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Blog post Part of special issue: Transformational Further Education: Empowering People & Communities

“I was born here, so I’m British” – What do fundamental British values mean to teachers of RE and year 11 RE students?

Vini Lander Francis Farrell

Can our values as teachers accommodate the demands of what seems to be a progressively securitised education system?

The requirement not to undermine fundamental British values (FBV) was introduced into the teachers’ standards in 2012 (DfE, 2012) and refined by the requirement to actively promote fundamental British values through SMSC (DfE, 2014). The impact of these requirements on teacher’s self-understanding has been significant, not least because the very definition of these values is taken straight from Prevent (HMG, 2015). As practitioners we have grown up with the belief that critical classroom debate was a ‘given’, particularly in subjects such as RE, where students’ ability to deconstruct truth claims is part of the process of learning – and the best preparation for living in a multi-cultural society. Can our values as teachers accommodate the demands of what seems to be a progressively securitised education system?

At Edge Hill University we decided that what teachers and their students had to say about British values really matters, leading us to set up a collaborative investigation (Lander, 2016) into the impact of Prevent (HMG, 2015). We started our investigation by interviewing our own student teachers of RE. As teachers used to dealing with issues of meaning, purpose and value our students initially expressed confusion captured in the question, “Why all of sudden do we have to teach fundamental British values?” (Farrell, 2016). Initial bewilderment turned into concern that the promotion of FBV ran risks of racializing religious identity. The overwhelming outcome of our interviews was the confusion and sense of dissonance entailed by FBV, summed up by RE teacher Shazia,

“But we’re not doing British studies, we’re doing RE studies…that’s our subject, we’re not British values teachers are we? We’re RE teachers.”

Building on these interviews we explored the learner perspective. Volunteer year 11 RE students joined our project to develop their own investigation into what their peers thought about being British. Our project set out to privilege the voices of the young people. Their findings demonstrated that the war on terror was shaping students’ identities, clearly indicating the need for policy makers to re-think the promotion of Britishness as an ethical framework when evidence shows that it is experienced as hegemonic. The students unanimously agreed that the media was responsible for promoting an Islamophobic discourse. One of our student researchers described this as a binary built around the white ‘in-group’ and the black ‘out-group’, commenting,

“…and mostly I don’t feel part of British society is when like, when I see in newspaper articles that my religion…that a lot of us are terrorists …and that’s where I don’t feel like I fit in, because it’s supposed to be a Christian country and David Cameron has said that in his speeches and stuff like that and so I don’t feel like I belong here as a Moslem person.”

On 14th July our student co- researchers presented their findings at our annual education research conference.

What next? An educational and transformative project

As we now enter a post referendum environment the need to reclaim educational spaces for pluralistic, democratic just education practice is urgent (Singh, 2016). In the next phase of our investigation we launch further research into British identity, citizenship and belonging. Our work is undertaken in partnership with teachers, students, faith groups and communities. Going forward we seek to utilize their contributions to co-create resources to promote debate about British identity and to reclaim it from the incitements of policy. We will make the case for education programmes that will help shape the next generation of religiously literate citizens in a ‘super diverse’ society.



DfE (Department for Education) (2014) Promoting Fundamental British Values as Part of SMSC in Schools Departmental Advice for Maintained Schools. DfE, Crown copyright.

DfE (Department for Education) (2012) Teachers’ Standards. London: HMSO.

Farrell, F. (2016) “Why all of sudden do we need to teach fundamental British values?” A critical investigation of student religious education teacher positioning within in a policy discourse of discipline and control Journal of Education for Teaching vol. 42(3), pp.280-297

Great Britain Parliament (2015) Counter-Terrorism and Security Act [online]. Accessed March 25, 2016.

HMG (HM Government) (2015) Prevent Duty Guidance: For England and Wales [online]. Accessed March 25, 2016. 

Lander, V. (2016) Introduction to fundamental British values, Journal of Education for Teaching vol. 42(3), pp.274-279

Singh, A. (2016) Instead of fighting terror, Prevent is creating a climate of fear