Meet Ruth!

This week, we’d like to introduce our brilliant Finance and Marketing Officer Ruth!

“My role consists of writing the mini newspaper, helping to proof read, print and pack Picture News, dealing with enquiries and general office work. I enjoy working in the office as we have a great team and there are always interesting conversations about current affairs! I also enjoy going to showcase our product at head teacher meetings around the country and discussing the resource with the teachers who use it.

I believe it is very important to challenge yourself and try new things so my position at Picture News is perfect for me as my role is constantly evolving and taking me into new and exciting territory.

At University, I gained a BSc in Applied Biological Sciences leading to a career involving working in quality control, Forensics and in an NHS laboratory. I have coaching qualifications and have always been interested in helping people to develop and improve themselves and achieve their personal goals.

Becoming a mother and having a very curious and inquisitive three-year-old has led me to look at the world differently. Thinking about how events affect my child and others is why I think Picture News is such an amazing company to work for. We are so passionate about helping children to understand the world around them, process and communicate their responses, thoughts and opinions about the things that are happening around them.”


Taken On Trust by John Dabell

Some teachers actively encourage the children in their class to be independent learners and that’s a good thing. The 21st needs them.

You gotta have sole

In a Self-Organised Learning Environment (SOLE) pupils are given the freedom to learn by asking ‘big questions’ where they work collaboratively to find the answers.

This is called ‘minimally invasive education’ as children are basically left to learn for themselves, a concept made famous by Dr. Sugata Mitra and his ‘hole in the wall’ experiment.

In 1999, Mitra and his colleagues carved a hole in a wall bordering an urban slum in New Delhi, installed an Internet-connected PC and left it there. A hidden camera filmed children from the slum playing with the computer and it recorded them learning how to use it. Mitra went on to win the $1 million TED prize for his research.

SOLE does have a lot of supporters and is widely used.  If you are interested in finding out more about SOLE then take a look at this support pack and the University of Newcastle’s SOLE Central.

Careful how you tread

Promoting independence, research and self-learning is an important skill but then this needs to be combined with critical thinking, information literacy, media literacy and technology literacy.

One of the biggest myths in education is that children are ‘digital natives’. They aren’t. Like many adults, children can be easily hoodwinked because they aren’t information-skilled.

Unsupervised learning and computers doesn’t seem to be a very clever mix unless you have powerful protections in place. Thankfully most schools do but that won’t stop children stumbling across information when engaged in ‘research’.

Giving Wiki A Wide Berth

I have often seen children use the internet for research and they more often than not end up on a Wikipedia page. They frequently copy and paste from Wiki and treat everything within it as sacrosanct.

Wikipedia is a wealthy source of freely available ‘knowledge’ and ranks as one of the world’s most visited websites. It’s almost become the de facto source for knowledge but can it be trusted? Do we need to tell children to ‘hold your horses’?

Students use Wikipedia to support their research just as many teachers do but Wiki can’t be trusted because it doesn’t require an article writer or editor to have any credentialed knowledge.

The Wikipedia model is based on an open crowd-sourced structure which allows anyone to contribute. This means it is wide-open to creating bogus facts and fake news that can quite easily dupe a reader.

Wiki is full of holes and leaks and children need to know this. One way to illustrate its unreliability is to share with your class the story of Henryk Batuta.


Who is Henrky Batuta?

That’s a good question. If you looked on Wikipedia a few years ago then you’d get plenty of information about him.

You find out that he was born in Odessa in 1898 and participated in the Russian Civil War. He was also an ally of Ernest Hemingway during the Civil War in Spain. The page devoted to him said there was a street in Warsaw named Henryk Batuta Street. The article relating to him was also richly referenced and linked to 17 other articles.

Guess what?

Henryk Batuta never existed. The Wiki entry about him was all a hoax and the authors deliberately set out to show, in part, that web users mustn’t swallow information whole. The information relating to Henryk Batuta stayed on Wiki for 15 months without challenge.

