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Schools: British Values

Volume 754: debated on Thursday 12 June 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to draw up a list of British values to which all schools will be asked to subscribe.

My Lords, independent schools, academies and free schools are required to encourage pupils to respect fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. That provision was brought in by this Government. We plan to strengthen this requirement so that those schools will have to promote British values. Ofsted will also be asked to change the inspection framework to reflect that expectation so that maintained schools are also held to account on the same basis.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging and positive reply, for which I am sure we are all very grateful, but as we approach the 800th anniversary in 2015 of Magna Carta, which was the foundation of the rule of law in our country, should we not be considering drawing up a new British charter of responsibilities and rights which every school in the land should be asked to subscribe to? While we are thinking about these things, would it not also be a good idea to follow the example of our friends across the Atlantic and encourage schools to fly the flag?

I think we will all reflect deeply on the events in Birmingham. I am also sure that all noble Lords will study Peter Clarke’s report when it comes out. We will then decide what other actions should be taken. As for flying the flag, I think it is a matter of individual choice and for individual schools to decide.

The Minister referred in the first part of his Answer to the word “encourage”. Then he said that the new position will be “will have to promote”. What does he mean by “will have to promote”?

It does not seem to us to be satisfactory to ask a school merely to teach about British values if it does not also teach the importance and primacy of them and promote them. It is not satisfactory to teach about British values and then have a separate lesson that teaches that other values are more important. This will be inspected by Ofsted, within some clear frameworks, by Ofsted inspectors trained to do so. The governors’ handbook will reflect this, as will our guidance on the equality Act.

My Lords, in considering such values, will the Minister take into account a list of British values drawn up by faith leaders at the turn of the millennium, to which all faiths agreed to subscribe?

My Lords, does my noble friend agree with me that it might be very illuminating to ask immigrants to this country which British values incentivised them to come to live here? I suspect that free speech will be one of them, but there may be some very interesting ones that we could add to the list.

My Lords, will the Minister take this opportunity to confirm that in establishing and promoting British values, we are not undermining the multiracial and multicultural society?

My Lords, does my noble friend acknowledge that there are certain dangers in Governments dictating what should be taught and done in our schools?

I acknowledge that, but I think we all share the expectation that we prepare our pupils adequately for life in modern Britain and make sure that their curriculum is broad enough for them to be able to be so prepared.

My Lords, whilst I would have thought that we should all agree with and welcome the fact that there is to be added emphasis on respecting British values, will the Minister also undertake to ensure that the opposite side to values—bullying—is something which all schools should aim to abolish?

I agree entirely with the noble Baroness. All schools have to have an anti-bullying policy. Ofsted inspects on that. We have reduced the guidance on bullying behaviour from nearly 500 pages to a much more focused list.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if we are going to have a statement of values, it will be meaningful only if it is properly embedded in the curriculum, rather than just a statement standing alone? How does that square with the Government’s decision to give academies and free schools the freedom to determine their own curriculum? Will the Government now be prescribing what British values should be taught in subjects such as history, English, citizenship—you can see that this could flow through the whole curriculum—and what consultation will there be if those curriculum subjects are going to be changed to reflect these new issues?

I must say that I struggle to keep up with the Labour Party’s flip-flopping on this point. Its last report said that it would allow all schools not to teach the curriculum. The fact is that all schools have to teach a broad and balanced curriculum and have to take account of spiritual, moral, social and cultural issues, and we will make sure that all schools have to teach British values.

My Lords, following on from the question from my noble friend Lord Morris of Handsworth, would the Government not find it wise to bear in mind the words of another very distinguished former general secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, Mr Ernest Bevin, who stated about a matter of this kind: if you open up that Pandora’s box, you will find it full of Trojan horses?

Having spent the past few months dealing with this issue, I find it difficult to find it amusing, but I note the noble Lord’s point.