
One of the areas of focus in the report is the standards met (or not met, in this case) by faith schools. Ofsted found that almost half (49%) of these highly conservative schools are less than good, and more than a quarter (26%) were inadequate. Even more upsetting is the fact that these numbers do not include unregistered schools that are set up illegally to take advantage of a loophole where children do not have to be registered as home-schooled.
There are many things that lead towards schools being given these ratings – squalid conditions, poor management and being situated in highly disadvantaged areas of the country. However, one of the most concerning aspects of the inspection came from the fact that some of these schools were actively teaching values and curriculum that are far from the values that we in Britain take for granted.
According to Amanda Spielman, chief inspector of Ofsted (who has already received threats for publishing these findings), some highly religious faith schools are teaching in ways that ignore or even actively threaten our core values of freedom and respect. Ms. Speilman says that it was found that some schools had material that encouraged domestic violence and bigotry against women and homosexuals. It is horrifying to think that there are groups of children who will grow up thinking that such things are the norm because they learnt so at school.
It is important to note that this should not a blanket condemnation of all faith schools. As Catherine Pepinster says in her Guardian article, there are people who want their children to attend faith schools as some of these institutions are very good. Pepinster also makes a point of questioning what so-called British values actually are. She asks: if a Catholic school teaches that abortion is a sin, should that be against British values because abortions have been legal in the UK for half a century? What about the fact that allowing abortion was a huge step forward for the feminist movement and a triumph for equal rights?
While I can understand her point of view, I disagree with her premise. The British government has actually defined what our values are. In November 2014, the Department of Education published a document to guide all schools in the country to actively promote the “fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.” So while this is a relatively new document, it puts on paper at least some of what those of us who consider ourselves British mean when we talk of our shared collective values.
British values are worth upholding. If the threat to them came from the outside in the many wars we have fought, the threat of some faith schools undermining these values now comes from within our own homeland. While patriotism is an old-fashioned value, it is no longer one we should be ashamed of, and more than ever now, one we should be actively promoting.