Written by ‘Classical Liberal’ 





The five British values taught in British schools:

  1. Democracy: everyone has a voice.
  2. Rule of law: a law put in place to ensure everyone is treated the same.
  3. Individual liberty: the freedom to make our own choices.
  4. Mutual respect & 5. Tolerance: to celebrate diversity and treat everyone how we would like to be treated.

‘Britishness’ comprises the qualities that bind and distinguish the British people and form the basis of their unity and identity. The expressions of British culture—such as habits, behaviours, or symbols—have a common, familiar, or iconic quality readily identifiable with the United Kingdom. Dialogue about the legitimacy and authenticity of Britishness is intrinsically tied with power relations and politics. Expressing one’s Britishness provokes a range of responses and attitudes ranging from advocacy, to indifference, through to rejection.

Although the term ‘Britishness’ came into prominence only in the late 20th century, its origins lie with the formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. Since the late 20th century, the exploration and proliferation of Britishness became directly associated with a desire to define, sustain or restore a homogeneous British identity or allegiance to Britain, prompting debate. For instance, the Life in the UK test has been described as controversial. UKIP has asserted that Britishness is tied with inclusive civic nationalism. In contrast, the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) reported that Scots, Welsh, Irish and ethnic minorities might feel quite divorced from Britishness because of ethnic English dominance.

The British government has sought to promote Britishness with the inaugural Veterans’ Day (now called Armed Forces Day), first held on 27 June 2006.

In November 2007, The Times asked readers to define Britishness in five little words. The winning suggestion was ‘No motto please, we’re British’.

After the spread of the coronavirus pandemic to the UK in 2020, Queen Elizabeth II delivered a special address that listed ‘the attributes of self-discipline, quiet good-humoured resolve, and fellow-feeling’ as characteristic of Britain.

A duty to promote democracy forms a crucial part of the ‘duty to actively promote fundamental British values in schools’ in the UK under section 78 of the Education Act 2002. According to the Department for Education’s advice for maintained schools in 2014, ‘Schools should 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’. The Government’s Prevent strategy of 2011 was cited as the source of this list of values. Within the Prevent strategy, extremism is defined as:

vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs. 

The Department for Education‘s advice for schools also stated that UK schools must do the following. First, encourage respect for democracy and support for participation in the democratic processes. Second, ensure pupils acquire an understanding of how citizens can influence decision-making through the democratic process. For example, by doing the following. First, including in suitable parts of the curriculum, material on the strengths, advantages, and disadvantages of democracy, and how democracy and the law work in Britain, in contrast to other forms of government in other countries. Second, ensuring that all pupils within the school have a voice that is listened to and demonstrates how democracy works by actively promoting democratic processes, such as a school council whose members are voted for by the pupils.

Initially, the teaching of the five values was not made compulsory. Instead, educators were asked to: respect the five fundamental values; and report students who appear to be radicalized, as defined by contravention of those five values. Later, in 2014, it became compulsory to actively implement the five fundamental values outlined in this definition in British schools.

The move to mandatory implementation is outlined below. The five values were a response by the UK Government to fears of Islamisation of British Schools, notably the Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham. In November 2013, an anonymous person sent Birmingham City Council a photocopy of a letter. The letter was supposedly found on a boss’s desk. The letter outlined plans to stealthily take over the operations of local Birmingham schools and implement an extreme Islamist curriculum. The letter outlined five steps to the program as follows. First, find schools where the majority of students are from a Muslim background. Second, identify a small group of parents within those schools who will agitate within for an Islamic curriculum. Third, select staff members sympathetic to hard-line Islamism to cause trouble among staff resistant to any moves. Fourth, run an anonymous campaign aimed at getting the headteacher to resign. The Operation Trojan Horse letter also claimed that this operation had already succeeded at several schools in the Birmingham area, listed in the letter.

In December 2013, the Operation Trojan Horse letter was handed over to the Department for Education and Home Office. The letter was subsequently declared a fake by investigators. Well, of course, they would say that, wouldn’t they! It would be grossly politically incorrect to admit that such a letter was authentic.

Nonetheless, the letter was also leaked to the media in January 2014. When the press got their hands on it, the story snowballed with headlines like the Daily Mail, ‘Revealed: Islamist plot dubbed “Trojan Horse” to replace teachers in Birmingham schools with radicals’; and, the Birmingham Mail, ‘Council leader calls for a fightback on “schools jihad plot”’.

(To be continued in Part II)

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