Extremism in schools: the Trojan Horse affair - Education Committee Contents

5  British values

Active promotion of British values

64. In his statement on 9 June 2014, Michael Gove announced that the Government would "put the promotion of British values at the heart of what every school has to deliver for children".[78] The definition of British values adopted is that set out in the Prevent strategy, ie: democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs. The new requirement actively to promote British values is the most wide-reaching of all the measures taken by the DfE in response to the Trojan Horse affair, extending to maintained schools, academies and nurseries.

65. School leaders expressed immediate concerns about this change on the grounds that it was too rushed and likely to have unintended consequences. Malcolm Trobe of the Association of School and College Leaders told the BBC that there was a danger of "over-regulation" and "a knee-jerk response" and that the proposals could make teachers reluctant to discuss controversial topics.[79] The Christian Institute also raised objections, claiming that the regulations "could be used to punish any school in the independent sector which has a religious ethos, a set of traditional beliefs, or who don't over-promote every minority group's world view". [80]

66. Regulations were laid before Parliament on 8 September 2014 to bring the changes into force in academies from 29 September. The explanatory memorandum provided with the regulations outlined the outcome of the consultations on the DfE proposals. Of the 1462 responses, 909 were against the changes because of fears that they would introduce new values, extend the equality agenda, discriminate against Christianity and undermine religious freedoms. A further 516 questioned whether the changes were required. The DfE reported that "a significant number" of respondents disagreed with the proposed changes but the Department considered that "this was because of misunderstanding the effect or raising issues that were not part of the consultation". As a result, the DfE made no changes to its proposals before making the regulations.[81]

67. We raised with the Secretary of State the possibility that the requirement actively to promote British values could have unforeseen negative consequences. In particular, we discussed with her issues around free speech and academic freedom and whether the requirement concerning tolerance would inhibit legitimate debate in schools or the engagement of guest speakers with non-mainstream views. The Secretary of State accepted that "I do not think any of us are saying that any of this is particularly easy".[82] She suggested that heads "could ask for advice externally or with their governors"[83] if in doubt about what was allowed. She also accepted that "we can certainly share best practice", although she was unwilling to "lay down rules" about how the requirement was to be interpreted.[84]

68. At the time of the Trojan Horse investigations the most recent guidance on schools and the Prevent strategy was a June 2013 document by the Association of Chief Police Officers, Prevent, Police and Schools. Helping Schools Stay Safe: Guidance for police officers and police staff, which sets out the context for schools and suggests activities for police and schools to undertake in partnership.[85] The most recent DfE guidance was the Learning together to be safe toolkit for schools published in 2008 by the last government, although the DfE published a research report in 2011 on Teaching approaches that help to build resilience to extremism among young people. The DfE confirmed in October 2014 that the latter document remained "relevant guidance for schools".[86] In November 2014 the DfE published statutory advice for heads of maintained schools in the form of a very short report (nine pages including covers) on Promoting fundamental British values as part of SMSC in schools.[87]

69. Another concern was that the new requirements were a national solution to a local problem. The Secretary of State has consistently confirmed that the DfE has no evidence of similar activities outside Birmingham. She told us that "There are sometimes individual schools where concerns are raised with the local authority or with the Department […] but nothing on the scale of the number of schools involved in Birmingham so far".[88] On the other hand, she argued that "It could be a nationwide issue […] and if we dismiss this and try to say that this is a one-off, we will be letting down a generation of children and families across the country".[89] In her statement in January this year, she stressed that the British values in question "unite rather than divide" and that "Every school should be promoting fundamental British values, not just because they act as a bulwark against extremism, but because it is the right thing to do".[90]

Ofsted inspection of British values

70. Ofsted now inspects the active promotion of British values as part of its judgement on leadership. Although Sir Michael Wilshaw previously suggested that there should be an additional separate judgement on the curriculum to include preparation for life in modern Britain, this has not been pursued.[91] There have been a number of reports of Ofsted inspectors coming into conflict with faith schools over inspections as a result of the changes to the inspection regime. For example, on 3 October 2014 the Guardian reported that a snap inspection of a Roman Catholic secondary school in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, had found that younger pupils at the school "show less awareness of the dangers of extremism and radicalisation" and questioned whether the school prepared pupils "for life and work in modern Britain". The report was rapidly withdrawn for review.[92] A school in Lincolnshire was told it could not be rated as outstanding because its pupils lacked "first hand experience of the diverse make-up of modern British society".[93] There have also been controversial inspections of three orthodox Jewish schools.[94]

71. Sir Michael Wilshaw defended Ofsted's strategy for inspecting British values in schools. He told us "We are very clear in our guidance, and that is why it has been difficult in some of the faith schools that we have been to […] but we are determined to keep to the course we have set".[95] He argued that it was "absolutely essential" that schools, whether secular or faith schools, took on their "big responsibility to ensure that they teach British values, advise youngsters on what is happening in our society and give them access to knowledge about different faiths, communities and cultures".[96]


72. The British values which are now to be promoted in all schools are universal and an important part of what children should learn. We support the introduction of the requirement on all schools to ensure that such values are actively promoted to all students. Monitoring how they are promoted in individual schools must be done with common sense and sensitivity.

78   HC Deb, 9 June 2014, col 266 Back

79   "School heads warn of Trojan Horse overreaction", BBC News, 12 August 2014, accessed 3 March 2015 Back

80   Ibid Back

81   Explanatory memorandum to the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 (SI 2014, No. 2374) Back

82   Q326 Back

83   Q435 Back

84   Qq437,439  Back

85   Association of Chief Police Officers, "Prevent, Police and Schools. Helping Schools Stay Safe: Guidance for police officers and police staff", (June 2013) Back

86   Department for Education (EIS0002) Back

87   Department for Education, Promoting fundamental British values as part of SMSC in schools (November 2014) Back

88   Q328 Back

89   Q329 Back

90   HC Deb, 29 January 2015, cols 1017-8 Back

91   Advice note provided on academies and maintained schools in Birmingham to the Secretary of State for Education, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, as commissioned by letter dated 27 March 2014, 9 June 2014 Back

92   "Catholic school breaches 'Trojan Horse' Ofsted rules", The Guardian, 3 October 2014, accessed 3 March 2015 Back

93   "Ofsted criticises school for lack of diversity", BBC News, 20 November 2014, accessed 3 March 2015 Back

94   "Ofsted downgrades Jewish school for failing new 'Trojan horse' regulations", The Guardian, 29 October 2014, accessed 3 March 2015 Back

95   Oral evidence taken on 28 January 2015, HC (2014-15) 880, Q70 Back

96   Ibid, Q69 Back

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Prepared 17 March 2015