People in government often like the idea of teaching British Values. It sounds cosy doesn’t it. If it weren’t shorthand for “stopping those brown people” it would conjure instead an idyllic, romantic image: lengthening shadows on a village cricket green, a nightingale chirping by an allotment, a bunch of hardy queuers queueing for something but not minding because they’re jolly well British and they’ll jolly well wait.
But it is code for “anything but Islam”. That’s the problem. It’s nothing to do with British Values; it’s all to do with values that we deem to be foreign, alien and frightening – and therefore not British.
Since every government thinks it goes down well in Swindon or Norwich or Basildon that there should be more faith schools, there will be more faith schools. Leave alone the arguments that state education should be secular: faith schools it is. Leave aside the problems that rise up when faith schools start doing what faith schools do and teach stuff to do with faith rather than, say, science. Leave aside the problems that happen when state schools attempt to replicate faith schools, which we are told are A Good Thing. Faith schools are good and we shall have more of them.
As successive governments aim to “give schools more independence” (get rid of local authority control), they will become more independent. If you remove the safety net of governance it’s increasingly hard to say “ah, but don’t do anything we don’t like though”. Independence is good. Local authorities are bad.
In the end it’s all about ideology. Too much ideology rather than pragmatism leads to problems, whether it’s in schools or in government. Blind faith in anything – be it a supreme being or the importance of “independence” or “choice” – is going to run up against some awkward truths sooner or later.
How about that great British value of pragmatism? Of seeing what works rather than forcing through what you think ought to work? Can we teach that somewhere? Or must we insist instead that faith is better than evidence? Ah, but that would lead to all sorts of difficult decisions, wouldn’t it.