A critical analysis of the use of Fundamental British Values to promote inclusion in education
Britain has strived to develop a national identity in recent years. However, with globalisation at the forefront of political agendas, there are those who argue that this has not been successful and Britain is ‘distinguished by having no clear idea about who they are’ (Gamble and Wright, 2000, p.1). In an attempt to counteract this, the government has placed emphasis on social constructivism ‘through education’ (p.1), with the implementation of a guided set of values – Fundamental British Values (FBV). Andreotti (2006, p.9) suggests that where policy makers try to direct the construction of a national identity through education, it can be ‘power seeking and excludent’. This essay will critically analyse the implementation of FBV in education, the socio-political drivers of its prevalence and whether or not it promotes or encumbers inclusive practice.
There is no question that the rise of FBV in schools has been meteoric – its incorporation into the Teachers’ Standards has meant that it has been far-reaching and a focused objective in recent years (Lander, 2016). It is important, however, to consider the framework of its creation and establishment, with consideration of the broader political context within which it is situated. In the immediate aftermath of the ‘Trojan Horse’ affair (Arthur, 2015, p.311), and coinciding with the general election, a multi-agency investigation revealed that extremism was not being appropriately challenged in certain schools (Rogers, 2014), leaving accountability for the prevention and recognition of radical views firmly with schools and facilitators of education. Consequently, the coalition government created guidance to aid schools in the implementation of FBV. Though the guidance was non-statutory, the importance of it was not lost as it was absorbed into the Ofsted framework of inspection and, as such, significant gravity was placed upon its successful implementation (Arthur, 2015, p.311). Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, stated in 2015 that ‘inspecting how British Values are taught is one of the most important things we are doing at the moment’ to help ‘our society to become a cohesive one’ (in Richardson, 2015, p.39).
As FBV were established, four key principles emerged: democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect for, and tolerance of, those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith (Ofsted, 2015, p.37). Schools are required to provide a considered and robust strategy for ‘embedding these values’ (Department for Education, 2014, p.37) – as essentialist approach which potentially ‘reduce(s) and otherise(s)’ groups of people by characterising them according to their behaviours (Holliday, 2000, p.2). That is to say that implicitly, the early significance placed upon FBV in education creates a narrative whereby those who do not demonstrate FBV are in some way excluded. Adichie (2016: 09.14 – 09.26) highlights ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ and, in this instance, the government and media created crisis discourse which presented particular community groups in an insular way, in line with minority groups being ‘socially constructed by the discourses of ethno-politics’ (Holliday, 2000, p.2). Such reification means that, even from the implementation stage, FBV had undercurrents of cultural ambivalence and, subsequently, efforts to promote inclusion were immediately compromised.
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Inclusion becomes problematic where particular children or groups of children are not afforded the same opportunities as others and, in the context of FBV, cultures and communities who do not consider themselves as British are obliquely excluded. FBV places ownership of a set of values with Britain alone, described by Andreotti (2006, p.9) as a ‘romanticisation of national values, the commodification of difference’ which could serve to isolate minority groups in schools.
This view is shared by many within the teaching community, with reservations about the impact of FBV upon inclusion shared widely. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL, 2015 in Richardson, 2015, p.42-43) suggested that macro-level ethnocentricism was in danger of creating ‘the source of wider conflict rather than a means of resolving it’, with some going as far as saying FBV has led to a culture of ‘us versus them’ (Kapoor, 2004, p.631).
It would appear that the British government, in either a misguided attempt at cosmopolitanism or a veiled neoliberal drive, exacerbated the problem which they rhetorically sought to address. There are those who suggest that the government’s motivation in developing FBV in education was to ‘reproduce ethnocentric and developmentalist mythologies’ (Andreotti, 2014, p.45) – that is to say that FBV could be viewed a tool to reinforce existing essentialist views. The aforementioned claim that the values encompassed within FBV are British implies ‘cultural hegemony’ (Wilkins, 2014, p.451) obstructs pluralism in society – and this in turn obstructs inclusion in education. It implies that to be British is to have found ‘a better, more developed and universal way of seeing and being and prompts patronising and paternalistic attitudes’ (Andreotti, 2006, p.9) yet it is impossible that a pre-determined set of values could fully represent the diverse culture of Britain. With that in mind, there is a danger that misrepresented or omitted groups of people are excluded.
