I was amazed this morning to listen to stories on the radio and read them on the web about the lower achievement of poor White British children vis a vis other ethnic groups in British schools with poor Indian children performing the best. See one example here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-27886925
My amazement was not at the connection between poverty and low achievement (this is not rocket science and I have seen it myself), nor at the differential between ethnic groupings in similar levels of deprivation (leaving aside the highly subjective nature of this for now). My amazement was at the complete disconnect in all media to the debate around British Values that was so dominant last week in relation to schools. Indeed one radio report even trailed a moral debate around British Values and whether or not they can and should be taught in schools, right after the story on the lower achievement of White British children.
I find this disconnect fascinating and worrying as it suggests a blinkered and isolated approach to policy and a complete lack of understanding (or willingness to understand) education, learning and values in 21st century Britain.
Surely this is the time for a proper debate? Surely we need to explore the data that White British under-perform with the apparent demand to promote British (White?) Values that presumably inform those very same children? I can almost hear the response being ‘well that’s because they don’t have values’ but our work around values in schools and communities including those in under-performing, post-industrial, poor white communities suggests there is a very different picture.
I fear that what we will get instead is a rushed consultation on British Values (with few in these communities being included in the consultation) and then an ill-conceived instruction to schools, to be measured by a poorly prepared inspectorate. Values appear obvious, but are not. Engaging effectively in values requires a fundamental questioning of self and an essential dialogue with others. If we do not give teachers, governors, inspectors, parents and pupils, the space to have these discussions then we will exacerbate differences and increase alienation. Where we give space, our work shows that it is possible to reveal (and in many cases rediscover) a common purpose that and that this can be a very strong force for positive change, in well-being, cohesion, and achievement.
The fact that poor children from Indian, Pakistani, Black African and Black Caribbean backgrounds all perform better than those from White British, surely also suggests that the discussion we need is around values and that the sooner we drop the distraction, obstacle and frame of ‘British’, the better?