The UK Government say that schools in the UK have a 'duty to ‘actively promote’ the fundamental British values' and 'must have a clear strategy for embedding these values and show how their work with pupils has been effective in doing so.' Their aim is for all young people to 'understand the importance of respect and leave school fully prepared for life in modern Britain.' But what exactly are British Values, how do they prepare young people for modern life in Britain, and how can you embed them into your school curriculum?
British Value 1: Democracy
The UK is a democratic place, where citizens use voting to influence the decision-making of the Government. From any age, anyone can get in contact with an MP to express their views and from the age of 18 (or 16 in Scotland), most UK citizens can take part in elections and referendums. To be prepared for life in modern Britain, young people need to leave school knowing how this system works and being prepared to participate in democratic life.
Pupils are expected to have an understanding of how citizens can influence decision-making through the democratic process
How can you teach it?
On a basic level, annual school council elections are a great starting point for embedding a sense of democracy into the classroom. By allowing young people to take on the role of a politician, to consider how they would like to support or change their school community, and to host a democratic election for this place, pupils from a young age can get a sense of democracy in action.
However, school councils don't automatically equal democracy being embedded into the curriculum. A well-run school council can make this happen, but as many experienced teachers know, school councils can be out of reach for KS1 pupils, and often fall by the wayside under the many other pressures of the curriculum.
A more long term solution is to make use of news resources such as BBC's Newsround, especially during times of high political news, to allow young people to be exposed to the democratic world and to encourage questions and deeper understanding. This will not only give them an ongoing understanding of democracy, but also of the changing landscape in the UK, allowing them to form their own opinions of British politics.
British Value 2: The Rule of Law
The second fundamental British value is the ‘rule of law.’ The rule of law relates to the need for rules to make a happy, safe and secure environment to live and work. The police and courts enforce these rules, including practices such a arrests, custody and jury service.
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;
How can you teach it?
Schools naturally embed the rule of law into their curriculums by upholding behaviour policies and following through on the consequences of the agreed class rules being broken. This is a great starting point, but doesn't completely prepare young people for life in modern Britain. In today's world, young people are constantly exposed to matters of the law through all forms of media, and all teachers will have experienced young people asking about a recent news story that they've seen on TV or heard about in the playground. These opportunities are perfect for embedding British values into the curriculum; allowing these conversations to open in the classroom and to discuss different news stories allows pupils to see these values play out in real time.
Of course, sensitivity is needed when talking to young people about current affairs. This post on how to talk about controversial issues in the classroom provides some great advice on how to feel more comfortable talking to young children about difficult topics.
British Value 3 & 4: Individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs
The third and fourth British values we have opted to team together, in line with the curriculum aims outlined by the Department for Education's Departmental Advice, shown later on in this article.
Individual liberty means that, providing the law is not broken, we are all free to choose what we want to do. This includes the freedom to vote for whoever we like, to move around the world freely, to free speech, and the ability to spend time with anyone we choose. Mutual respect and tolerance says that while we might not always agree with other people, we always try to show respect for their thoughts and feelings. This includes those with different beliefs, opinions and religions.
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
An understanding of the importance of identifying and combatting discrimination
How can you teach it?
With regards to different faiths and beliefs, much work around these curriculum aim is met in a school's Religious Education policy, where all pupils will learn about a range of different beliefs and religions as part of their programme of study. However, it must be noted that all parents have the right to withdraw their child from RE lessons, maning that this cannot be relied upon for all pupils to meet the British values curriculum aims.
Additionally, aiming to meet these curriculum aims through RE lessons alone does not equal to embedding British Values into the curriculum, so schools must make sure they have a range of strategies in place to make sure that they are embodying British values at all times. Recognising a range of different celebrations from different religions, across the curriculum and through assemblies can help with this, as well as allowing pupils to share their own experiences. This will provide young people with a wealth of knowledge on different beliefs and squash any discrimination that could arise.
Moreover, schools should encourage healthy discussions and debates within their classroom. A weekly VotesforSchools subscription does just this: young people participate in a weekly discussion around a current issue, informing children of what's going on in the world and allowing them to take part in a weekly national vote to share their opinion and help make a change in the world.
The VotesforSchools programme ensures full coverage of both British values & SMSC, and has been praised in a number of Ofsted reports for its ability to use oracy and discussion to prepare young people for life in modern Britain. Their selection of free downloadable lessons will allow you to trial out the programme within your school.