I’m not sure what I expected when the new Education Minister, Nicky Morgan, took on the role from Michael Gove. Her arrival came shortly after Gove had responded to the Trojan Horse affair, by among other things, proclaiming that schools should actively promote “British Values”.
There was a wave of comment and a flurry of activity in response to this, but then Gove departed and all went very quiet again. Elements of that earlier commentary can be found elsewhere on this blog, with links out to various pieces at the time. Then came Nicky Morgan’s appearance in front of the Commons Education Committee this week and we got our first signs of the likely direction that values would take under the new minister.
The short version of the response is in the title to this blog entry. Nothing has changed. I was not in the hearing and so only have the filtered news reports to reflect on what was said, but in those there is enough to go with. It was a mixed bag for sure. One aspect that I liked was the idea of values being ‘woven’ into the curriculum. This is something we have been working with in our http://www.learningthroughvalues.org project. It is an approach that is mindful of the pressures already on schools and more particularly on busy teachers and school leaders. They have welcomed it, talking not of additional pressures, but of new and exciting ways of doing what they have always done, but with greater purpose and higher motivation and engagement from the pupils. The support for weaving values then seems positive.
Where it becomes more concerning is in what Nicky Morgan might have us weave and why. What is particularly interesting is the introduction of the word ‘fundamental’ such that ‘schools must not be shy about talking about fundamental British values’. This as a response to a concern that fundamentalist views were making their way into our schools. Is there not a contradiction here, or is one version of fundamentalism allowed or more respected and tolerated than another?
There was a further confusing aspect to her comments when she apparently said that individuals who try to promote a particular view in schools needed to be removed from the system. This is of course meant in a context, but it also shows a glaring ignorance as to how values work and even what they are. Everyone has a particular view and that view is informed and regulated by our values. There is not a teacher in the land who does not in some way promote a particular view – to what extent they are aware of this or not is another matter. So then, we come to the issue of what the view is and this I suppose is where Nicky Morgan places the values that she believes to be fundamentally British into the frame.
Those stated in her comments were mutual respect, equality between boys and girls, democracy and tolerance. Are these values (if indeed they are in fact values) uniquely British? I have read other lists by those within Morgan’s own party and coalition govt and I have no doubt this is not the final offering hat will comprise the non-statuatory guidance to come, but what is really distressing is the treatment of values as content and the failure to see role of values as process within learning and education.
The hypocrisy of promoting equality at the same time as endorsing policies and measures that increase inequality (there are numerous measures of this in the press in the past week even), is also of concern and I’d like to see the mutual respect that Morgan talks of offered by her own department and staff to those working in education and learning who actually know a thing or two about schools, learning and education.
It seems nothing has changed then. Morgan will preside over what I imagine will prove to be a set of poorly conceived and even more poorly understood, values and announce through non-statutory guidance how, already pressured schools are expected to implement them. I would so love to be wrong on this but my suspicion is that this will be the case and my fear is that under such circumstances there will be very little weaving at all.
In the meantime I look forward to forthcoming discussions with colleagues in London and Scotland who unlike Gove and Morgan have taken the time to fully understand values and the complicated (and yet also simple) ways in which they interplay with teaching and learning.