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Education Secretary Nicky Morgan: Toddlers Must Learn 'British Values'

09/08/2014 01:03 | Updated 20 May 2015

Nicky Morgan

Nursery children must be taught 'fundamental British values' under a new policy announced by new Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.

Yes, that's right: Michael Gove's replacement's first effort at making her mark on our children's future is to demand that kids who are barely out of nappies are given lessons in how to be British.

And there you were thinking no Education Secretary could ever be as unpopular as Mr Gove!

In Mrs Morgan's first pronouncement since taking over from her demoted predecessor, she has prioritised teaching toddlers not to be extremists above all other educational concerns (you know, stuff like overcrowded classrooms, term-time holidays, school playing fields and whether our kids can even get a place at school at the outset).

Perhaps extremism IS an issue in a tiny minority of schools in a tiny minority of towns in the UK, as possibly illustrated by the 'Trojan horse' affair in Birmingham.

But surely that small number vanishes into a singularity when it comes to extremism in early years education?

That's not the way Mrs Morgan – who juggles her role as Education Secretary with her job as Women's Minister (now THERE'S prioritising for you!) – sees it.

She used the occasion of her first policy statement to say she will allow local authorities to cut off state funding to nurseries that 'promote extremist views' – including the teaching of creationism – and to force them to teach pre-schoolers British values (whatever those are).

Mrs Morgan said: "One of the most important roles of the education system is that it should prepare young people for life in modern Britain.

"I am clear that public money should not be used to support any school or early years provider that does not support this aim because it seeks to promote ideas and teachings than run counter to fundamental British values."

She added: "There can be no place for extremist views anywhere in the education system. The changes we are making today will ensure that all early years providers and schools are aligned with the need to protect children from views that are considered extreme."

A statement from the Department for Education added that early years education providers 'will be expected to teach children about fundamental British values in an age-appropriate way.

For children in the early years, this will be about learning right from wrong, learning to take turns and share, and challenging negative attitudes and stereotypes."

Aren't nurseries already doing that. And when did learning right from wrong become specifically British, as opposed to just a good thing to teach kids?

Mrs Morgan's new regulations state that local authorities will be empowered to cut off state funding – including the 15 hours of childcare funding a week for two to four-year-olds – to any provider that 'does not actively promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs' (also known, in common parlance, as: everyone's different and we should all get along. Again, wisdom – surely – all nurseries pass on to kids anyway?)

But now they will be inspected to ensure that's exactly what they're doing.

According to the DfE, Ofsted will be required to inspect early years providers against the new criteria.

The regulations will bring early years education into line with similar changes to primary and secondary schools. Unless her skin is thicker than her predecessor's, surely Mrs Morgan can't be surprised by the hostile reaction her new policy has received, can she?

Such as this from Beatrice Merrick, the chief executive of the British Association for Early Childhood Education, who told the Guardian: "The idea of distinctive British values is quite elusive for any age group and it would be hard to claim that there is a British monopoly on any of the values we might be talking about.

"Using such language is dangerous in implying we are somehow morally superior to other nations and cultures. Surely that isn't the message we want to teach our youngest children?"

And Kevin Courtney, the deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said it was disappointing that extremism was the focus of Mrs Morgan's first policy announcement.

He said: "Asking Ofsted to inspect how well nurseries are teaching 'fundamental British values' does not appear to offer anything new for children and will concern all those who seek to promote community engagement."

Neil Leitch, the chief executive of the Pre‑school Learning Alliance, which represents 14,000 childcare providers in England, added: "We cannot see how stipulating 'British values' or the state of 'Britishness' adds anything that could ever be meaningful to the experiences of young children.

"Practitioners are likely to struggle to think of anything that needs to be taught to young children to achieve British values specifically – their focus will always be on providing a rich and positive experience in all areas.

"Life values are more important to develop for a two-year-old, not a limited view of culture and life."

Let's try to look on the bright side and hope that Mrs Morgan is just finding her feet in her new role.

For if not, it's going to be a rocky road ahead for us parents and our children. And heaven forbid that we ever look back on Michael Gove's tenure with a sigh of winsome nostalgia.

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