You don’t have to be British to be fair, tolerant and respectful
My first thought when hearing about the Integrated Communities Strategy, a proposal that could require pupils from single ethnic or religious community schools to mix with children from other backgrounds, was that here in Cambridge we already have a wonderful natural mixing of backgrounds and nationalities.
But then I realised there are many schools across the city that I don’t know very well, and I can’t say with confidence that the diversity I take for granted is necessarily widely reflected in the city’s schools. If not, then this strategy surely would be a move in the right direction.
I have always valued the very diverse nature of CCSS, but I had not recently considered just how far from the monocultural we are. Coincidentally, one of my colleagues was checking the other week on just how many nationalities are currently represented amongst our student body. I tend to think it is somewhere between 20 and 30, but was pleasantly surprised to learn that this year it is 34. Not bad for a college that usually numbers about 150 or so students.
The Integrated Communities Strategy comes on the back of the 2016 Casey Review which warned that social cohesion in the modern multicultural UK cannot be taken for granted – and the part that our schools might play in ensuring social cohesion has been taken up by Damian Hinds, the Education Secretary. He said “We want to make sure that all children learn the values that underpin our society – including fairness, tolerance and respect. These are values that help knit our communities together, which is why education is at the heart of this strategy.” The proposed Integrated Communities Strategy is also calling on schools to teach British values, boost English language skills and encourage women from minority backgrounds to seek jobs.
It is difficult to disagree with these broad aims, and if you can find me a school which would deny the desirability of promoting fairness, tolerance and respect, I would be very surprised indeed. Schools have been required to promote values like these for years. In the regulations which we are required to adhere to, they are called “Fundamental British Values”: democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect of different faiths. Plenty of fairness, tolerance, and respect in those already, so hardly anything new for those of us in the nation’s schools.
There was some interesting data also from the thinktank British Future, whose polling data indicated that a majority of voters would back schools teaching pluralistic British values (76%), more support to learn English (67%) and a zero-tolerance approach to hate crime and prejudice (79%). I don’t find myself surprised that the percentages are high, so much as wondering who the 24% are who wouldn’t back the teaching of such values in our schools? I reckon there won’t be many teachers amongst them.
Here at CCSS we don’t tend to refer explicitly to “FBVs”. I have always been uncomfortable with the idea that these are being described as fundamentally British. It seems to imply that they might not be fundamentally French values, or American values, or Ukrainian values… whereas to the students from our 34 nationalities these fair, tolerant and respectful characteristics are what they all expect of each other whatever their nationality, faith, or background.
It was encouraging to see them described in some reports as pluralistic British values, but a further step forward might be to regard them as fundamental human values, and to lose the suggestion that they might be exclusively British, unless we are thinking of them as a major export possibility after Brexit!
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