London, UK (VIAnews) – OFSTED chief Amanda Spielman feels that schools are paying lip service to the teaching of British values, rather than making sufficient commitment to inculcate these beliefs into young people.
British ‘values’ of religious tolerance, democracy, individuality and the rule of law have to be explicitly taught in the school curriculum.
Speaking at the Birmingham School Partnership conference, Spielman said that schools must provide a ‘values anchor in a stormy sea’.
She went on to accuse some parents of not teaching these values to their children, or actively resisting them. Freedom of expression, open-mindedness, and tolerance of views that differ to one’s own form some of these codes, which schools must promote.
Many teachers and school leaders remain uncomfortable with teaching the values, often to very young children. Both teachers and professional bodies feel that extremely young children are too immature to grasp these politically determined values, and their efforts to provide age-specific lessons, such as through artwork, were criticised by the OFSTED chief as being too vague for children to form.
Union leaders recognise that schools have a role to play in addressing radicalisation, with its associated terror threat, but feel that the Government’s instruction to place ‘fundamental British values at the heart of the school curriculum’ are disproportionate.
In 2015, following the ‘trojan horse’ cases in Birmingham, where extremist Islamic views were infiltrated into schools, the Government ensured that OFSTED placed significant importance on a school’s ability to teach their values when making judgements. Where a school fails to meet the required level, school leaders face losing their jobs. Ultimately, an institution can be closed down, or forced into academy status, if it does not meet OFSTED’s expectations.
However, many teaching leaders, including Headmaster Robin Bevan, oppose such intrusion into the curriculum. He urged teachers to ignore the instruction, fearing it would cause more harm and conflict than good.
Spielman has come into criticism for her speech. For example, in promoting the importance of teaching core values, she also talks about the benefit of education in opening ‘up our minds.’
She goes on to say that OFSTED recognises that British Values may not be universally shared. However, she seems clear that they should be universally adopted.
Talking about how ‘British’ values are perceived elsewhere in the world, she observes:
‘And even where they (the values) are understood and valued they aren’t always fully reflected in practice.’
She is, in tune with Brexit Britain, happy to use the term ‘British’, feeling that the values we hold are ones of which the world should be aware and respectful.
Spielman lays the blame for children’s failure to adopt the values partly at the door of parents. She appears intolerant of parents whose views may differ from those promoted:
‘…if children aren’t being taught these values at home, or worse are being encouraged to resist them, then schools are our main opportunity to fill that gap.’
Later in her speech, however, Speilman addressed the complexity of advocating the teaching of values, when one of the most important is the right to hold opinions that differ from the norm.
‘We don’t all share the same politics, nor should we,’ she said. ‘There is a specific issue at play here.’
The issue in question appears to be the number of unregistered schools that are appearing. Michael Gove’s advocacy of Free Schools clearly has inspired parents to seek education for their children which, they believe, matches more closely their own viewpoints, which are often religiously held.
However, these unregistered schools have not passed through the checks and balances Free School must face, and OFSTED is seeking them out.
‘It is vital that we expose the risks of these so-called schools and help parents understand the dangers,’ she said.
Whilst few, if any, teachers would in any way support the notion of radicalisation of young people nevertheless there is the overwhelming feeling that the Government is hypocritical in promoting values to which it does not always adhere itself. For example, despite its support for democracy, recent boundary changes in constituencies are believed by many to have been carried out for political expediency.
And, there are many disenfranchised citizens in the country – the seat of the Speaker, for example, is not properly fought at elections, with opposition only from minor parties and independent candidates.
Spielman’s term as head of Ofsted is in its infancy.
She has been both criticised and praised for her argument that starting GCSEs a year early will narrow the breadth of curriculum children experience.
Her views of ‘British’ values are likely to earn her disapproval from much of the teaching profession, although they may be well received in Government circles, and some parts of the country.