The macro-level focus upon FBV in schools is an example of ‘character education’ (Arthur, 2005, p.239) – the purposeful implementation of a set of values and/or beliefs into an educational setting. The rumblings of the necessitation for such an education began after the release of the then Labour government’s White Paper, ‘Schools Achieving Success’, which openly states that schools should seek ‘education with character’ (DfES, 2001, p.27). The issue comes where subcultures are otherised within those values; FBV purports to promote tolerance of alternative beliefs and values, yet the terminology alone suggests a hesitant amalgamation of communities when true cosmopolitanism should aim to develop children’s empathy and understanding of alternative cultures without seeking to marginalise. In this way, children would be free to construct their own meanings, would not be controlled by misguided ‘patriotism’ (Hand, 2011, p.1) and a more inclusive path could be carved.
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In examining the value of FBV in promoting inclusion, it is necessary to consider perceived cultural superiority and eurocentrism as, whether implicitly or explicitly, it creates an imbalance within communities which could easily cascade down to micro-level practice. Kapoor (2004, p.642) advocates an approach to character education which dismisses the deeply embedded issues of hegemony and moves towards the acknowledgement of inequity and the relearning of ‘learning habits’ to construct a new, pluralistic education system. Brydon (2005, p.4) reiterates this, stating that policy makers, educators and all agents of change need to ‘learn to unlearn’ in order to find ‘better ways of living together’ – with togetherness denoting an inclusive environment for all children. Without consideration of ‘power, inequalities and injustice’ (Andreotti, 2006, p.9), FBV will persist in widening the gap between cultural groups within schools and beyond, leading to a culture of exclusion where power inequalities persist.
It would appear that, from the outset, FBV aims to support an inclusive, cosmopolitan agenda through education; however, there are complexities within its formation, implementation and value transference which have the potential to exacerbate issues of segregation for even the youngest generation. Drawing parallels with Arthur’s (2005) problematising of character education, closer examination suggests that affixing a preordained, narrow set of values within education is counterproductive in a multicultural society which is yet to establish wider cultural and societal values.
In addition to this, the close affiliation of FBV with more extensive notions of extremism and radicalisation in Britain, with the term originally coined within the government’s anti-extremist Prevent Strategy, leaves it on sensitive ground in ensuring that minority groups are not misrepresented. Careful scrutiny of drivers and the foundations of the implementation of FBV is imperative; without it the further segregation of minority groups becomes a very real possibility. The rudimental issue is that, instead of placing emphasis upon dictating how children should engage with those who are different, perhaps children should be allowed to develop an understanding that ‘first and foremost, we are human beings’ (Papastephanou, 2002, p.72). It is possible that, through ‘decolonial pedagogy’ (De Lissovoy, 2010, p.280), groups could be fairly represented and FBV could move towards a culture of true heterogeneity and inclusion. The Church of England (2014, in Richardson, 2015, p.44) called for a ‘shared perspective’, stating that ‘emphasising diversity without building shared values can be as damaging as enforcing uniformity’ – that is to say that for FBV to move forward, communication between a range of community leaders, educators, children, families and policy-makers needs to occur.
In its current context, however, FBV in education is contaminated with notions of exclusion – the very opposite of what it claims to promote. Crisis discourse has provided a catalyst for a series of legislative moves which serve outdated, neoconservative ideologies. Such ‘benevolent imperialism’, as it is described by Spivak (1990, p.60), has marginalised the very groups it sought to include and, as such, FBV cannot be viewed as a tool to promote inclusion within education.
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This essay aimed to critically analyse how FBV are used within education to promote inclusion. FBV appear to promote cultural hegemony of the British over other cultures and value systems, claiming particular values as characteristic of Britain and, as such, excluding other cultures by omission. There are widespread concerns, as outlined within the discussion, that FBV serve to reinforce existing culture gaps by alienating particular groups of children. It is, therefore, not effective as a tool to promote inclusion in education.
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