Now imagine that children were researching him as a ‘real’ person. Their research would have be worthless. Unfortunately, some websites can make the outside world think they are authoritative and factual but they can also smell and taste a bit funny.

Wikipedia might be the “people’s encyclopedia” but it is wide open to abuse and fake ‘facts’. I’d agree with Steve Cuozzo when he says, “Believe nothing it says about anything.”

You can be 100% sure that Wiki will contain many other hoaxes and pieces of information that are monumentally dodgy. You certainly wouldn’t go there for medical information! This is a site that is “inherently unreliable”.

Our pupils need to see Wiki for what it is – the ‘Wild West’ of information. As David Barnett wrote for the Independent in 2018, “Wikipedia shouldn’t be anyone’s final stop when it comes to seeking knowledge.”

Don’t go there?

If Wikipedia is full of fake news, wide open to vandalism and the last place to find reliable information, should we tell children to avoid it like the plague?


Children should go there but be discerning, critical and forensic. This means we need to teach them what open source websites are and why they need to question everything they read rather than accept things at face value.

Some of the information will be credible and by checking the citations and references and digging deeper children can see how the information has been mined. Some of that information will be spurious and full of fool’s gold.

It might be an idea to take them to Wikipedia itself – there’s a page on there called ‘Wikipedia is not a reliable source’.

Banning the use of Wikipedia just wouldn’t make sense. We can make intelligent use of it and support children to verify sources and understand the reliability of web materials. They can see first-hand just how easy it is to present information and misrepresent it too. Not all of it is junk but some of it is.

Do go there

Looking at Wiki with critical eyes gets children to ask questions around the biases of people writing entries, what they are leaving out and which communities are not included in a conversation.

Get your students to invent their own Wiki entry for something or someone that didn’t exist and let them test it on someone else. Mix some facts with fiction and see if others can spot which is which.

Wiki can teach children about gullibility and how easy it is to fall for pictures and information hook, line and sinker.

A healthy level of distrust makes children critical learners.  At least if they are asked to research a historical figure or event, they can question whether a particular person or incident actually existed or happened. If they did, how much can they really trust?



Meet Rob!

Next up in our meet the team segment is Picture News co-founder Rob Harrison.

Rob was raised on a farm in North Yorkshire, where he’s now living with his wife and three children. He is still a part-time farmer with around 100 sheep of his own – a very contrasting job to his role at Picture News! In his spare time, Rob is a keen runner, having completed several marathons, he also enjoys playing (and watching!) football whenever he can.

Rob is vital to the smooth running of Picture News, working relentlessly behind the scenes overseeing packing, finance, marketing and logistics.  It’s thanks to Rob, that everyone receives their poster on time each week via email and post!

Prior to Picture News’ launch, Rob completed a Wildlife Biology degree at Newcastle University. After graduating, he then worked as a farm labourer moving into farm sales where he spent 7 years in the agricultural sector, gaining experience in accounts, sales strategy and marketing. Rob is very passionate about the difference Picture News can make in schools, particularly coming from a small rural school himself, as he understands the importance and significance of challenging misconceptions, opening discussions and bringing world issues and events into the classroom and the powerful impact that this can have.

Meet the team…

Over the next few weeks we’ll introduce a new member of our Picture News team. First up…our Education Consultant Jo!

I am so excited to be working for Picture News. I have been a teacher for 14 years and loved every second of it.

It became apparent to me very early in my career that the real buzz and excitement I got was from supporting children who struggled socially, emotionally or behaviourally; working closely with them to transform behaviours and develop happy children, who learned to control negative feelings whilst accepting it was okay to feel this way. I was lucky to work for a fabulous headteacher in Scarborough who gave me the opportunity to be part of a study which looked at using social and emotional aspects of learning to drive the academic curriculum rather than children sitting at desks practising tests. The year 6 class I was working with at the time were given opportunities where they had to work as a team developing respect and communication skills, they had to overcome emotions such as excitement, fear, anger and they developed confidence, resilience and independence. We then applied these skills to their academic work. The children flourished both emotionally and academically.

