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Britishness, Identity and Belonging

Led by Dr Francis Farrell and co-investigators Dr Shereen Shaw and Professor Vini Lander (Leeds Beckett), the Britishness, Identity and Belonging project grew out of earlier work undertaken over 2015-2016 by Francis Farrell and Vini Lander on Secondary Religious Education teachers’ views of the requirement to promote fundamental British values. To gain a wider perspective on the impact of British values, the team conducted a case study in a secondary school of a group of young people’s views of British identity.

People sitting round a table listening to someone talking. The session is being filmed by a large camera that is in the background

The study found that some youngsters from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds felt marginalised by the debate on Britishness noting that they were born in Britain but not considered British enough given their cultural and religious positioning. They voiced dismay that the debate on fundamental British values served to place them on the margins even though they felt they were British and had a role to play in British society.

In 2016 the Brexit referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union led to a spike in hate crimes motivated by racial and religious discrimination.

The fearful environment created by Brexit has far reaching implications for students and educators, raising questions about its impact on their outlook, sense of belonging and identity.

Funded through Edge Hill University’s Research Investment Fund, the Britishness, Identity and Belonging project was designed to investigate what young people think being British means to them in post referendum Britain. Data was collected in 2018-2019 through group interviews with young people, who shared their views on British identity, family origin, religion and education.

Four secondary schools and two youth groups participated in the project. Three events were organised as part of the project including two school linking days and a young peoples’ roundtable discussion which explored their hopes and fears as young citizens in a post referendum Britain.

Drawing from Critical Race Theory (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017) the study aimed to foreground and privilege the experiences and the views of young people. The research focussed on the young people’s counter stories and real-life dilemmas, ‘lived up close’ and what they revealed about the sort of education they wanted.

Findings showed:

• For Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic young people racism is a painful daily reality and can take a variety of forms including social media bullying campaigns to verbal abuse.
• Young people want more anti-racist education.
• Young people want to learn about each other’s communities, culture and religions through experience by attending exchange visits and schools linking events.
• Young people want to talk about politics and want more political education.
• Young people want open honest debate and ‘truth’.
• There is no consensus on what Britishness means and for some it is a racialised concept that can be used to divide people.
• Young people want knowledgeable teachers who are well trained, committed and get the facts right about religions so they aren’t misrepresented.

The next phase of Britishness, identity and belonging

The team aims to turn the young peoples’ observations and recommendations into action by working in partnership with them, their schools and youth groups, including new research partners from schools and colleges that have expressed an interest in joining the project, to form an anti- racist educational network.

The aim is to facilitate programmes of:

  • experiential learning through school links events, so students can learn about culture, religion and lifestyle through encounter and dialogue
  • young peoples’ civics events, roundtable events which allow for the open honest debate, particularly centred on questions of family origin, identity and religion that the young people called for

And to create curricula, models of learning and teaching and resources that address issues of citizenship, family origin and identity in post referendum Britain.


Read the project report.

Watch ‘Encounter Dialogue and Friendship: Educational Alternatives in the Post Truth Moment’

Watch more films made during the project.

Impact and reception

Dr Farrell’s publications on teachers’ views of fundamental British values have been cited extensively in a wide range of critical scholarly texts including journals and books.

FARRELL, F. (2016). ‘Why all of a sudden do we need to teach fundamental British values?’ A critical investigation of religious education student teacher positioning within a policy discourse of discipline and control.

FARRELL, F. & LANDER, V. (2019). We’re not British values teachers, are we? Muslim teachers’ subjectivities and the governmentality of unease.