David Cameron has backed plans for English schools to “actively promote” British values, saying he believes the move will win widespread support.
The proposals – which will see pupils taught ideals such as democracy, tolerance, and mutual respect – were announced by Education Secretary Michael Gove after it was confirmed that five Birmingham schools have been placed into “special measures” in the wake of the “Trojan Horse” allegations.
During a press conference in Sweden, the Prime Minister said that these values, which also include the rule of law and individual liberty, were the sorts of things he hoped would be “inculcated into the curriculum in any school in Britain”.
“I think what Michael Gove has said is important and I think it will have the overwhelming support of everyone, including people who have come to settle in Britain and make their home in Britain,” Mr Cameron said.
In a speech to the Commons following Ofsted’s damning verdict into the running of some schools in Birmingham, Mr Gove said the government is to consult on new rules to ensure that “all schools actively promote British values”.
Mr Gove said he wanted democracy, mutual respect and tolerance taught.
There will also be tougher rules making clear that a teacher can be banned from the profession for inviting an extremist speaker into a school.
Under the current system, schools are simply required to “respect fundamental British values”. This wording, which is part of the Independent School Standards (ISS), is set to be tightened up, the Department for Education said, to say that schools of all types must “promote” British values.
The change is due to be brought in this September, with Ofsted expected to take the requirement into account during inspections.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Nobody would dispute the importance of promoting values such as the ones they describe – democracy, rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. They are universal values.”
These ideals are part of the national curriculum for citizenship, Mr Lightman said.
But he added: “There’s an irony that the government has removed the statutory requirement for academies to follow the curriculum and then reinstated this [requirement to promote British values] via Ofsted inspections. The government must decide – is the curriculum statutory or not?”
Since January 2013, schools in England, including academies and free schools, have been required to respect British values.
The Department for Education said the enforcement of British values will sit alongside the requirements of the Equalities Act which also apply to all types of school.
The department hopes to teach pupils about the “strengths, advantages and disadvantages of democracy… in contrast to other forms of government in other countries” and encourage the setting up of school councils whose members are voted for by the pupils.
It also plans for schools to hold mock elections so pupils can learn how to argue and defend points of view.
The five Birmingham “Trojan Horse” schools – including three academies from the Park View Educational Trust – are being placed in special measures. A sixth school is also labelled inadequate for its poor educational standards.