Faith schools must teach Britishness, Lords report says

20 April 2018

FAITH schools should not be exempted from the requirement to teach “Shared Values of British Citizenship”, a House of Lords committee has said

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FAITH schools should not be exempt from the requirement to teach “Shared Values of British Citizenship”, a House of Lords committee has said.

The requirement to teach the “Fundamental British values” was introduced in 2014 by the Department for Education as a response to the “Trojan horse” case in Birmingham, in which a series of Muslim-majority schools were accused of permitting extremist Islamist culture and teaching (News, 16 May 2014). The Government defined these values as “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.

A report published on Wednesday by the Lords’s Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement, The Ties That Bind: Citizenship and civic engagement in the 21st century, recommends that the Government stop using the term “Fundamental British Values”, and replace it with the term “Shared Values of British Citizenship”, which “are both shared with people from other countries and are essentially British”.

It also suggests that the list of values is tweaked to comprise “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and respect for the inherent worth and autonomy of every person”.

The report continues: “Faith schools, and other schools attended primarily by adherents of one faith, should be no exception to the requirement to teach Shared Values of British Citizenship, still less the requirement to abide by the rule of law. We are glad to see Ofsted focusing on this important issue. They should not look the other way.”

The promotion of “Shared Values of British Citizenship” should be separated from counter-extremism policy, the report says. “The Government should not place guidance on teaching Shared Values of British Citizenship on the ‘Educate against Hate’ website. Guidance to teachers should make clear that the primary objective of promoting Shared Values of British Citizenship is to encourage positive citizenship rather than solely aiming to counter extremism.”

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The 168-page document examines in detail the ways in which British people, including those who migrate to the UK, are caught up in a “citizenship journey”, and the ways they can remain isolated and ghettoised.

Another of their recommendations addresses the admissions criteria to faith schools. Since 2016, the Government has been considering abolishing the current rules, which prevent faith schools from admitting more than 50 per cent of their intake on the basis of religious affiliation (News, 16 September 2016).

“Any change in the rules governing admissions criteria to faith schools should ensure that they do not increase social segregation,” the Lords report states, echoing concerns expressed by the Chief Inspector of Schools, Amanda Spielman, last year (News, 28 July 2017).

“While a variety of faiths, beliefs and customs can enrich our society, and respect for the values of others is a high priority, respect for the law must come first,” the report concludes.

The chairman of the committee, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, said: “There are British values which we all need to accept, share, and defend. Equality before the law is one cornerstone. These are the red lines which govern acceptable behaviour in modern Britain.

“Our values have been insufficiently promoted across all government departments and appear not to be upheld in some communities. Government action has made these values needlessly toxic by linking them to counter-extremism rather than arguing for them in their own right.”

Among their other recommendations, the committee suggest that a single government minister be given the responsibility of citizenship matters, more funding and easier access to English lessons for new arrivals, and improvements to electoral registration to boost youth turnout and engagement.

The Government must also make it easier and simpler to become a naturalised British citizen, cutting the fees and revising the Life in the UK test which the committee argues has little actual relevance to the duties and privileges of being a British citizen, the report says.

“Austerity is not an excuse for doing nothing. As Dame Louise Casey told us: ‘You can always do things, and not everything costs money,’” the report concludes. “We believe that our recommendations, once implemented, will mark a significant step towards a more coherent, confident, and inclusive society whose members are encouraged and enabled to participate as active citizens.”

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