When I had my first child, I sadly left my school in Scarborough as the commute was too much but have since worked in two fabulous schools, where I have continued to value the social and emotional areas through integrating SMSC throughout the curriculum and my teaching.

I have always loved Picture News, because of the opportunities it gives the children to develop everything that I have valued as a teacher. It inspires them, motivates them and allows them to feel passionate about something that is real. It opens their eyes to the world around them and gives them so many opportunities to learn to respect, value diversity and understand they each have a voice and it matters.

It was a difficult decision for me to leave a job that has not really been a job; it has been my life. In the end, I decided I wanted to be part of something that supported wonderful teachers, who also value these things, by working with the Picture News team.

Every day at Picture News is different. I write resources, take part in webinars, attend Headteacher meetings, run workshops at staff meetings, run children’s workshops and attend teacher conferences. I also get to think about other resources and ways to help teachers with delivering SMSC and BV – something I didn’t always have time for when teaching myself!

I feel very lucky to have this opportunity. I will give it everything I have got as I did to my teaching. Thank you Picture News!

What will news look like in the future? By John Dabell

They say that it’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future!

That’s certainly true when it comes to the news. Things change so fast and life is always throwing us curveballs which means events can often shock, surprise and bewilder. Breaking news can hurt.

Raw news is in a constant state of flux and that’s what makes it so exhilarating. We don’t know what will happen next but when it does, it’s the reporting of it that really matters.

Information inequality means that lots of newsworthy events just don’t get reported or go underreported. Some news is noisy, some of it is buried. News reporting is an art and a science.

In 2015 the BBC presented the first Future of News project and said

“The job of the news is to keep everyone informed – to enable us to be better citizens, equipped with what we need to know. In the exciting, uneven and noisy internet age, the need for news – accurate and fair, insightful and independent – is greater than ever.”

Their full report can be read here.

Trying to spot trends that are likely to impact on the news might be like predicting the weather but that doesn’t stop us from trying. Everyone has an opinion and leading BBC staff and celebrity experts say what they think in this video.

Extra, extra, read all about it!

News has always been a very selective experience. What might be news to you isn’t necessarily news to me.

We choose news as consumers and news consumes us. We let a lot of news wash over us and yet we also wash ourselves in news on a daily basis.

The news manipulates us even if we think it doesn’t and it shapes our world views. It misleads us, misinforms us, polarises us and disengages us.

We are fed it, we eat it and some of it makes us sick. Then there is news that we can’t get enough of, it entertains us and we enjoy binging on it. News is really rather personal but maybe that’s the future of our news.

Editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, John  Micklethwait says news is  “re-emerging as something more digital, more personalized, more automated, more paid for—and (eventually) less fake.”

There is so much news happening at any one time, it’s impossible to get access to it in one place.

Perhaps the next step in the evolution of the news is news tailored to us specially compiled to suit our individual interest and tastes.

Companies love collecting data on us. Supermarkets do it all the time and make purchasing suggestions and recommendations to us based on our shopping habits and the information we give them.

The news is no different. Websites can collect and read our news preferences and build a profile of what sort of person we are.

Personalised news is the future so let’s imagine what this looks like.

Data about our education, occupations, hobbies and socio-economic level could easily be analysed by computers. These can then scan and thumb through the world’s newspapers, websites, television programmes and radio broadcasts on our behalf.

Whenever these ‘News Computers’ come across anything that dovetails with our character profile they then extract it, compile it into a news bundle to make personalised newspapers, online or paper.

Every page of this newspaper would be guaranteed to interest us because we’ve disclosed what we like. If we are hungry for a particular type of news and gossip then they will find it and deliver it.

Such a newspaper might easily be made up of: the front page of The Wall Street Journal , letters to The Times, the culture pages of Le Monde, the sports page from The Sun and the fashion tips from Elle with a selection of local news from the Whitby Gazette, the Liverpool Echo and WalesOnline.

Does this sound scary or exciting? Is this the future?

The thing is, it already exists!

