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British values: how are schools expected to teach them?

In a press release on 27 November 2014, the Department for Education told all schools to promote 'British values' and produced advice for doing so through SMSC. Here we explain what that means for schools.

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Ofsted will assess 'British values' both through the curriculum and through SMSC (spiritual, moral, social and cultural development).

And Ofsted now pays a lot of attention to SMSC when deciding whether your school is 'outstanding', 'inadequate' or somewhere in between.

What does 'British values' mean?

According to Ofsted, 'fundamental British values' comprises:

  • democracy
  • the rule of law
  • individual liberty
  • mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith.
School Inspection Handbook from September 2015

How must schools teach it?

Advice from the Department for Education is that British values should be promoted through SMSC.

For maintained schools, this is set out in Promoting fundamental British values as part of SMSC.

For independent schools, free schools and academies, it is set out in Improving the SMSC development of pupils in independent schools.

(Oddly, the DfE makes no mention of the statutory citizenship curriculum; it's as though ministers have completely forgotten they have a subject purpose-built for making sense of such things already.)

What must be taught?

The advice here is basically the same for maintained schools ('state' schools) and independent schools (private schools, academies and free schools):

  • Enable students to develop their self-knowledge, self-esteem and self-confidence
  • enable students to distinguish right from wrong and to respect the civil and criminal law of England
  • encourage students to accept responsibility for their behaviour, show initiative, and to understand how they can contribute positively to the lives of those living and working in the locality of the school and to society more widely
  • enable students to acquire a broad general knowledge of and respect for public institutions and services in England
  • further tolerance and harmony between different cultural traditions by enabling students to acquire an appreciation for and respect for their own and other cultures
  • encourage respect for other people, and
  • encourage respect for democracy and support for participation in the democratic processes, including respect for the basis on which the law is made and applied in England.

The only difference for independent schools is in the penultimate paragraph, which includes them in requirements regarding the Equality Act's protected characteristics:

  • encourage respect for other people, paying particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010.

How will it be assessed?

In its revised Framework for school inspection, Ofsted is clear that schools will struggle to get a decent rating if they fail to deliver good SMSC, which now includes 'British values'.

Ofsted added 'British values' explicitly to the Social strand of SMSC in paragraph 133 of its new School inspection handbook 2014:

'The social development of pupils is shown by their:

  • acceptance and engagement with the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs; the pupils develop and demonstrate skills and attitudes that will allow them to participate fully in and contribute positively to life in modern Britain.'

But school leaders must also demonstrate that they are addressing British values through the curriculum (despite the DfE forgetting to mention the curriculum in its own advice):

'Inspectors should consider how well leadership and management ensure that the curriculum:

  • actively promotes the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.'

(School Inspection Handbook 2014, paragraph 152)

Citizenship has it covered

While teaching 'British values' may seem a tall order, never fear: schools have the tools to cover much of it already.

School leaders often overlook the citizenship curriculum because the Government has beein doing the same, but it's still there for schools (there's even a GCSE and A level in it) and it was purpose-built for exactly this sort of exploration and learning.

Citizenship underpins much of SMSC. For example, exploring human rights and our political and legal systems through the taught citizenship curriculum goes a long way to learning 'the difference between right and wrong' and 'the consequences of behaviour'.

The big caveat

The language we hear from government is of 'promoting fundamental British values' and of young people 'accepting', 'respecting' and 'tolerating' - as though we all agree already on what those values are, accept that they are unique to Britain and believe we should follow them unquestionably.

At the Citizenship Foundation, we think education is about helping people understand how things work and how to challenge and change them for the better.

Values won't be assumed because schools demand they are, particularly if they're very different from those at home: they have to be arrived at through mutual exploration, critical analysis and understanding.

That is what citizenship education aims to achieve.


This article is taken from doingSMSC, our website that explains SMSC (spiritual, moral, social and cultural development).

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