Schools are pinning up pictures of the Queen, double-decker buses and the London Eye in an attempt to show they are adhering to government guidance demanding that they promote British values, Labour’s Tristram Hunt said today.
Speaking at the London Festival of Education, the shadow education secretary said there needed to be a “more sophisticated” response from schools and the government to the rise in students being confronted with radical and extremist Islamic ideologies.
His comments were in response to the disappearance of three teenage students from east London who are feared to have travelled to parts of Syria controlled by Islamic State (Isis).
Asked if schools should be held responsible for the political opinions of their students, Mr Hunt said they have a “very significant responsibility” in terms of safeguarding and protection.
But he added that while there was a limit to how much teachers can do to prevent their students from being exposed to radical views, too many schools were making token efforts in promoting British values.
“We have to go deeper and further and often in a more sophisticated manner when we think about this debate about British values and what it means,” he said.
“I have been around enough schools with boards on with pictures of Her Majesty the Queen and double-decker buses saying these are British values. That is not really a sophisticated enough attempt to think about the kind of enlightenment, pluralist values which are going to combat this cancerous jihadist ideology which we need to root out in the east end of London as much as in parts of Birmingham.”
Speaking after the session, Mr Hunt went further, adding that he saw such attempts, including pictures of the London Eye pinned up on classroom walls, “every day”.
“I don’t think we have a smart enough response to the some of the issues about identity and cohesion in modern Britain,” he said.
Ministers ushered in new guidance demanding all schools promote British values in response to the so-called Trojan Horse scandal last year. Ofsted has also made British values part of its inspection regime.
And while Mr Hunt ruled out abolishing the requirement should he come to power following May’s general election, he said there needed to be more thought around how schools can approach the issue.
In this week’s TES, experts warned that headteachers were not being given enough training to spot the tell-tale signs of students being radicalised.
Under new requirements brought in by the Home Office as part of the new Counter-terrorism and Security Act, schools will be expected to report students that may be of concern.
Nicky Morgan lends support to headteacher of Syria-bound schoolgirls – 25 February 2015
Missing Bethnal Green Academy students 'not radicalised' on school site – 23 February, 2015