You can download news aggregation apps and services such as Flipboard, News360, Feedly, Google News, Apple News,  NewsNow and many more that pick out the news we are interested in or they compile news feeds from a variety of sources for users to customize and share with others.

Content Overload

News aggregation apps have been around for a relatively short time and they are gaining a lot of traction. They are popular because they are fully-automated and display breaking headlines linking to news websites all around the world on a continuous basis.

But even though news can be aggregated and personalised for us does this make us any better informed?

We can only ever receive a limited amount of information. There is simply no way of collecting every bit of news. So even though we can get news from a number of different channels this eventually just drowns us in information and we could just switch off.

If we limited the news to just one bulletin a day would that produce better and more thoughtful  journalism?

Selecting and presenting information, curating the news and aggregating content has always been part of the role of journalism.

At the end of the day, we might think we select the news but it’s the news that selects us.

Picture News – Competition Winners!

Our competition winners…

Lyndhurst Primary School

We recently ran a competition to find out more about how Picture News is used in your school. We were overwhelmed with the amount and standard of the applications.Here is our winning entry…

“Within our school Picture News is a big part of both the children and adults school week. It links very closely to our SMSC work. Our Picture News Board is situated next to the SMSC board. It is an interactive board for the children and is updated every week. It is used by the children to read the newspaper, the question and share/express their opinions and thoughts on that week’s question. The children can add these to post it notes on the wall during dinner times and break times. The children have a Picture News Assembly every week which they really like, all the year groups mix up within the rows to stimulate discussion. We also have a team of HLTAs within school (5) who visit classes throughout the week and focus on the classroom based part of Picture News pack. We send the Picture News ‘at home’ out via social media weekly too.”

Good News

“Miss, tell me something good!”

Children can be forgiven for thinking that the world is a very bad place with very bad people doing very bad things. It’s true, there is plenty of bad out there but not everything is toxic.

Pick up a newspaper or access the news via social media, TV or radio and there doesn’t seem to be much positive going on.

There are blogs, articles and stories galore about people hurting each other or people harming the environment or the environment harming us so it is little wonder children get scared. We seem to be  drowning in war, violence and natural disasters.

Then there are news stories that seem to run and run like Forrest Gump. These are never off the front page and they might not necessarily be tragic or traumatic but are just dreary and lacklustre.

Brexit is important but it is politics at its driest with little to excite anyone but it dominates at the expense of hundreds of other events and experiences that are worth getting excited about.

Good news doesn’t get the same attention as bad news yet there is good news happening all the time pretty much everywhere.

Young children live completely in the environment in which they live and do not seriously conceive of there being any other. Their contact with the news can be extremely limited as their world is very much their own.

Yet as children get older they see and hear things that make them aware that there is ‘stuff’ going on around them and their world view starts to expand. This world view though is often traumatic, misrepresentative and overdramatic.

The power of the media in shaping our world views is huge as organisations select what is news and what isn’t. Children need to know this.

They need to know that ‘the news’ is something we are given and served and there are thousands of things that never get reported or make the headlines.

They also need to know that they can make the news, shape the news and challenge what is deemed as newsworthy.

We don’t have a newspaper called ‘Good News’ or ‘Just Great News’ but wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a newspaper and website devoted to not just all the good news out there but the unusual, weird, wonderful and interesting?

Amazing scientific discoveries are being made that dramatically save lives and change humanity, yet remarkably they are often ignored or buried in the fast food news of the day or the stubborn news stories that are stuck in the system and refuse to budge or give way.

Take CAR-T cell therapy as an example.  This is a type of treatment in which a patient’s T cells (a type of immune system cell) are changed in the laboratory so they will attack cancer cells as a living drug.

After several decades of painstaking research, the most exciting advance in treatment for childhood leukaemia is big news and should be celebrated but it didn’t get on the front page. How could this be a non-event?

Of course, there needs to be a balanced diet of news so children don’t grow up with rose-tinted glasses on but there is a desperate need for pipelines of good and great news to enter the system to enrich and inspire everyone.

Children need to know that the mainstream media are failing us because what’s happening in society isn’t being broadcast fairly or with balance good news stories are not in short supply but their reporting of it is.

