Do we have time to value values? Should values be taught? If so how? Which values are best? Who says? Should children be left to develop their own values? Why or why not?
Such questions were asked after DfE published ‘Promoting Fundamental British Values in Social, Moral, Spiritual and Cultural Education’ in November 2014. This document requires teachers to promote British values and help children distinguish ‘right’ from ‘wrong’ while acknowledging that ‘different people may hold different views about what is “right” and “wrong”.’
Government has defined British values as ‘democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and individual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs’. Thus while acknowledging that values may differ, schools are being asked to promote British values.
There seems to be some confusion about whether it is possible to isolate distinctively British values. When asked if there are values associated with being British several student teachers, teachers and headteachers answered in the affirmative. Findings from a small scale research project undertaken by academics in four British universities can be viewed in a presentation to local NQTs about fundamental British values (FBV) in the Cumbria and Lancashire CPRT regional network page. Several participants cited politeness, support for the Royal family, reminiscing about ‘our great country’ as a dominant empire, stiff upper lip. I would query whether such tokenistic and colonialist values should be promoted with our young people.
At the same time, a sizeable number of student teachers, teachers and headteachers in our sample said it was impossible to agree on a set of values because Britain is so diverse. To them, British values are a social construct varying from person to person. One student teacher said that values change to incorporate the changing landscape, mix of people and political agenda at a particular time.
The government’s initiatives on ‘British’ values is often claimed to be a way of avoiding terrorist attacks and preventing radicalisation. However such initiatives may prove counter-productive because some young people, particularly Muslims, feel marginalised by an emphasis on so-called British values over which they have little ownership. So primary teachers may be fearful of navigating a way through the complexities and contradictions of a directive which asks them to promote values that could be described as tokenistic, trivial and, for some groups, downright exclusive.
Thus many primary headteachers and ITE institutions have chosen – and one can see why – to just tick the box and adhere to the guidance paying lip service, to the promotion of British values (whatever they might be) and getting on with the main business of the day which is scoring high on the league tables to maintain their reputation, intake, OFSTED scores and jobs. In fact there is often a reluctance to engage with any politicisation of the curriculum, it is just too risky. So all this may leave us feeling pretty bleak about the future – but I would argue, because I am an optimist, that valuing values is necessary and fundamental to our practice.
For example in the latest CPRT research report Primary Education for Global Understanding and Sustainability, Bourne, Hunt, Blum and Lawson claim that learning about global social and environmental justice in school is more effective and meaningful if located within the wider critical understanding of values. Similarly, the aims presented in the Cambridge Primary Review final report are underpinned by values which represent moral standpoints on relations between individuals, groups and societies.
Valuing values may be necessary but do we have time to take a step back and reflect on those values? Many teachers in today’s schools say they are too busy preparing lessons, facilitating and assessing children’s learning to consider the values which underpin their teaching. In recent reading group sessions with CPRT Schools Alliance members in my region where we discuss CPRT research reports or briefings, teachers often bemoan the lack of time to reflect. Student teachers, although also busy, do have more opportunity in their courses to reflect on pedagogy and values underpinning their teaching and the children’s learning, because in assignments they are specifically asked to do so. Similarly teachers who engage in CPD or Master’s work have chosen to carve out time to critically analyse their practice and engage in research to improve their children’s learning.
Master’s courses provide space to step back and think, about values and pedagogy. The Master’s course at the University of Cumbria provides a range of opportunities from ‘dip your toe in the water’ modules introducing models of reflection, to more substantial practitioner research modules. We need to reflect – we need to take back ownership of our profession, feel empowered and confident that we can engage in open discussions about values within our initial teacher education courses, within our staffrooms and with our children. We should all, not just a minority, be brave and not shy away from being political, adapting our practice in the light of well-respected research.
Too often teachers only change their practice to copy, with little criticality, the latest fad, or meet the needs of a governmental directive simply because they are told to do so. We should challenge each other, and be strong enough to be challenged in turn about our values and practice, and be brave enough to take a risk for what we believe in. Do our values include resilience, perseverance and bounce-back ability when we encounter failure? (See Barry Hymer’s pocket book about Growth Mindset). Failure can be valued rather than avoided.
Therefore, rather than pretending they don’t matter because we don’t have time for them, we could reflect on our values, consider what we really value. We can draw on our deeply held convictions to provide us with the courage and energy to supersede an obsession with hitting the imposed requirements of getting all our student teachers to be OFSTED grade 1, or being an OFSTED outstanding teacher and get on with the main task of the day, namely, to draw on the aims of education as set out by the Cambridge Primary Review, attending to the wellbeing, engagement, empowerment and autonomy of our children. And actually – I am ever the optimist and hold a glass half full perspective – such values could help us produce grade 1 students and be outstanding teachers, but more importantly we will serve the needs of our children, their education and our world – a ‘win win’ situation.
Sally Elton-Chalcraft, of the University of Cumbria, is CPRT’s regional co-ordinator for Cumbria and North Lancashire. Contact her for further information or if you would like to help to develop activities in that region.