Primary schools to teach ‘British values’

Half-baked? Some argue the Great British Bake Off teaches us more about Britain than textbooks.

New textbooks will promote ‘British values’ in the UK’s primary schools. They are part of a government effort to bring communities together — but can social integration really be taught?

Democracy; the rule of law; individual liberty; and tolerance of different faiths.

The UK government says these are fundamental ‘British values’. Now, primary school children will learn their significance. Five textbooks which were published yesterday will promote these principles.

The books celebrate unsung heroes such as bin men, hospital porters and school cooks. They explain how the UK’s legal and political systems work. And they tell the stories behind events such as Remembrance Sunday.

They have been issued as part of the government’s Prevent strategy, which seeks to combat radicalisation and promote strong relationships between communities. Theresa May, the prime minister, favours proactive steps such as these. She says governments have ‘stood neutral’ for too long: ‘we have not, as a society, been positive enough about the values that unite us’.

There is growing concern that the British people — like those in many other Western nations — are not united. The popular desire for tighter immigration controls played an important part in June’s vote for Brexit. And yesterday academics at the University of London published a report showing a growing trend of ethnic segregation, with white British people disproportionately leaving urban areas.

Ted Cantile, the report’s co-author, warned that segregated societies ‘breed intolerance and prejudice’. He recommended the government should incentivise white Britons to remain in more ethnically mixed areas.

And there have been signs that the government is changing its expectations of migrants. In 2010 David Cameron, the newly elected prime minister, declared an end to ‘state-sponsored multiculturalism’. More recently, the government has suggested those who fail to improve their English may be forced to leave the UK.

The MP who chairs the parliamentary group on social cohesion, Chuka Umunna, said yesterday: ‘It is clear we cannot carry on with a laissez-faire approach to integration in our country’. But can government action make society more united?


Yes, say some. People who share a country share a society; it is the government’s duty to help them understand each other. We are the product of our education and a paternalistic hand can help to defeat bigotry. Values such as freedom and tolerance have universal appeal — politicians should proudly promote them.

We learn values organically, others reply — not through government edict. Textbooks give a reductive view of national identity; we learn more by watching TV, a football match or a play. Phony government initiatives deny the real choice: reduce immigration to protect British values, or embrace diversity and welcome the values of others?

You Decide

  1. Are the four ‘British values’ important to you?
  2. Can government action make society more harmonious?


  1. Work in pairs. Think of four values that matter to you. Design a fun activity which would explain them to a 7-year-old.
  2. Split into teams of three. Prepare for a debate in which you argue either for or against the motion: ‘The government should not promote British values’. Be prepared to speak for at least one minute each.

Some People Say...

“We learn more through life than through lessons.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Can I not just ignore this and get on with my life?
The questions being tackled here will affect things you see in your life. It will change the people who you share a society with, what you expect from them and what they can expect from you. And most importantly, what sort of values do you want people around you to hold, and is it fair — or wise — to expect people to share them?
I am not British. Do the same arguments apply?
Many Western nations face challenging questions about their national identities and cohesion between different social groups. Globalisation — the processes which bring people around the world together — has led to a rapid increase in international migration. Many people are coming to Western countries. As a result, questions about immigration and integration have become very important politically.

Word Watch

Since 2014, teachers have had a responsibility to promote British values, as part of Prevent.
Other examples include harvest festivals, bonfire night and Chinese new year.
This strategy was created after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. It is a direct form of government intervention intended to prevent terrorism and radicalisation, and encourage social cohesion. After the 2005 bombings on the London transport network, when home-grown Islamist terrorists murdered 52 people, local authorities spent almost £80m on 1,000 schemes in six years.
Far-right parties in Europe have profited from a perceived loss of national identity. And Donald Trump’s declaration that he will ‘make America great again’ has gained suppor
One third of those who voted Leave said their main reason was ‘to regain control over immigration and the UK’s own borders’, according to Lord Ashcroft Polls’ survey of 12,369 voters on referendum day.
In parts of Blackburn and Darwen in Lancashire, for example, 7.8% of the local population was white British — down from 42.3% in 1991.
This can be defined many ways. Cameron was referring to the deliberate celebration of difference, eg, by funding specific community groups.
Leaving things to follow their own course, ie, without intervention.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.