Being hit with a constant stream of negativity can lead children to see the world in very distorted and twisted ways. Let’s not forget the fake news, misinformation, sensationalised headlines, inaccurate reporting and craving for drama. The news we get is a box of damaged goods and misconceptions.

Steven Pinker says that prolonged exposure to negative news can ‘miscalibrate people’ meaning they have an unreasonable sense about the probability of airline crashes or of terrorists taking over.  Bad news can make you glum and worry more crime, even when rates are falling.

The power of good news can be uplifting and engaging. We need the feel-good stories for our mental health and wellbeing.

In mainstream TV news good news tends to be a bolt-on, an added extra and something to stick in the ‘..and finally’ section of a programme. 29 minutes of the bad and boring stuff and 60 secs of good isn’t balanced broadcasting though.

Fortunately there are news sources that do achieve a balance and cover positive, quirky and feel-good news items. Picture News often features an array of optimistic and great news stories that can get missed and it is these stories that can then prompt children to see the news in more positive ways.

Children need a diet of hope not devastation and we can help by providing opportunities for them to research and find stories that celebrate humanity and achievements. We also need to promote what public health expert Hans Rosling calls ‘factfulness’ as a source of mental peace.

Seeing the world factfully and positively is within our grasp and as classroom practitioners we are well placed to ensure that there is balance so we can support children develop healthy news mindsets.

By being more constructive and getting more positive back into the system we can help children see there is an upside which spreads hope.

This is precisely what The Guardian are doing by deliberately seeking out the good things happening in the world. Their Upside series is going to be part of a Google experiment to spread good news via its voice assistant.

Solutions journalism like this isn’t just good news, it is great news and it’s the daily dose we all need.

What time’s assembly? by John Dabell

‘The Marmite Gene Project’ found that people are born biologically more likely to be either lovers or haters of Marmite.

I have no scientific proof but I’d say the same goes for teachers and assemblies.

Some love ‘doing’ an assembly and some definitely swerve the rota and will always find something else to do when it’s their turn.

For me, leading an assembly is definitely one of the perks of being a teacher. Where else are you going to get a captive audience of hundreds that hang on your every word?! They are a powerful part of school life and taking one is a privilege.

Assemblies can fill some teachers with dread and fear because these are normally whole-school get-togethers where all eyes on you and there is nowhere to hide!

Performing in front of your colleagues isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but they are something you can grow to like and get better at the more you do.

But avoiding them is not an option as every member of the school staff, pupils and occasional visitors will be involved in leading an assembly at some point in the school year.

Assemblies are golden opportunities to meet as a school community and should be the fabric of school life to promote spiritual, moral and cultural development and reinforce the school’s values. They are a valuable and valued experience for all members of a school community whatever their backgrounds and beliefs.

Assemble and Worship

Collective worship is distinct from assembly which can be a gathering for a wide variety of reasons.

The majority of schools in the UK are required by law to organise acts of collective worship (England, Northern Ireland, Wales) or religious observance (Scotland) for their pupils.

The majority of such acts during any school term must be of a ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character’ and should be concerned with ‘reverence or veneration paid to a divine being or power’.

But is there a place for ‘collective worship’ or ‘religious observance’ in schools?

There can be a cross-over between the two and assembly activities can legitimately be called worship e.g.

  • responding to a challenge and sharing each other’s joys
  • reflection on the meaning of life
  • pondering big ‘ultimate’ questions
  • developing a sense of transcendence
  • exploring universal values such as courage, compassion, justice and peace
  • exploring universal experiences such as awe, mystery, transience, suffering, grief, forgiveness, love and joy
  • learning about the insights, beliefs, and practices of fellow pupils, staff and members of the wider community

Collective worship and assemblies are a meeting of differences where a variety of faiths, different cultures, different ages and different backgrounds gather together.

But collective worship is a real can of worms and some have said that it actually puts children off from worship because it “is not done particularly well”.

