Embedding British Values – the importance of context

    Published: 06 February 2015

    Sir Trevor McDonald OBE used his deep understanding of global current affairs to open Herts for Learning’s first national conference on 3rd December 2014, Embedding British Values: preparing young people for life in modern Britain. The conference was held in response to the government agenda to embed British values within the National Curriculum.

    Sir Trevor McDonald

    Sir Trevor, ITN’s first black journalist, is best known as the News at Ten anchorman. He contextualised the concept of British values and advised the audience on how these could be embedded within educational settings.

    Sir Trevor said that before we can understand British values, we must be able to understand the world.

    He argued that in a digital age where we have excessive access to information, it is essential to teach young people to challenge what they read to be able to see a broader global picture.

    “My first view is that young people today face enormous difficulties, which arise from the great confusion of areas from which one can get information. How to choose them, and what to make of them, is the problem”.

    With the way we receive news evolving into short, easily accessible pieces of news there is a danger of losing a sound understanding of the information received, particularly with the individual agendas of journalists. “Context is desperately important”, he said, in broadening young people’s understanding of the world they live in. The internet provides “bite size bits” that don’t tell the whole story or provide context.

    From his own personal experiences as a journalist, Sir Trevor said he has often found the context of his interviews to give him just as much as the interviews himself. His interviews with Saddam Hussein and Nelson Mandela both showed this to him. Visits to Iraq and South Africa gave him an impression of the people, the country, and in the case of Iraq “a whole regime”. His first hand experiences gave an invaluably deep understanding of what was going on.

    “British values are important in an international context, as we go round the world encouraging people to be like ‘us’ and have our values”, he went on to say.

    Those values mean little unless put into the context of the globalised world; young people will only understand a value system if they are able to see these values set in contrast to those held in other countries, and at other times in history.

    “The most important thing you can do, is to get [pupils] to read much much more widely to understand context, and much more widely than just our daily newspapers and the internet”.

    “With that kind of investment in understanding, then their reach is up to the stars and beyond”.

    Peter Martin, Regional Further and Higher Education Coordinator at Prevent, followed Sir Trevor with an overview of the Prevent strategy. Prevent is one of the four elements of CONTEST, the government’s counter terrorism strategy. Peter’s role includes developing links with the Channel process (which aims to provide support to individuals at risk of being drawn into violent extremism) and accountable safeguarding boards.

    Several workshops were on offer. These included sessions by:

    • School Improvement Professional and trained Ofsted inspector Andy Clark, who focussed on the important aspects of British values that schools need to consider as they plan for inspection or self-review
    • Headteacher Emma Flawn, who explained how Camps Hill Primary School has woven the key British values into their Golden Threads curriculum
    • Herts for Learning’s Lead Teaching and Learning Adviser for Anti-Bullying Karin Hutchinson, who asked delegates to question the implications of the word ‘tolerance’, a concept loaded with tensions that fly in the face of what we are trying to achieve under equalities legislation
    • Humanities Consultant Christine Lloyd Staples, who explored how to build pupils’ sense of identity of what it means to be British through history and geography

    Saira Khan

    Saira Khan, star of the first series of The Apprentice, closed the day with an enlightening account of her life as a British Asian Muslim woman. She described the ways in which growing up in Britain and holding British values have helped her to recognise and realise her potential.

    Knowledge is crucial, she argued, to a successful multicultural community which “does not demand assimilation, but does however require integration”. She urged teachers to learn about their children and their backgrounds, involve all parents and tap into the interests of all communities represented within the school.

    Saira recorded personal messages for teachers to take back to their schools on tablets and phones, encouraging children to explore British values and aim high.