Brexit, the High Court and British Values in schools
Debra Price, Former Deputy Head at Benenden School, makes use of the recent Brexit events to emphasise the importance in teaching pupils about British values.
In the past week Britain’s judiciary has been branded by the mainstream media as ‘enemies of the people’, ‘the judges versus the people’. However, the recent ruling in the High Court upholds one of the most important tenets of a democracy: judicial independence.
When the Department for Education issued guidance requiring schools to actively promote British values, it could hardly have anticipated how essential this understanding was to be for every British citizen. These values include ‘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.’
Two years ago, in November 2014, the DfE issued guidance requiring every school to ‘promote the basic British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs'. In July 2015 this was further underlined by the government’s Revised Prevent Duty Guidance on the duty, set out in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, to have ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism'.
School inspections in both the maintained and independent sectors now reflect this requirement. The Independent Schools Inspectorate states that the standard about the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils at the school is met if the proprietor ‘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.’
The advice from the DfE is that these British values should be promoted through SMSC. For independent schools, this is set out in ‘Improving the spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development of pupils: supplementary information Departmental advice for independent schools, academies and free schools’ (November 2014). In this document the understanding and knowledge expected of pupils as a result of schools meeting this part of the standard are listed as follows:
- 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 hold other faiths and beliefs is protected in law
- An acceptance that 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 behavior, and
- An understanding of the importance of identifying and combating discrimination.
So while it is not a matter of discussion for schools to decide whether or not they agree with the need to teach British values – they are required to, whether they like it or not – the value of doing so has until recently been a matter of debate in some schools. But with the Brexit process now entering into a new area of constitutional controversy, the relevance to children of some of the topics they are required to learn about is hard to dispute.
The campaign leading up to the Brexit referendum, and the subsequent process of implementing the decision, has provided, and continues to provide, the perfect case study for almost all of these points. Discussing the optimum stance on Britain’s place within Europe, and indeed within the world, requires an understanding of the question of national identity, including the way this relates to immigration. Discussing the need for countries to work together, either inside or outside a body such as the European Union, requires an understanding of the public sector, not least the welfare state and the armed forces. Discussing the responsibilities of citizens to take part in and respect the outcome of a referendum requires an understanding of the democratic process. And, most topical at the moment, implementing the decision of a referendum requires an understanding of both the legislature and the independence of the judiciary.
These are weighty topics which would form a substantial portion of an A level course in politics, economics or law. But when it comes to teaching these in schools to young children, we hope new books published by Gresham for Key Stage 2 and 3 pupils, which were reported on by The Times, will be a valuable resource.
I no longer have to worry about ISI inspections, but do hope I can go some way to help all those who are charged with planning British values content.