There has been a significant amount of political rhetoric surrounding the topic of citizenship, such words as 'Britishness' and 'civic nationalism' being prime examples. I wanted to use this opportunity to dicuss a topic that will, no doubt, continue to be 'hot' for sometime. 

Citizenship has been a topic of discussion before people were even recognised as a citizens. However, NIcky Morgan has reignited a debate that originally started when the Government published the new teaching standards. The Teachers' Standards states for teachers to ensure they are: 

'not undermining fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.' 

She decided to stick with the Govian style of teaching and jump feet first into a tricky debate on teaching nursery children these 'fundamental British values'. Here comments can be found: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28700449

I don't want to focus on the teaching of British values to nursery children, I want to focus on the debate that these values have anything to do with the word British at all. I would argue very strongly that 'Britishness' and 'British Values' are political constructs that are being used for a political agenda that make teachers uncomfortable teaching.

I want to address the questions: What does 'Britishness' mean? and How do we teach British Values?

Ah yes, those distinctly British values that are ingrained in us all as exclusively British. Um, what were they again? Sense of humour - or lack of one? Mutual Respect -fair play old chap? Democracy - something, something Churchill, something, best of a bad bunch, Individual Liberty - ah yes Liberté, égalité, fraternité the most British of values? But yet Britishness seems to be everywhere, we are constantly reminded by numerous quotidian events by the performance of our sporting representatives, the prevalence of flags, symbols and emblems of nationality in public spaces and you only have to google Nigel Farage to see him pulling a pint of Proper Job down the local pub - which the name of the pint inevitably symbolises Work Ethic must be added to our list of 'British Values'. 

Why do we need this political construct? Are the values mentioned not universal or personal rights? Teachers would feel much more comfortable teaching rights as moral or as human rights. Including the word British as a prefix gives it a worryingly nationalist tone. The term has been used to politically coin a sense of national identity and citizenship to please the people who believe this sense of what it means to be British. In trying to find a term and definition, the Government has in fact divided opinion of what it means to live in this country. What it means to be British is different for every single person, even within the same community or school. In doing so, the Government is forcing disunity and forcing people to 'choose sides' within this country where there exists no need.

Another example that highlights the mistrust of using 'Britishness' to describe anything associated with values, because of the political connotations, was the plan for a Britishness day. In October 2008, Gordon Brown dropped plans for a Britishness day, along with suggestions from immigration minister Liam Byrne that it could be marked by such national 'distinctives' as drinking, watching television and appreciating both the weather and Morris dancing. I wonder what the British people think to such a description of their key pastimes. Although this could be argued as containing a significant amount of exaggeration or romanticising, that is almost the point. The term 'Britishness' is used and associated with examples such as these, which is clearly extremely subjective and political. The fact that a day to celebrate Britishness was proposed to encourage unity but then withdrawn because of its apparent negative undertones is a prime example of the difficulties in using Britishness or British values to describe a set of ideals.

How do we teach 'British Values'?

The new curriculum believes it should be taught through history, British history. Michael Gove stated that the 'national story' can be used to show the importance of these values. It is unclear whether the government is intending for the negative elements of British History to be taught as well or for us to pick and choose the few times in history we showed such angelic qualities. Putting the word British onto history restricts our ability to be able to teach in a balance, fair and representative way. Here is the personal value of democracy and Britain has shown it here, here and here - but not here. 

Instead you should use a variety of different histories to teach moral values. By taking this approach you are broadening the minds of children rather than restricting them to a damaging political construct. They are being restricted to the view that the values are exclusively 'British'.  'Britishness' and 'British Values' is a hot-potato topic in schools and could lead to an issue in the teaching of the new curriculum. Britishness, values and citizenship is a very political topic and the culture that has emerged today makes teachers and especially trainee teachers feel as if they are 'walking on egg-shells' as there are numerous 'political correctness 'holes' they could potentially fall into. 

I would advise Nicky Morgan to take the word British out of the Teaching Standards and out of the political rhetoric she seems to have jumped straight into. 

Teach that values are moral, they are universal and the child will form their own personal values that will not be tainted by politicisation.  

 


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