What is ‘Developing British Values’?

Promoting fundamental British Values as part of SMSC in schools (as outlined in this useful DfE document, which also includes examples of actions a school should take) remains a challenging task for all teachers, regardless of teaching experience or subject specialism.

British Values were first defined in the Prevent Strategy as “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”. Yet all too often, teachers are left to develop this important part of the broader school curriculum with inadequate support and resourcing.

This resource seeks to offer high-quality, safe and relevant teaching material to foster deeper understanding and debate within the school-age population. The resource does not aim to deliver a definitive view on the topics covered for teachers and learners to simply ‘accept’ and ‘learn; instead it aims to provide learning stimulus and provoke discussions between students within a safe, tolerant and supportive environment.

‘Developing British Values’ exists both as a standalone resource (under the menu item of the same name) and also as a gateway to other assets and materials which can be used for one-off, dedicated activities, as well as for embedding core themes into a planned series of lessons.

What do British Values look like in schools?

The Department for Education guidance includes sections on what schools should be doing through their provision of SMSC and what understanding and knowledge is expected of pupils; it also gives examples of specific actions a school might choose to take. We recommend that you download a copy and read the guidance carefully.

All key agencies (DfE, Home Office via Prevent, Ofsted) are consistent in their definition of British Values as “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”.

The latest Ofsted ‘School Inspection Handbook’ mentions British Values four times referring to the definition above and specifying the inspectors should look to see ‘acceptance’, ‘engagement’ and ‘promotion’; it should be “at the “heart of school activities”, and this should be displayed by pupils, teachers and leaders.

This is no small ask, but throughout this resource, we aim to give suggestions for embedding British Values into the DNA of your school in a natural and healthy way.

British Values may be a sensitive subject for students and teachers, for a wide range of reasons which may not always be apparent. So it is essential to provide a safe and engaging environment for sharing, discussion and learning, recognising that some students may not feel comfortable sharing, but ensuring everyone has an opportunity to speak, and that their contributions are valued and respected.

Classroom management can help, by applying varying questioning techniques to avoid simplistic answers, by encouraging as many viewpoints as possible, and by asking students to agree the parameters for discussions (who can speak, how and when) and to chair/facilitate the discussions.

It is important to consider basic online-safety precautions to ensure that students understand how tolerance expected in the classroom applies equally beyond the school gate. Further information can be found on the LGfL online-safety portal, which includes its own British Values filter.

Is there a list of things to do?

It is important that your school is not seen to be engaging in a tick-box exercise – this will not lead to a judgement that you have embedded and embodied British Values. However, the DfE document referenced above states some helpful overview and examples (the following is taken verbatim from the document):

Through their provision of SMSC, schools should:

  • 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 of 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 list below describes the understanding and knowledge expected of pupils as a result of schools promoting fundamental British values.

  • an understanding of how citizens can influence decision-making through the democratic process;
  • an appreciation that living under the rule of law protects individual citizens and is essential for their wellbeing and safety;
  • an understanding that there is a separation of power between the executive and the judiciary, and that while some public bodies such as the police and the army can be held to account through Parliament, others such as the courts maintain independence;
  • an understanding that the freedom to choose and hold other faiths and beliefs is protected in law;
  • an acceptance that other people having different faiths or beliefs to oneself (or having none) should be accepted and tolerated, and should not be the cause of prejudicial or discriminatory behaviour; and
  • an understanding of the importance of identifying and combatting discrimination.

The following is not designed to be exhaustive, but provides a list of different actions that schools can take, such as:

  • include in suitable parts of the curriculum, as appropriate for the age of pupils, material on the strengths, advantages and disadvantages of democracy, and how democracy and the law works in Britain, in contrast to other forms of government in other countries;
  • ensure that all pupils within the school have a voice that is listened to, and demonstrate how democracy works by actively promoting democratic processes such as a school council whose members are voted for by the pupils;
  • use opportunities such as general or local elections to hold mock elections to promote fundamental British values and provide pupils with the opportunity to learn how to argue and defend points of view;
  • use teaching resources from a wide variety of sources to help pupils understand a range of faiths, and
  • consider the role of extra-curricular activity, including any run directly by pupils, in promoting fundamental British values.

Are London schools different?

London schools have some of the most multicultural student populations in the world. Most students co-exist happily and respect each other’s cultural and religious backgrounds as a matter of course.

However, exploring issues such as British Values may surface any underlying tensions which have not previously been seen to be part of school life.

As with any sensitive subject covered at school, it pays to understand the individuals and groups you teach. Teachers should be particularly mindful of students that may have recently sought asylum in the UK, as well as those who might be experiencing difficult situations at home (some of which will not be known to the school).

What resources can you use to teach British Values?

The London Grid for Learning has a comprehensive range of online learning resources that support teachers as they deliver the National Curriculum, but also for dealing with many significant topics that go far beyond the confines of the school day or exam syllabus.

Over the years, we have developed particular assets within a number of different and seemingly unrelated resources that can be used to help develop discussions around the development of British Values.

Many teachers have expressed frustration about the lack of background information or resources available to help develop the notion of British Values, so we curated assets that otherwise form part of a separate discrete learning resource to will help stimulate discussion.

There are also a number of key LGfL resources that are core to British Values, and the Wilton Park and Michael Morpurgo videos were explicitly filmed with British Values in mind, but as you will see, resources that are about breaking down prejudice (Everyone Matters) or finding out more about the world around you (Growing up around the World) are just as useful for a school to help pupils understand and develop British values.

What has Michael Morpurgo got to do with British Values?

On the same day we were interviewing Michael Morpurgo for ReadingZone Live and exploring his perspective on British Values, the Chilcot Enquiry was publishing its findings into the Iraq War.

Much of Michael’s writing explores issues involving the role of law, tolerance, compassion and understanding of others, so he offers a rich source of writing for young readers to develop their own values and belief system.

Michael’s remarkable insight into the human condition, its strengths and weaknesses, not to mention conflict, war and peace, offers great stimulus for discussion within the classroom and beyond.

What has Wilton Park got to do with British Values?

LGfL has worked in partnership with a branch of the Foreign Office based at Wilton Park, West Sussex, which hosts international delegations and supports “conflict resolution through the promotion of British Values”. Senior civil servant and CEO of Wilton Park, Richard Burge, offers his expert view on what the British Government seeks to achieve through international reconciliation between governments or sections of population experiencing conflict around the world.

Richard does not claim his views to be definitive ‘truths’, but they can form the basis of a range of varied and stimulating class discussions relating to British Values.

We interviewed Richard on the day that Britons voted in the European Union referendum, which lent a whole new significance to many of his words. The result of the referendum could be seen as at odds to the Foreign Office position as captured on camera that day; indeed, the views expressed on behalf of the UK government may change over time.

Whether this is the case or not, the Wilton Park videos provide stimulating catalysts for the discussion of many complex issues which face all members of society as Britain prepares to exit the European Union.