In 2015, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) published a report, Collective

Worship and Religious Observance in Schools: An Evaluation of Law and Policy in the UK which  stated:


“The statutory duty to provide an act of collective worship/religious observance in schools has been

controversial for decades. Issues include: disagreement about the appropriateness of such acts in an

increasingly pluralistic, multicultural UK; the degree to which the current system properly affords

respect for the rights of individuals and minority groups, including those with no religious faith; and

concerns that the present arrangements do not adequately develop the spiritual/moral education of

pupils, or promote a community spirit and shared values in schools.”


The reality in our schools is that there is a high level of non-compliance with the law and there is almost a total lack of any attempt to enforce it.

This is why many argue that collective worship, in a plural and fair-minded society, gives way to a requirement to hold inclusive assemblies as these can genuinely contribute to the social and moral development of children and power mutual understanding between children of different religions and beliefs.

The AHRC report recommends removing the requirement that acts of collective worship be of a broadly Christian character and advises replacing the duty with a duty for a ‘time for reflection’.

Reflective assemblies do this and are more inclusive because they allow schools to address a whole range of topics, including faith and belief.

They can allow children and staff to:

  • engage in an act of community
  • express praise and thanksgiving to each other
  • be still and reflective
  • respond to personal, local, national and international news
  • foster respect and deepen awareness of the school’s ethos
  • explore citizenship, human rights and British values
  • share each other’s experiences and talents
  • celebrate special times in the calendar and national days

Assemblies then are an important part of building a strong school community as they are a powerful opportunity for children, staff, parents and visitors to learn, celebrate and share together and to establish a shared sense of identity.

They benefit the whole school, they link the school to their wider community, contribute to personal development and enhance awareness of global citizenship.

Assemblies That Shine

Leading an assembly is a skill and they need careful planning. Although experienced colleagues might be able to take an assembly at just a few minutes notice, these aren’t events that you can just turn up at and ad lib like a comedian.

Assemblies can easily fall flat on their faces without preparation and turn an engaged and respectful audience into an awkward and uncomfortable one.

The content of all assemblies needs to be considered carefully to ensure relevance and suitability for the ages, aptitudes and backgrounds of all pupils, as well as the balance between faiths.

Merely meeting together to share announcements and notices is a missed opportunity because assemblies are a time to educate, reflect and grow as a school.

A variety of styles, active and interactive methods and a range of resources also need to be used in assemblies so that they never become predictable, routine and tedious.

For me, I think all assemblies have to shine and to help me plan I use the SHINE acronym. Assemblies have to be:

  1. Social – this is a collective experience that needs to speak to everyone for it to be truly inclusive and so selecting a topic that doesn’t alienate anyone is essential.
  2. Hued – there are plenty of vanilla flavoured assemblies out there which are great if you like vanilla. But vanilla every time is boring so assemblies have to be colourful, vibrant and diverse.
  3. Interrelated – assemblies are the perfect opportunity to make connections across the curriculum and to join thinking and experiences together so that children appreciate links and start searching for them independently.
  4. New – assemblies have to be challenging and provoke thinking so that children can develop resilience, empathy, positivity and creativity. Assemblies can help build capacity for new skills and so every assembly needs to deliver a new experience.
  5. Energetic – assemblies don’t have to be all singing and all dancing but they do need 100% passion and energy so that drive and verve inspires children. Children have to leave an assembly with something to think about, something that has stirred them and something they will talk about at home.

The most important aspect of an assembly is the concept of wholeness so that everyone in the school feels valued, cared for and respected.

Assemblies that shine create the conditions for positive connections to be made where children enjoy being part of a supportive school family. They also contribute to developing children’s personal autonomy, contentment and emotional wellbeing.

It’s a real honour to take an assembly because as teachers we have the potential to really make them special and memorable and contribute to the overall health of the school community.


Does anyone know what ‘Fundamental British Values’ are? By John Dabell

We have no written constitution so we don’t have a set of explicit values or core beliefs ingrained in our culture or national DNA.

The concept of ‘British values’ is therefore elusive because there is no baseline understanding of what it is to be a ‘British citizen’ and many blur British values with Britishness.

