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Trojan Horse: Gove's 'British values' in schools is a 'knee-jerk' response, critics warn

Michael Gove’s decision to force all schools to “actively promote clear British values” in the wake of the “Trojan Horse” allegations is a “knee-jerk” reaction that ignores the role of teachers, critics said today.

The education secretary announced yesterday that the government would take “decisive action” after Ofsted placed five schools in Birmingham into “special measures” amid accusations the schools were exposing pupils to Islamic extremism.

The Department for Education said every school would be expected to teach the British values of “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths”.

But the move was dismissed by John Bangs, honorary visiting fellow at the University of Cambridge, as a “knee-jerk” reaction.

“Teachers have a fundamental role to play in maintaining the stability of their community and the community within that, their voice is essential in this and Michael Gove has ignored their views and opted for a knee-jerk reaction rather than holding a proper debate,” Mr Bangs said.

“There should have been a proper inquiry,” he added. “Using Ofsted was always going to be slightly dodgy as you are asking people who are probably on their last job for Capita to go in and inspect the schools.”

Ofsted’s verdict on the schools in Birmingham were viewed as being highly controversial, after a number of schools went from being judged as “outstanding” to “inadequate” in just over a year.

On Saturday, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said the schools watchdog had “questions to answer” in when it came to their involvement in the issue. He then called for a fifth category to be included in all Ofsted inspections that would demand all schools offer a “broad and balanced” curriculum.

The government’s response is to strengthen the Independent School Standards (ISS), which apply to all academies and free schools, and demand schools “respect fundamental British values”.

The wording is expected to be changed so “respect” becomes “promote” and the requirement will be increased to incorporate all schools.

Chris Husbands, director of the Institute of Education and professor of education, said the country had been here before in 1989 with the Speaker’s Commission and in 1999 with the Citizenship report, which both attempted to engage with what British values were.

The trouble, he said, with such moves was that defining British values was much easier in the “abstract than in the detail”.

And he added: “No politician of whatever party should assume a monopoly of the civic values of the education system. It needs to be done in an open and wide consultation.

“However, the principle that a publicly-funded, secular education system should be based on a set of values that genuinely prepare young people for lives as citizens living in a complex society is a good one.”

Related stories:

Trojan Horse: Five schools placed in special measures - June 2014
Hunt: Ofsted 'must answer questions' over Trojan Horse scandal  - June 2014
'Trojan Horse is a complex saga from which almost no one involved comes out well' - June 2014

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