British values? Pupils should be questioning the rule of law

My school, along with other individuals, obtained notification one particular Friday not too long ago of adjustments that had been to come into force just three days later in the way we look following pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural advancement.

There had been a consultation more than the summer holiday, but the sudden implementation left some of us feeling breathless. Governors must henceforth, we have been informed, ensure that colleges “actively market the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, personal liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of individuals with various faiths and beliefs …”

The Buddies School Council, which supports Quakers in education, had argued in the consultation that “British values” must be replaced by “human rights” or “international law”, but this view was seemingly not taken on board.

At a time when the Uk government is sending bombers to the Middle East, we had a weekend to feel what the “fundamental British values of democracy” might really be. Are British values different from French or Swedish ones? How can governors truly ascertain the degree of our exercise in marketing these values, what ever they may possibly be? Can we appear at values with out seeing how these are translated into action? And ought to we really market an unquestioning adherence to the rule of law?

As a Quaker, I tend to feel that we must at the extremely least question the rule of law, and without a doubt, on event, really feel compelled to break it. The Quakers’ guidebook publication Advices And Queries says: “Respect the laws of the state but allow your first loyalty be to God’s functions. If you feel impelled by strong conviction to break the law, search your conscience deeply.”

It has been the questioning and difficult of the rule of law that has shaped and developed some of the British values that we are now asked to encourage. Acceptance of the law would have meant that slavery remained legal, that homosexuality was a criminal offence and that girls had been incorrect to campaign for universal suffrage.

It is not challenging to find contemporary examples of action endorsed by the government that would look to breach the demand that we “encourage respect for democracy” and “further tolerance and harmony among distinct cultural traditions”. The sale of the teargas utilised towards demonstrators in Hong Kong by Uk arms business Chemring is unlikely to be condemned by the government.

Indeed, as Sarah Waldron from the Campaign Towards the Arms Trade (CAAT) mentioned: “Last year’s arms fair in London welcomed some of the most authoritarian regimes in the planet and those who profit from their brutality. The discounts carried out right here fuel death, injury, dread and repression – yet instead of banning it, the government aids make it come about.”

Individuals who felt impelled to draw attention to this anomaly had been arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespass.

At least the new regulation needs governors to encourage respect for other folks, “paying distinct regard to the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010”.

How does “freedom of speech” – which is surely a British value that all of us could agree is central to our democracy – and the necessity that, in political problems, students “are provided a balanced presentation of opposing views”, sit with this insistence that we not only need to allow “pupils to get a broad common information of public institutions and providers in England” but we also need to enable them to have respect for those identical institutions and solutions (although not, by the way, for the Welsh or Scottish ones, which are presumably not deemed worthy of respect in our British-worth driven culture).

Of program we want students’ experiences not to be blighted by bigotry but this authoritarianism – motivated by a concern that multiculturalism has failed in some of our communities – is not a clear or practical way forward.

I object from a liberal Quaker point of view to the concept that the person conscience is not valued: am I guilty of brainwashing in expressing this principle to my students? I think that one of Quaker schools’ strengths is that we do not feel we have a monopoly more than the reality and actively inspire our college students to query authority. This falls far quick of the proselytising that the establishment seems to accept from several faith colleges, who can demand, for example, church attendance as a condition of admission.

I worry that this new legislation sounds like authoritarianism and could be the basis for heresy hunts.

At our school we will hold on to some values that are wider than “British” and may well appear for our inspiration to human rights legislation and international law. Over all, we hope that we can translate some of these values into pupil action, like the right to protest.

Michael Goodwin is headteacher of Sibford college, one of 7 independent Quaker colleges in the United kingdom and Ireland

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