Schools should not be afraid to promote British values because some children are being brought up in environments “actively hostile” to them, the head of Ofsted has said.
Amanda Spielman said the education system has a vital role in upholding the principles that “make us a beacon of liberalism, tolerance and fairness to the rest of the world”.
In a speech to the Birmingham Education Partnership conference, she argued British values should be at “the very heart of the curriculum”.
“We know, that even in the UK some children are being brought up in an environment that is actively hostile to some of these values,” she said.
“So the education system has a vital role in inculcating and upholding them.
“Most children spend less than a fifth of their childhood hours in schools and most of the rest with their family. And so if children aren’t being taught these values at home, or worse are being encouraged to resist them, then schools are our main opportunity to fill that gap.”
Ms Spielman said she was not talking about “superficial displays” of British values, using the example of a child asked to craft a picture of the Queen out of sequins.
But she instead spoke of giving young people a “real civic education”, including “a rich and deep curriculum in subjects such as history, English and geography”.
Ms Spielman linked the failure to promote British values to schools caught up in the Birmingham Trojan Horse scandal.
“Not only were there issues with promoting British values in many of those schools, but in some cases members of the community were attempting to bring extreme views into school life,” she said.
“The very places that should have been broadening horizons and outlooks were instead reinforcing a backward view of society.”
The chief inspector of education, who replaced Sir Michael Wilshaw in the post in January, having previously been the chairwoman of qualifications regulator Ofqual, also highlighted the “very real problem” of unregistered schools.
Park View School was among those investigated as part of Operation Trojan Horse. (Joe Giddens/PA)
“Most of these are not places that anyone would be happy to call schools,” she said.
“They are places that hide from the rule of law, from regulation by government and from inspection by Ofsted.
“They often teach a narrow curriculum of just a few subjects, perhaps with a particular single-faith focus, and are often housed in buildings that wouldn’t pass the most basic of health and safety checks.
“Some of the images taken by inspectors that I have seen show places that are filthy and downright dangerous. In short, they put children at risk.”
Ms Spielman said ten unregistered schools have been found in Birmingham over the past two years, with eight now closed or registered, and the other two now operating legally.
While recognising “normal and inevitable” differences in values, she added: “There are parents who, uncomfortable with the full and varied education on offer in local mainstream schools, are seeking out alternatives.
“Usually alternatives that they perceive as fitting better with very conservative cultural or religious values, such that young people in these alternatives are not being prepared for success in modern Britain.
“It is vital that we expose the risks of these so-called schools and help parents understand the dangers.”