I recently had the honour of visiting a fantastic new Free School in North West London. A school very different to the majority of inner-city state schools today, a school that has rejected the postmodern approach to education, in favour of a more traditional education based on the teacher-lead passing down of knowledge. Upon entering this school, which shall remain nameless for reasons that will become clear, my colleagues on the local council and I could clearly hear children practising the National Anthem, something that I cannot say I’ve ever encountered in my many visits to schools throughout the capital.
During our chat with the Headmistress, we were informed that all students were currently learning the National Anthem in Music lessons, to sing at the start of each school day in a whole school celebration of Britishness. At lunch time that day, we witnessed a member of the Senior Leadership Team congratulating the students on their performance and reminding them that no matter where they come from, whatever race, religion, or creed, they should all be proud to be British. This school consists of a large majority of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students, but all seemed equally proud to celebrate their diversity and their Britishness together, as a school community.
Unfortunately, the Headmistress didn’t yet feel comfortable publicising the fact that her school is teaching their students the National Anthem, through fear of a public backlash. What a sorry state we’re in as a nation, when children cannot learn to sing the National Anthem. If not in school, then where should we be learning the anthem of our nation? It seems to me that we’ve reached the point where we’ve become so obsessed with appearing to be tolerant of others, that we have become intolerant of ourselves. We’re afraid of celebrating our own culture.
There is nothing wrong with celebrating British values. Democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect, tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs are all values we should hold in esteem. Sure, they might not be values that are unique to the United Kingdom, but they are certainly not universal values around the world, not even amongst our closest allies. British values should be celebrated, shared and encouraged.
The Teachers’ Standards, the rules governing the behaviour of all qualified teaching professionals in the UK, is often misquoted as insisting teachers ‘promote British values’. In fact, the Teachers’ Standards merely states that teachers should ‘not undermine fundamental British values’. That’s quite a significant difference, and one that should be corrected. British schools should be at the forefront of protecting and promoting British values to each generation.
Singing the national anthem and flying the Union Flag at school should be a daily routine, as part of a wider PSHE/Citizenship curriculum designed to instil and reinforce British values. It’s hard to image many schools even flying St George’s cross on St George’s Day these days, through fear of offending. We’re all too happy to wear green on St Patrick’s Day, though. Why is it that left have become so comfortable celebrating everyone else’s culture, but frown upon the mere mention of celebrating the incredibly rich and diverse culture of Great Britain?
Immigrants claiming British citizenship swear an allegiance to the Queen, yet British-born children are left out of that practice. We should be uniting all British citizens under a common Oath of Allegiance, singing the national anthem together and flying the Union Flag. These symbols are a nod to our joint beliefs in freedom of liberty, tolerance, democracy and law. We should never forget that.
Maybe, just maybe, if we stopped worrying about the things that separate us, and started focusing on the many great things that unite us, we’d be in a much better place as a nation.