We have a variety of surveys throughout the year to ask our students about different aspects of their learning and teaching-some are whole school and some are subject specific. Once or twice a year I do like to involve the whole school via tutor group time, in a more philosophical speaking and listening exercise. It’s important that as they become young adults, our students have the opportunity to discuss and be made aware of, some of the big issues that school doesn’t always offer curriculum time to. Their opinions will matter very much to our nation in a few years’ time-they are our future electorate and future of the UK-most schools would accept that they should prepare their students academically, socially and culturally for the responsibility that will be theirs-we do!
In the last week before Xmas and first 2 weeks of 2015, every tutor group has been given a set of questions about British Values [and school values] to discuss and feedback to our school community via our bulletin, posters and this blog. The topic was chosen because it has become a much discussed topic in education [and beyond] along with ‘resilience’ and ‘grit’ [check out our growth mind-set blogs] and I wanted to gather the views of the most important people in our school-our students! I don’t want to see British Values being ‘done’ to our students because Ofsted or politicians want evidence of it-no tick boxes-I want to see if they have an opinion and what it is. That should provide current evidence should we [and they] wish to action some of their suggestion re school and consider curriculum gaps where they suggest we might discuss British Values and Meols Cop values further.
It goes without saying that in this type of discussion the political views of teachers are not aired with the students; great care is asked to be taken with how the discussions are shaping so that no students feel uncomfortable and as a secular school, our values should reflect no political, religious or any other ‘group’ value other than MCHS and our community. During the chosen weeks, however, the terrorist incident in Paris occurred and this was added to conversations about the freedom of speech, if appropriate and this could include other issues around the world e.g. Nigeria, Syria, Pakistan, to talk further about our own democratic values and freedoms. I shared a set of great resources compiled by another blogger Emma Kell @thosethatcan https://t.co/MPfW3EQM6Z to help discuss the French situation which, although the current debate involves some very difficult and confusing concepts, [for adults!] may have raised questions that our students wanted to pursue. Again caution was requested in choosing the suitability of any resources. Greg Thornton shared another resource he had found to make British Values easier to understand for his year 7 form, which was shared with all staff. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HsxDiVdcyA
The questions asked of each form were these.
The curriculum areas where British Values was covered already, according to the students was in PSD and RE with smidgeons in history, English and RE. The actual descriptors covered least were;
An understanding of how citizens can influence decision-making through the democratic process;
An understanding that there is a separation of power between the executive and the judiciary, and that while some public bodies such as the police and the army can be held to account through Parliament, others such as the courts maintain independence.
I used the DFE descriptors rather than giving student friendly sentences and the separation of power was difficult for them to understand even with guidance. 8HW commented, ‘Don’t do anything about that – what does it even mean?’
The values that they thought were more important than the others covered a range, apart from 1 and 3 but probably more went for 2 and 4.
An appreciation that living under the rule of law protects individual citizens and is essential for their wellbeing and safety;
An understanding that the freedom to choose and hold other faiths and beliefs is protected in law;
8AM said- “We feel that number 4 is more important than the others for people in our country because we have to accept that we have people who live here from other countries.
If it wasn’t protected in law then people would not feel safe expressing their feelings” whilst a couple of forms thought that no 5 was becoming more and more important as we became increasingly more multi-cultural.
An acceptance that other people having different faiths or beliefs to oneself (or having none) should be accepted and tolerated, and should not be the cause of prejudicial or discriminatory behaviour;
Some students felt that the current list of values covered similar values to what they would have chosen –If you were to draw up a list of ‘British Values’ would you choose anything different? Why?-whilst interesting additional ‘values’ suggestions included a greater focus on combatting racism, no family in the UK should go hungry and all should have access to food [food banks] 7GT considered the attacks in France and then sir told me that “this came up during out talks about the French attacks. Pupils in my form are torn on the issue of free speech. Many feel that you should be allowed an opinion on anything, this includes religion but many of the form believe there should be a line drawn when people feel discriminated or targeted. They all do however believe that we should be allowed to have a say and opinion over this, as we do naturally and we should be allowed to say it without a risk of violence.”
