My little boy starts school next year. I’m struggling to accept that the child who was in nappies earlier this year will be starting education next year – what happened to my baby? I have to apply for schools for him by January, so I’ve been doing my research (like the overly obsessed mum I am – I fear his teachers will hate me).
Like every mother’s son, Isaac is the best little boy in the entire world. Sensitive, mischeivous, silly and creative. Nervous as I am of school for him, he’s going to ace it. But I have one plea above all others (well, most others) for whichever school he does go to.
Please don’t teach my child “British Values”.
In September, every school in the UK became required to promote British Values. Following the Trojan Horse scandal, where it was believed some schools were guilty of Islamisation, the education department now requires schools to actively promote what it refers to as British values – freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, mutual respect, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions.
The thing is, I don’t want my child taught British values.
Values, yes. Values I can go with. I hope to help him develop his own values as he grows up, and I hope his school would encourage that. Kindness, empathy, spirituality – I hope those are values he comes to endorse as his own as he gets older.
I want him to learn to think about and question his values – not because they’re British, but because they’re human. “British Values” makes me worry that our freedom, our tolerance, our respect for the rule of law is somehow seen as superior to anybody elses. I don’t want him holding values out of some crazy sense of national pride, but simply because it’s the right thing to do.
I’m concerned about the language of promotion too. Promotion is very different to teaching. Before September, teachers were still required to teach British values. Promotion sounds like endorsement, and I worry that there’s no space for engagement or debate there. The values listed are great – but who’s to say we have the monopoly on them? Who’s to say we can’t engage differently with them?
With endemic levels of child poverty, do we really have it right on freedom? With endless MP corruption scandals, do we really have the best record on respect for the rule of law?
I don’t particularly want my child to grow up “British”, if British means some kind of misguided jingoism. I hope he’ll grow up instead to be a citizen – one who respects and learns from values across the world, even if they’re different to his own. He’s a white middle class child in a Christian household. But I hope he’ll learn from other cultures too. I’d love him to grow up with a sense of love and respect towards nature as Hinduism displays. I’d love him to grow up with the sense of one’s whole day – from the mundane to the exciting – being oriented towards sacred purposes, as in Judaism. I want him to grow up to love and respect and honour other values, not just stick to his own.
Teach him values, by all means. Let him question and query and debate them. Let him throw some out and adopt others and forge his own way. But please, please don’t teach him British values.
Let him grow up as a world citizen, as well as a British subject.