Ask most people in the street what they are and you’d be sure to get responses ranging from “Err” and “Hmm”,  “Do we have any?” and “Haven’t a clue!” mixed with confusing British symbols and stereotypes such as “fish ‘n’ chips”, “the BBC” and “The Queen, God bless her soul”.

The Government emphasises that schools are required to ensure that key ‘British values’ are taught in all UK schools.

It set out its definition of British values in the 2011 Prevent Strategy.

The five fundamental British values are:

  • Democracy
  • The rule of law
  • Individual liberty
  • Mutual respect
  • Tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs

Since 2014, teachers in English schools must promote these British values and their promotion is inspected by Ofsted.

Many schools will have a British Values Statement or similar, declaring their commitment to serving their community.

Schools are required to provide for the spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development of their pupils. As part of this requirement, they are expected to actively promote fundamental British values and most have said that promoting them has merely  reinforced, not changed, their ethos.

Schools recognise the multi-cultural, multi faith and ever-changing nature of the United Kingdom and the vital role they play in ensuring that groups or individuals within the school are not subjected to intimidation or radicalisation by those wishing to unduly, or illegally, influence them.

It all sounds straight-forward enough and although the Government seems pretty clear what British Values are and schools have written them up in their policies and statements, the vast majority of us still aren’t sure because they are open to interpretation, a work in progress and subject to change.

I’m hard-pressed to meet any teacher that confidently understands what British values are supposed to be or how to teach them because they are broad, vague and rootless.

This means that teachers have translated them with a lot of freedom to fit their own settings and so their interpretation and promotion is wider than the Capertee Valley in Australia.  No one said that political literacy and citizenship was going to be easy.

Training, advice and specialist resources are ‘out there’ but providers put their own spin on what British values are and how they should be taught which makes things very messy, confusing and disjointed.

Schools lack ‘go-to’ guidance, teachers lack training and confidence and children can get very different mished-mashed versions of British values – some might also be insular and not get any.

Scrap ‘British values’

Sometimes things slip under the radar and news can get buried but are we about to see British values ditched?

A recent citizenship report that didn’t really hit the headlines was  ‘The Ties that Bind: Citizenship and Civic Engagement in the 21st Century’,  from The House of Lords Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement. This is well-worth a read.

A major criticism of ‘British values’ is that they aren’t exclusively British but can be equally applied to other countries, cultures and religions.

This is why some have argued that “Fundamental British values” should be replaced by “human rights” or “international law”.

The word ‘fundamental’ also comes into question as this has “troubling connotations”.

The report recommends that,

“The Government should stop using the term Fundamental British Values and instead use the term Shared Values of British Citizenship. It should recognise that the values are both shared with people from other countries and are essentially British.” (Paragraph 46)

Citizenship education is the first opportunity for imparting and developing British values and it has a crucial role to play in helping to build active citizens but in order to support positive citizenship, we desperately need to come to an understanding what values we are supposed to be sharing.

The report therefore recommends that the existing values should be changed to include “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and respect for the inherent worth and autonomy of every person” and that these values “should be central to government policy and each department must make it clear how it relates to them.”

The report also argues that efforts to promote ‘Fundamental British Values’ has been associated too much with the Prevent strategy which has  blunted their impact.

Rather than solely aiming to counter extremism, ‘Shared Values of British Citizenship’ must be to encourage positive citizenship.

Citizenship: SOS

‘The Ties That Bind’ pulls no punches and is scathing of the state of citizenship education in England saying that the Government has allowed it to “degrade to a parlous state” and its decline must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Trained citizenship teachers and first-rate CPD are an urgent priority as this will stop the ‘off the shelf’ citizenship teaching we see currently where teachers plug themselves into ready-made toolkit resources that vary in quality, effectiveness and impact.

So, until we get the guidance we need, we must keep our upper lip stiff, soldier on and keep calm – aren’t those the values we hold dear? If that’s too nationalistic then let’s all just be decent human beings, look after each other and value life – fundamentally we are all connected.