The Commons Education Committee’s final evidence session on ‘Trojan Horse’ extremism in schools saw UK Education Secretary Nicky Morgan talking tough about what values schools should teach their students.
“We must not be shy about talking about fundamental British values” in schools, said Morgan, as a way of counteracting extremism. Non-statutory guidance for teaching ‘British values’ for schools in England will be published, she said.
Counteracting fundamentalism with fundamental national values seems an odd choice of words. During the debate on Scottish independence, people got very touchy about talk of a national value set, as discussion began on what a written constitution for the new country might look like. The argument was we have more in common with ‘ordinary people’ in England than the wealthy elite of Scotland. How can universal free prescriptions be a Scottish value, when it was a Welshman who started it?
The fundamental British values (to be promoted in only English schools) are, according to the Department for Education: democracy, rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect & religious tolerance.
That sounds lovely, but what about these values is exclusively British? Doesn’t ‘Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité’ sound a little more punchy? Outgoing European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, the darling of Better Together for talking down Scotland’s chances of EU membership, recently said: “My vision of the Europe is as a union of citizens who share the same basic values of peace, freedom, democracy, and a just society.” In other words, they can’t be described as uniquely British at all.
Even if Barroso is wrong and they are our national values, how well do we uphold them? There are questions over the legality of the Conservative plans for a British Bill of Rights. In July the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 was rushed through, allowing government to operate blanket data retention. And is an unelected upper house really democratic?
And while the role of Islam in education has come under scrutiny, across the country many schools teach a strict Christian curriculum.
The teaching of values in schools is inevitable. ‘Creating responsible citizens’ is one of the core principles of Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence after all. But framing those values around nationality was frowned upon in the very recent past, so what is different now?