The discussion focus for the question–Does your group think that ‘British Values’ are any different to the values other countries may have?-tended to talk about countries who lack many of the rights and freedoms that we take for granted. China and its 1 baby policy was mentioned as was the secret state of North Korea, religious intolerance in Israel and lack of freedom of speech in Russia but more general comments were made about the fact that they felt that we had freedom of choice over religion, we have a separate judiciary and we have a voice. Some other countries they felt were sexist and racist and that in the Middle East some countries lacked respect for women, gave them no clothing rights and discriminated openly against different religions.
As an adult I thought that they might have suggested that many countries had very similar values to us and may question the idea of ‘Britishness’ as unique. They didn’t!
I certainly had no preconceptions on how they would answer my question– Why do you think the government has drawn up a list of BVs? Should schools have to follow this list? I suppose that I believe that they should, as active citizens in a democracy, question what they have been asked to do [apart from when I tell them to put their blazer on-could lead to a serious big question about freedom/rights in school!] so I was interested to see if they had picked up on current political rhetoric. Some felt that the list of values was to keep everyone in order, show what you are supposed to do, to know good/bad or to help us to feel safe and secure. –‘to help us grow up in a happy world and a country without war’. One form said that it was important to know British Values from an early age so that you would be less likely to be racist and another said that schools should follow the guidance to help prepare children for their life ahead.
11AO added that ‘Yes they think these values should be followed in school in order to have a respectful and peaceful learning environment. Whereby everyone feels safe to learn.’ 8HW getting their teeth into the debate suggested that they, ‘didn’t know, what’s the point? Shouldn’t we be learning Maths and English instead? Isn’t it what we learn from our families?’
This wasn’t the first time that I’ve asked the question, what are the most important values Meols Cop should have for our students and staff? , and it won’t be the last. I make no apologies for this-is there a more important question for a school to consider and constantly raise with its own students and wider community? There were a range of answers on a similar theme;
- Treat everyone as equals.
- Don’t judge others by their appearance.
- Students and staff should respect and tolerate the differences in each other, so everyone feels safe and happy at school.
- Make sure people are fair.
- Freedom of speech.
- To feel safe and have access to a good education.
- Respect the promotion of individuality.
- Freedom to express ourselves and our values and beliefs-free from discrimination and prejudice.
- Respect and appreciation of others in the school.
- Working hard to improve yourselves.
- Everyone has a say but also having someone in charge.
- Mutual respect for all – treat others as you would like to be treated.
7ZE took the discussion another way;
7ZE consider the following things to be British:
Proud of WW1 and WW2
Respectful of other faiths/religions
Victorian and Tudors – still see the buildings
Fish and Chips, All day breakfasts
Rights to Education, housing
Equal rights for everybody
And Miss E’s favourite…
Top hats, canes and monocles.
It wouldn’t be a student survey if some didn’t mention their own lack of freedom in school! The earring rule probably isn’t about to change but the students have the right to raise their grievances and we need to explain why some of our rules exist.
Interestingly none of the students mentioned that schools should have the freedom not to teach what they were told e.g. British Values if they didn’t wish to for whatever reason and nor was it easy for them to consider where the lines of freedom should be drawn. Some were uneasy with the cartoons ridiculing religion or any hint of unpleasant words or deeds towards others who were different in race, gender, religion and so on and as 7TE said, ‘it’s a free country, we have many religions and beliefs in Britain and we all need to live happily together’
I did mention on our bulletin that I would share this blog for parents to see today and will add other comments as they are emailed to me. Thank you to all for sharing both personal and group ideas; I’ve enjoyed reading them and hope that the freedom in which each student was allowed to express themselves openly, honestly and without prejudice is something our young adults of the future will always defend and cherish.