Do you teach Britishness?

Teachers' willingness to promote national values has been brought under the spotlight in a new poll. Irena Barker reports

Irena Barker

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Nearly three quarters of teachers believe promoting British values is part of their role in school, a survey has found.

And almost half of them disagree with letting pupils wear religious symbols in schools, according to the poll carried out for Teachers TV.

Andrew Bethell, the channel's chief executive, claimed that the survey showed a "shift away from multiculturalism in schools" and the need for pupils to have a sense of "common identity".

"Britishness is a big part of this," he said, "Even when it comes to uniform there is a recognition that, however the courts are ruling, the right to wear religious dress and symbols with uniform should not be automatic."

High-profile legal clashes over uniform have included the case of Sarika Singh, 14, from Aberdare Girls' School in Wales, who won her High Court fight for the right to wear a Sikh Kara bracelet to school last July and Lydia Playfoot, 16, who lost a legal challenge to wear a Christian chastity ring.

The Conservatives this week accused teachers of focusing on negative aspects of British history. Michael Gove, the Shadow Education Secretary, said: "Our children are either taught to put Britain in the dock or they remain in ignorance of our island's story."

But the poll of 643 primary and secondary teachers, carried out by YouGov, found that 72 per cent regarded the promotion of British values as part of their role, with 21 per cent seeing this as a central part.

Jennie Albone, a 25-year-old English and drama teacher from Buckinghamshire, said that it was unclear what "British values" meant, although it was hard for teachers to avoid transmitting part of their own value system to pupils.

"The concept is tremendously tricky, but in some respects I would understand British values to mean multiculturalism and diversity.

"If we are to compete in the modern world, we have a duty to foster individualism, independence and resilience."

When asked about the most important factors in promoting community cohesion, 20 per cent of the teachers surveyed cited a clearly enforced uniform policy and nearly 60 per cent said strong discipline was important.

The survey came as Teachers TV prepared to show a week of special programmes centred around the theme of Britishness, starting this Monday.

Highlights include a debate about Britishness in schools presented by Channel Four's Krishnan Guru-Murthy, a programme about British Asian identities and another about racial divides in Birmingham and London. There will also be a programme on the inclusion of Polish children in British schools.

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Irena Barker

Irena Barker is a freelance journalist.

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