As part of the government’s war on extremism and terrorism it’s now a statutory requirement for all schools, colleges, apprenticeship agencies, adult education centres and prisons to promote and embed ‘Fundamental British Values’ in their day to day work with students and trainees. Today Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech based on the theme of ‘democracy and British values’.
The basis of the Government’s FBVs programme partly stems from the controversial Trojan Horse affair in 2014. An in –depth investigative report by a major Sunday newspaper exposed an alleged plot by hard-line Islamists to take over the management of some Birmingham comprehensive schools. The paper claimed that ‘’dirty tricks’’ had been used to weed out non-Muslim staff. This alarmed the authorities such as Ofsted which necessitated a further investigation.
Likewise there’s growing evidence of radical right, fundamental Islamic and far-right individuals getting a toe hold onto college campuses and into the teaching profession itself.
Most schools and colleges have successfully complied with the new rules. They have strengthened their safeguarding policies and procedures to protect vulnerable students, staff and visitors from extremist propaganda in the classroom to Internet sites.
The Government’s programme of FBVs includes a knowledge and understanding of the tenets of democracy, including voting, representation and democratic values and institutions like parliament; the rule of law; mutual respect including an appreciation of the bases of discrimination and the Labour Government Equality Act’s ‘’protected characteristics’’; respect for other faiths and beliefs and liberty in which the student learns about their legal rights and civic responsibilities in our liberal-democratic, pluralist society. In the main these are Labour values and we should not be afraid to celebrate them.
A number of schools and colleges across the UK have embedded FBVs into GCSE Citizenship courses where they are delivered. Others have integrated them into weekly pastoral classes which have involved visiting speakers such magistrates or MPs and visits to citizenship ceremonies in town halls. Some have gone to great length to use wall posters and social media such as Newcastle and Bradford Colleges’ celebration of ‘Black History Month’ last October.
But to incentivise all educational providers Labour must argue for FBVs to be incorporated into a two year A-level or Level 3-Citizenship programme for all post-16 learners with a ‘Citizenship Diploma’ test to be taken at the age of 19. This is currently being practised in many Democrat run states in North America and works well.
Likewise Citizenship classes with an emphasis on ‘political literacy’ and equal opportunities need to be restored in our secondary schools – an initiative brought in by former Labour Education Secretary David Blunkett in 2001. According to the independent Citizenship Foundation the number of GCSE exam entries for the subject has fallen sharply to below 80,000. Too often the subject has been side-lined or forms one ingredient of PSHE classes. This needs to be addressed by a Labour administration.
FBVs are key not to just to meet the legal requirements of Ofsted, but for students and staff too. Learning isn’t just about preparation for a changing workplace or university, but learning about living in a pluralist Western liberal-democracy like Britain.
Embedding FBVs into the educational curriculum from the age of five to 19 should be a Labour priority to help combat intolerance, unfairness, hate, inequality and extremism in all its forms. With millions of our fellow citizens holding peace vigils and a 1 minute silence in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the Manchester bombing, the need for FBVs could not be greater.