Dr Francis Farrell: What is Britishness? Examining the perceptions of teachers, pupils, trainee teachers and teacher educators

Dr Francis Farrell and Professor Vini Lander (University of Roehampton) conducted research to examine how the term fundamental British values is understood (or not) by teachers, student teachers and teacher educators. To gain a wider perspective on the impact of British values the team supplemented their investigation of teacher’s views with participatory research, conducted in January 2016, on young people’s perceptions of Britishness, identity and their understanding of fundamental British values in education.

The study arises from the BERA Symposium entitled “What are fundamental British Values?” The term ‘fundamental British values’ has moved seamlessly from inclusion within Home Office counter-terrorism strategies to the Teachers’ Standards (2012), into guidance for schools and the Ofsted inspection framework (2015). The inclusion of the term ‘ fundamental British values’ within national policies governing teacher education and the education of children and young people is based on an implicit assumption that schools and education can promote British values, prevent the radicalisation of youngsters and protect the nation against extremism.

The question for teacher education professionals, classroom practitioners and policy makers is how to develop and implement policy and pedagogy which is capable of recognizing and celebrating diversity and multiple ways of being British and avoids alienating both teaching professionals and communities of learners in our highly diverse and plural school system.

The research proposed to address this by:

  • Collecting data to begin to develop practice in collaboration with student teachers of RE that enable them to teach a pluralistic RE curriculum that does not require a ‘constitutive outside’ but validates the multiple ways of being British in the 21stcentury.
  • Critically analysing the ways in which policy is received, interpreted and implemented by pre-service and in-service teachers in order to document the effects of policy discourse upon teachers’ subjectivities. The study utilizes the perspectives of critical race theory and post structuralism to identify how the concept of Britishness is articulated by a range of participants working in diverse settings.

In addition to working with teachers the research team undertook  a pilot project with year 11 students in a partner secondary school. The young people’s views reflected many of the concerns expressed by the teachers. However, some youngsters from BME 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.  Like the student teachers they felt subjugated by the fundamental British values debate which ironically was intended in policy terms to unite citizens.