Schools must teach all pupils about British values, particularly as some children are “encouraged to resist” them at home, the head of Ofsted has said. Amanda Spielman, who has held the post since January, said the education system should play a “vital role” in upholding British values, in a society where she said some children are growing up in environments that are “actively hostile” towards them.
She described the existence of unofficial schools in the UK as a “dangerous” problem, citing the fact that 10 unregistered schools had been found in Birmingham in the past two years, with eight now registered or closed while the other two are still operating legally.
Speaking to officials in the city on Friday, Ms Spielman said: “That is why what we call British values are so important. And we shouldn’t be afraid to say that British values are not universal values. I often hear people react against the word ‘British’ in this context. But while they may not be unique to Britain, they are certainly not understood everywhere in the world. Even where they are understood and valued they aren’t always fully reflected in practice.
“We know that even in the UK some children are being brought up in an environment that is actively hostile to some of these values. The education system has a vital role in upholding them. If children aren’t being taught these values at home, or worse are being encouraged to resist them, then schools are our main opportunity to fill that gap.
“Education has to be the values anchor in a stormy sea.”
Ms Spielman criticised “superficial displays of British values or tick box exercises”, citing an instance where her colleague’s son had come home with a homework task to craft a picture of the Queen out of sequins. “A charming task in itself perhaps, but that’s not teaching children about our common values,” she said, adding: “Pupils should learn how we became the country we are today and how our values make us a beacon of liberalism, tolerance and fairness.”
Ms Spielman added that there were continuing risks presented by unregistered schools that “hide from the rule of law”.
“They often teach a narrow curriculum of just a few subjects, perhaps with a particular single-faith focus, and are often housed in buildings that wouldn’t pass the most basic of health and safety checks,” she said. “Some of the images taken by inspectors that I have seen show places that are filthy and downright dangerous. In short, they put children at risk. Our inspectors are working hard to identify and help shut down these illegal operations. But we know we cannot do it alone: all of us have a role to play, whether by being alert when children are taken off the school roll or by passing on intelligence about where these schools may be located. Part of this is continuing to build confidence in mainstream education, and to make sure parents understand the risks of sending their children to unregistered schools.”
Of schools caught up in the Birmingham Trojan Horse scandal in 2014, she said that the “very places that should have been broadening horizons were instead reinforcing a backward view of society. While those inspections are a long way behind us and many of the schools involved have completely transformed since, it is fair to say that the wider social and cultural issues leading to the events still need addressing.”
It comes after Ms Spielman said earlier this year that children must be taught British values in school to help them develop resilience against terror attacks, saying Ofsted would work to counteract extremism by searching for illegal, unregistered schools where children are at risk.