It is observable that display boards are being applied widely by primary schools as visual representations for learning about the stated fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with difference faiths and beliefs (DfE, 2014). This appears to be a common approach to practice by primary schools in reaction to the implementation of The Prevent Strategy (HM Government, 2011), a counter-terrorism educational policy that seeks to arrest the potential of children becoming radicalised by terrorist organisations. A new academic year is here! Primary schools are busily preparing fresh display boards with imagery to inspire children’s learning. Will display board imagery to represent fundamental British values be refreshed, or remain the same as last academic year?
The interest of our study was on the primary school, as a site of representation in providing powerful grounds on which political and dominant cultural discourses of national identity can be reified as a regime of truth (Foucault, 1980).
We applied an internet search via the term ‘fundamental British values display boards’. We selected and examined twenty-eight primary schools’ fundamental British values display boards that were the first to appear on screen from the search in aiming to address our key question:
- What images are used on display boards of fundamental British values in primary schools for representing a shared sense of British identity? (Moncrieffe, 2017).
Individual images as manifestations of national symbolism and identity formation were categorised into three main groups: national symbols (flags, emblems); cultural symbols (religion, traditions, rituals, ceremonies, values); and cultural icons (monuments, buildings, people, capital city) (Elgenius, 2005).
The dominant images of cultural icons involving people across the display boards were Queen Elizabeth II and former Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and David Cameron. Collectively, these images alongside national symbols i.e. union flag and cultural symbols i.e. the red poppy, appeared to appeal to the past; to blood ties; to shared practices and understandings for upholding the meaning of British identity in the present. Collective images of White British cultural icons, national and cultural symbols as representative of fundamental British values can be associated with a discourse of ethnic nationalism (Ignatieff, 1993).
As a follow up to our findings, semi-structured interviews with three full-time qualified primary school teachers were conducted in response to images of the fundamental British values display boards from the internet search. The key question was:
- Which images do teachers interpret as most or least fitting representations of fundamental British values for a shared sense of British identity? (Moncrieffe, 2017).
The teachers all agreed that Figure 1 (below) was the most fitting in representing fundamental British values for shared sense of British identity (Moncrieffe, 2017).
The teachers articulated words and phrases aligned closely to the notion of civic nationalism, a pluralist democracy and where individuals create their nation (Ignatieff, 1993). Interestingly, Figure 1 was the only display board from the Stage One analysis which did not display images of cultural icons such as Queen Elizabeth II, former Prime Ministers or cultural icons and cultural symbols related to the city of London.
All teachers agreed that Figure 2 (below) was least fitting in representing fundamental British values for a shared sense of British identity (Moncrieffe, 2017).
Similar versions of Figure 2 have been commodified by ‘educational’ companies for sale over the internet, in the same way that timetables posters are for teaching and learning mathematics. Where 5 x 4 = 20, or 6 x 3 = 18, Britishness x British values = Queen Elizabeth II, Churchill, Cameron, Cricket, Routemaster bus and Fish and Chips. Specific images as representations of fundamental British values appear to be taken as a given. At this busy time of year, should primary schools therefore save their time and thinking about display boards, by simply purchasing these ready-made posters, thus fulfilling their statutory requirement not to undermine fundamental British values (DfE, 2013)?
Department for Education (DfE) (2014) ‘Promoting fundamental British values as part of SMSC in schools: Departmental advice for maintained schools’, DfE: London.
Department for Education (DfE) (2013) Teachers’ Standards: Guidance for school leaders; school staff and governing bodies, June 2013, London: DfE.
Elgenius, G. (2005). Expressions of nationhood: national symbols and ceremonies in contemporary Europe, Doctoral dissertation, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
Foucault, M. (1980). Power/knowledge: Selected interviews and other writings, 1972-1977. Pantheon.
HM Government (2011) The Prevent Strategy, Retrieved from:
Ignatieff, M. (1993). Blood and Belonging: journeys into the new nationalism (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York).
Moncrieffe, A. (2017) Whose values? Exploring the choices of images used on display boards of fundamental British values in primary school settings, Unpublished Masters Thesis, University of Brighton, UK.