Promoting British Values is required of all early years providers and maintained schools as one of the most effective ways to counteract extremism and radicalisation in educational provisions. British Values are understood as democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs (Department for Education, 2014).
Schools can ensure that they are actively promoting British Values by supporting the spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development of their pupils. Although promoting British Values may seem difficult at first, it is not required of teachers to use specialised resources or to organise dedicated sessions to make sure they comply with Ofsted requirements. Instead, teachers are encouraged to make use of the opportunities that exist within their current curricula in order to promote British Values.
Teachers are encouraged to use or adapt the following examples of positive practice to introduce British Values into their everyday teaching.
Safe Environment to Debate Controversial Issues
Students should be able to discuss controversial and sensitive topics related to everyday life, including terrorism and extremist ideas, in a safe environment. This should be done with appropriate guidance and support from teachers and professionals. Doing so will help students not only satisfy their curiosity, but also distinguish facts from biased opinions and understand how to challenge extremist ideas. Organising classroom debates and discussions will also help students develop their communication skills and learn how to present their opinions while respecting the views of others.
Schools should promote activities that help students work together to achieve both individual and collective goals. While working in a team or a partnership, students learn how to focus on and use their own and others’ strengths to achieve success. Helping students develop such attitudes can be done by inviting them to work on projects that require using different skills and talents, such as conducting research. Research projects provide perfect opportunities to build positive relationships based on mutual respect, understanding one’s own and others’ unique talents, learning and communication styles, and preferences.
Encouraging Children to Shape Their Own Experiences
Schools should encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning and offer them opportunities for self-expression. Students should also be encouraged to express their opinion as to what kind of activities, contexts and topics they wish to explore and participate in. Their opinions should be taken into full consideration, and the best way to do it is to engage students in planning their learning processes. Together with teachers, students can explore what they feel most excited about and what kinds of activities they would like to investigate further. Teachers should always offer enough space for individual students to express themselves so that no one feels discriminated against or left behind.
Promote Democratic Processes
Organising voting for school councils or holding mock elections are great examples of how to support students’ understanding of the functions of a democratic country. This way students not only get to know the principles of democratic processes, but they also have a chance to participate actively in them by expressing their individual views and choosing what they think is best for their school, their team or their community.
Comparing a democratic government with governments of other types also provides a good opportunity to discuss pros and cons referring to students’ beliefs and values, which often encourages self-reflection.
Learning to Defend One’s Own Views
Guided debating or presentation sessions are fantastic opportunities for students to learn how to present, argue and defend their own viewpoints. With adequate support from teachers students will be able to develop their communication skills, sequence their presentations appropriately, choose the most suitable language and appealing arguments to defend their views. Debating teaches students that their voice is important, that they have a right to present it, defend their points of view, to be listened to, and to be heard.
One of the most important aspects to consider for teachers is to support students in developing positive communication skills that fully take others into consideration. Teachers should help students understand the importance of mutual respect and realise that the fact they do not agree with others does not give them a right to offend them while making their stand. In view of the threat of radicalisation, supporting students to know how to argue, defend their own views and challenge the views of others will equip them with a tool to protecting themselves from indoctrination.
Activities Run by Students
Encouraging students to be in charge of their own learning is a powerful tool that helps them take responsibility for their development, to experience how their own decisions influence the environment around them, and to see how they can shape their reality as they contribute positively to society. Extracurricular classes are good examples of student-led activities that offer extra space to decide what is best for them, plan actions, delegate tasks, manage talents and work in partnerships. Apart from the fact that such activities keep students busy with the things they like the most, students also learn how to function in a democratic society where they can show initiative as they influence their own experiences.
All of these examples can be embedded in everyday learning processes as part of the ongoing education that promotes British Values. However, teachers can decide to introduce topics that focus on specific aspects of democracy, such as living under the rule of law, public institutions and their role in the society, or the importance of tolerance and harmony between cultures. These topics can be discussed separately during classes and can become part of larger projects.
Promoting Fundamental British Values as part of SMSC in Schools. Departmental advice for maintained schools. Department for Education, 2014.