I’ve been doing sessions on professional ethics and values at universities and teacher-training centres for about ten years now. When the Teachers” Standards were introduced in 2012, I naturally addressed its requirements as part of the teaching profession’s ethical code.
At almost every session I did, trainees and students challenged the notion of ‘British values’:
“What is ‘British' about those?”
“Democracy, the Rule of Law, Individual Liberty, Mutual Respect, Tolerance… they’re not British values, they’re universal values!”
“What have these got to do with teaching schoolchildren?”
– such comments were typical of how many trainee-teachers reacted.
I must admit I often struggled to convince my audiences that these were not only fundamental values but fragile and precious as well. It was even more difficult trying to convince them that they are British too; not exclusively British of course, but necessarily to be owned by us as a society, practiced by us and characteristic of our national identity - so that others recognise them in us, and us in them.
The events in Washington DC this week have demonstrated, in my view, all the concerns I have had about why it is so important that teachers willingly and enthusiastically teach and promote ‘fundamental British values’, including the need to value 'free speech'. But the right to free speech does not include the right to abuse, threaten and incite violence.
Americans are now having to reflect very deeply about what fundamental American values are; how fragile and precious they are, however they are defined by Americans (and though they will not be exclusively American) they must necessarily be owned by American society; practiced by Americans and characteristic of their national identity - so that the rest of the world recognises those fundamental values in them when a crisis comes along.
Teaching and promoting fundamental values enables us all to thrive and flourish. The adoption of and subscription to such values is not an adjunct to teaching reading, writing and arithmetic – it is central to the role of a teacher and to a teacher’s status as a role model in society.
If you want to be a role model as a teacher, you can’t escape teaching fundamental values – and British ones at that.
Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk.
You may be interested in his course in ‘The Foundations of Professionalism in Teaching’ – a 3-module course that deals extensively with ethics and values, with over 4.5 hours of HD quality video presentations, additional course reading and materials, self assessment exercises and completion certificates.