Page 5 - Independent Schools Magazine
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As the General Election looms...
Teaching British values & the limits of tolerance
In the light of June’s ‘snap’ general election, schools will be organising
‘mock’ elections, which provide a perfect vehicle for the teaching of British
values. Philip Rowe, Deputy Head (Academic) of Reading Blue Coat School,
Berkshire, and a politics teacher, discusses the opportunity and the issues...
The teaching of British values
has always been the staple of
PSHE teaching within schools.
At various points, this has been rebranded as Civics or Citizenship or included within General Studies programmes. Its signi cance, however, has been given a substantial boost in recent years due to David Cameron’s demand that schools inculcate these values formally within the curriculum. Not only does this requirement have
to appear prominently in school policies but ISI speci cally target questions within pupil and parental
the same? To the pupil ear, these can sound very much like ‘any opinion is justi ed’ no matter whether there is any evidence to back it up or if it causes offence. In the era of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’, one can hardly blame them.
For, alongside Teaching British Values, there is also the Prevent duty, which is intended to build pupils’ resilience to radicalisation through the challenging of extremist views. The government may have had it in mind what it views as ‘extremist’ but this is not always so simple for teachers in the classroom, seeking to judge what
is acceptable and what is not. The 2016 EU referendum, when much of the campaigning focused on immigration, created signi cant challenges for many in schools as to what level of debate they should accept. The issue of impartiality can also be dif cult for teachers. If one is facing a classroom which is supportive or hostile to a speci c party or cause, how far can or should the teacher seek to redress that balance, especially in the
light of the question in the ISI pupil questionnaire as to whether ‘teachers always give a balanced view’? Even if one is arguing against one’s own beliefs, such a determination to appear impartial
could appear to be just the opposite to a pupil audience.
In the light of June’s ‘snap’ general election, schools will be organising ‘mock’ elections, which provide a perfect vehicle for the teaching of British values. Such elections can either adopt the conventional path, of allowing candidates to stand
for the mainstream parties and thus to espouse their established policies, or pupils can be allowed to go ‘off piste’ and invent
their own parties and policies.
The former approach is perhaps worthier and safer, although pupils will perhaps be tempted to be selective about which policies they will promote (a Lib Dem candidate at one school made much of the party’s commitment to a Royal Commission on drug use). The danger of the latter approach is that the process can lose its educational value and instead revolve around the egos and proclivities of the participants. There is also much less control
as to the policies the ‘parties’ are advocating.
Such events can thus be dif cult to navigate. Pupils are rightly encouraged to re ect upon the electoral process, competing ideologies and the cut-and-thrust of political campaigning. There are limits, however, and teachers
sometimes face the dilemma of when to intervene. At what stage does their commitment to uphold the British values of freedom of speech and ideas stop and their need to promote tolerance and mutual respect begin? In 2010, University College School in London permitted a pupil to stand as a BNP candidate in their mock election. The pupil insisted he had only done it to ‘mock’ the party but his eventual victory induced
a hostile media reaction, even though the BNP was and is an entirely legal organisation. Opinion was split as to whether UCS should have intervened to stop the pupil standing in the  rst place.
Political events, both at home and abroad, are the gift that just keeps giving and pupils in schools have probably never been more interested in the larger-than-life  gures, such as Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, currently strutting the world stage. For that, we should be grateful. To ful l their function of deepening pupils’ understanding of the values of the political world, however, teachers would bene t from clearer guidance and a recognition that encouraging debate and activism can at times challenge the very values they are expected to promote.
questionnaires about how far school ful ls this obligation.
Schools have been told that teaching British values means providing a curriculum which ‘actively promote(s) the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs’. Some have struggled with how to deliver this without it being rather dry, abstract or repetitive. They have also found these concepts dif cult to de ne or explain. The ‘rule of law’ can be summed up for pupils in a few sentences but how can one enable them to understand its signi cance or relevance to them? Are ‘mutual respect’ and ‘tolerance’
History Department achieves Gold award
Merchant Taylors’ Boys’ School, Merseyside, is celebrating the achievements of its History Department after being awarded the prestigious Gold History Quality Mark by the Historical Association.
This is a national award and it took 12 months to complete. The award is rigorous involving a full audit of provision, the creation of a substantial portfolio of evidence
across a range of different areas and an inspection visit to meet the department and observe teaching. The department was assessed in Teaching and Learning, Curriculum, Achievement, Leadership and Enrichment with each section being well regarded in the  nal report.
Mr John Heap, who is Head of History and Politics and a Principal Examiner for the
Edexcel History GCSE, said “We are delighted to be one of the
 rst schools in the country to achieve this prestigious award. The department as a whole has worked hard over a number of years
to create an innovative History curriculum which helps our students to see how the events of the past directly shape the world in which we live.
Pictured (l to r): Mr John Heap, Mrs Claire Croxton with some sixth form and lower school historians and Mr David O’Malley (far right).
Independent Schools Magazine 5

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