British Values in Intercultural Education in the UK

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What has come to be known as “British values” caught the attention of the participants in my recent summer study abroad program on Intercultural Perspectives on Teaching and Learning.

First published on November 27, 2014, by the UK’s Department of Education under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government, the guidance “aims to help both independent and state-maintained schools understand their responsibilities in this area. All have a duty to ‘actively promote’ the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs” and to ensure young people leave school prepared for life in modern Britain (GOV.UK).

British values poster
A big poster display with a highlight on British values in St. Andrew’s (Barnsbury) CofE Primary School in London. (Photo credit: Casey Lum)

Indeed, a great deal of what we witnessed during our co-curricular field study visits of four state-funded primary and secondary schools in London attested to the schools’ curricular efforts for nurturing multicultural sensibilities among their students. However, the notion and the government-mandated promotion of “British values” has not gone without attracting diverging interpretations or reactions since the guidance’s initial announcement and implementation (see for example “The problem with teaching ‘British values’ in school“).

During a semi-formal interview, a high-ranking administrator at St. Andrew’s (Barnsbury) CofE [Church of England] Primary School (himself a veteran teacher) observed that many of his contemporaries were unsure what the concept really was when it was introduced; many others continue to be weary about it today. Given the country’s colonial history, for example, questions have been raised about whether these values were nationalistic in nature or not. But over the years, our host added, many educators in the UK have come to appreciate what those values entail and can do in promoting what we would call intercultural competence among the young. In fact, Mayflower Primary School in Towers Hamlets, another of the schools we visited, maintains a dedicated web page to showcase the school’s interpretation of and approach to promoting British values.

Casey Man Kong Lum, Associate Director
Center for Intercultural Dialogue

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