Politeness? Reserve? Stiff upper lip? Not bloody likely

5th March 2010 at 00:00
Government attempts to promote 'British' values in doubt as research reveals that trainees don't know what they are - or don't want to teach them

Trainee citizenship and history teachers claim to be unsure how to define the concept of "Britishness", according to new research.

Recent revisions to the national curriculum place increased emphasis on "British" social and community cohesion, but nearly 60 per cent of survey respondents said that there were either no British values that could be taught or that they were unclear what they were.

Lee Jerome, of London Metropolitan University, and Gary Clemitshaw, of Sheffield Hallam University, surveyed would-be history and citizenship teachers training at seven different institutes.

Eighty per cent of respondents agreed that schools should promote a core set of values to pupils, but there was little unanimity over what these values should be.

More than a quarter suggested that schools should encourage respect for others, and one in eight recommended teaching tolerance. Almost as many wanted pupils to learn about responsibility and human rights.

By contrast, only one trainee believed that it was important for schools to promote love of learning as a core value. Anti-bullying, hard work and environmental responsibility were equally unpopular.

Meanwhile, fewer than half the trainees actually wanted responsibility for conveying these values to pupils.

The researchers explained: "While student teachers are generally happy to accept that the institution of the school can and should promote specific values, they ... conveyed a great unease with the concept of the teacher as a didactic, authoritarian transmitter of attitudes, values and moral positions of any kind."

This unease became particularly apparent when trainees were asked to consider the importance of teaching British values.

Fifteen per cent claimed that there were no specifically British values while a further 42 per cent were undecided.

"There are English values, Welsh values, Scottish values, Muslim values, Hindu values, and many other values," one respondent said. "To expect everyone who lives in Britain to have the same values is ... to suppress generations of history."

Another argued that, while many Britons believed in justice, tolerance and equality of opportunity, these were not exclusively British values.

And even those who believed in explicitly British values struggled to define them. Just under a third cited tolerance, while a fifth referred to fair play. Others spoke about politeness and a sense of humour, although one respondent dismissed these as "cultural myths".

"People attach various characteristics to their notion of British," another trainee said. "But often it is based on a 'golden age'."

Other respondents cited traits such as snobbery, xenophobia, stoicism and a fondness for queuing.

Many trainees emphasised the difference between teaching British history and teaching about Britishness.

"I'm fairly confident about the national story," one said. Another agreed that she would happily do a lesson about Dunkirk or the Blitz.

The researchers concluded that politicians' plans to promote a new British identity could well be thwarted by precisely those intended to promote it.

But, they said: "There are grounds for optimism about the critical citizenship work with which the trainees are willing to engage."


Which values should schools promote?

Respect for others: 27

Tolerance: 10

Responsibility: 9

Human rights: 9

Diversity: 8

General principles: 8

Good behaviour: 7

Equality: 6

Politeness: 6

Compassion: 5

Inclusion: 5

Justicesense of fairness: 4

Empathy: 3

Democracy: 3

Prideself-respect: 3

Honesty: 2

Being a citizen: 2

Non-violence: 2

Pupil voice: 2

High expectations: 2

Love of learning: 1

Anti-bullying: 1

Confidence: 1

Hard work: 1

Environmental responsibility: 1

Stiff upper lip: 1

(Total: 109 trainees)

What are British values? An edited selection of trainees' responses:



Fair play



Rule of law

Sense of humour



Being reserved

Work ethic


Christian morality

Island mentality



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