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Last Updated: Friday, 12 October 2007, 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK
Can pupils learn 'Britishness'?
classroom scene
Britishness forms part of the citizenship syllabus
Is there such a thing as "Britishness" and is it something that can be taught to children in school?

The government wants to place British values at the heart of the new national curriculum in England via citizenship classes in schools.

These lessons became compulsory for pupils aged 11 to 16 in September 2002.

Schools Minister Ed Balls recently announced revised citizenship lessons to include national, regional, ethnic and religious cultures.

But defining "Britishness" can create as many questions as it answers.

Even politicians cannot agree, as highlighted by a debate organised by global financial services firm Morgan Stanley.

This posed the question: "Can Britishness be taught?" to a select group, including Minister of State for Schools and Learners Jim Knight and eminent British historian Dr David Starkey.
The whole school ethos should be about tolerance, respect, liberty and fundamental British values
Jim Knight, Minister of State for Schools and Learning

Jim Knight said: "I'm not sure whether exclusively there are characteristics you can define as British, but I think there are important values to promote.

"The values of being British as we define them for ourselves can't be taught but can be cultivated.

"The whole school ethos should be about tolerance, respect, liberty and fundamental British values.

"Be proud of your country but define Britishness for yourself."

Managing identities

In a YouGov poll commissioned by the Daily Telegraph, 51% of respondents thought Britishness should be taught in schools as part of the national curriculum and 56% thought teaching Britishness would give children a stronger sense of national identity.

But Dr David Starkey said it was impossible to teach Britishness because "a British nation doesn't exist".

He said: "We are made up of four nations which constitutes a marketplace of identities."

Trevor Phillips
Trevor Phillips: need for written constitution?
Conservative MP David Willetts said we could learn about Britishness by learning about the institutions which shape our country and the way we behave.

His view is that Britishness should be taught via history lessons which could concentrate on the importance of such institutions as Parliament and Buckingham Palace and their roles in shaping the British identity.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission chairman Trevor Phillips thinks we need to move away from the institutions that represent Britishness and look at how we behave towards each other.

He said that Britain had had a history of managing different traditions and identities for a thousand years but because of the rapid pace of change this might now need to be more formalised.

He said: "Maybe we need to have a written constitution.

"We need to preserve the essence of how we do things - that's the sum of a thousand years of history."

The government sees schools playing a key role in creating community cohesion through citizenship lessons and has recently put more emphasis on children learning about shared values and life in the UK.

Morgan Stanley has developed the Great Britons education programme to help young people explore the concept of Britishness as part of citizenship education.

It has developed three lesson plans and resources which meet the requirements for Key Stages 3 and 4 citizenship.

Schools 'must teach Britishness'
25 Jan 07 |  Education
What school citizenship involves
28 Sep 06 |  Education
Citizenship lessons 'inadequate'
27 Sep 06 |  Education

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