Educating British values proves that colleges are about more than exams

The Division for Schooling (DfE) recently issued advice to colleges relating to their duty to promote “British values” in college. All colleges must champion the values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and respect for and tolerance of people with diverse faiths and beliefs. The concept, said education minister Lord Nash, was to tighten up the standards on the spiritual, moral, social and cultural advancement of pupils and to strengthen the barriers to extremism.

The move has produced controversy, specifically in some faith communities. But it could also be positive. For the previous quarter century, colleges policy in England has been dominated by three functions: a large – internationally outstanding – degree of management by central government a singular concentration on specifications, targeted primarily on academic achievement a robust emphasis on marketplace-fashion competitors both in between schools and in terms of provision, with the local authorities challenged by academies, free of charge colleges and other individuals.

Though there is no signal of a slackening of central control, anxiety in excess of the dangers of extremism and radicalisation, prompted by the so-called Trojan Horse events in Birmingham, could drastically adjust the other two features.

Even though promotion of the “spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) improvement of pupils” has lengthy been a school’s duty, the academic perform and achievement of schools has increasingly appeared to be the priority. But the new concentrate on British values is recognition – or perhaps rediscovery – that schooling has a wider social function than just getting ready pupils for academic qualifications.

The most important effect might be on the marketplace-based mostly, competitive ethos which successive governments have introduced into schooling, however. This has undoubtedly had some good results a latest advertisement for educating workers by academy sponsor, The Schooling Fellowship, stated: “We are clear that the Fellowship is in the business of schooling and that our pupils are our ‘customers’.”

The renewed focus on values signifies that schools are not simply organisations with a technical perform of obtaining the best check and exam final results. Moral, social and cultural problems lie at the heart of schooling. Schools are civic institutions with a public mission that can not easily be sub-contracted or delegated to personal intermediaries, especially when they are publicly funded.

A latest National Audit Office (NAO) report, Academies and maintained schools: oversight and intervention, found that there are now 460 different academy sponsors. Although some of these are higher-carrying out, no system of oversight, regardless of whether nationally or locally based, could properly check such an array of different supplying bodies – and the NAO report was highly critical of the existing set-up.

What is far more alarming still is that policy-makers look unprepared to location any restrict on the expansion of this strategy. I just lately heard the shadow secretary of state for education, Tristram Hunt, say that if elected Labour would operate a “purchaser-provider” model to decide who will run schools. In other words there would be a likely for all publicly-funded schools to be contracted out to a vast agglomeration of different companies. Not only would this be expensive, it would make it even more difficult to make sure the basic functions of schooling have been getting met. It would also be in stark contrast to practice in countries with the most productive educational outcomes.

The British values situation raises awkward queries about current assumptions on educational governance. In particular marketised techniques do not sit comfortably with a rounded see of public schooling. You can not really “provide” an institution.

Ron Glatter is emeritus professor of educational administration and management at The Open University and a visiting professor at the UCL Institute of Education.

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