Head teachers at international British schools have warned the government that forcing them to promote British values, including gay rights, will put them at risk of imprisonment. However, the government has insisted that they must abide by the standard, saying it can’t be seen to hold two sets of rules.
The Department for Education is currently in the midst of overhauling its Independent Schools Standards, to bring them into line with the public sector, in particular by introducing the requirement to teach ‘British values’ in all schools, the Times Educational Supplement has reported.
As part of that overhaul, it is also seeking to extend the standards to British schools overseas (BSOs), making it a requirement to uphold those standards in order to be awarded the coveted “British School Overseas” (BSO) kitemark.
However, ‘British values’ in the education sector have become a by-word for the promotion of gay rights in recent months, causing alarm among British head teachers in Middle Eastern and African countries in particular, who fear reprisals from their countries of residence.
“It is simple – if that is what I am teaching in my school, I would be arrested immediately,” said Steffan Sommer, principle of Doha College in Qatar, a member of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference group of top private schools.
“It is a very pleasant place to live, but we are talking about absolute monarchies here. It is run by Sharia law, so the law is very different than in the UK.”
The Department of Education has launched a consultation on the matter, but appears to have pre-empted the result. In the introduction to the consultation, the Department states:
“While we are very aware that BSOs must operate within the cultural and legal context of their host country, we also think that the essence and values of a British education should be evident in the way a BSO operates.
“We understand that this proposed alignment with the ISS will bring real challenges for some schools but it is important that the BSO standards are revised to ensure that parents and others can rely on the BSO ‘brand’ as a measure of real quality which is comparable with the education provided by independent schools in England.”
Likewise, Schools Minister Nick Gibb also appears to have already made up his mind, insisting: “We cannot issue a standard that doesn’t reflect the values of this country.” Although he claims to have understood the concerns of the teachers, he added that the government could not be seen to have two sets of rules.
‘British values’ have already been used to penalise faith schools in the UK who wish to teach traditional values. Durham Free School was forced to close after pupils at the school were branded ‘bigots’. One boy reported to his teachers that an Ofsted inspector questioned a student alone in an isolated room, asking him about his sexuality and wanting to know whether he had lost his virginity.
Last week it emerged that Ofsted is also considering plans to monitor Sunday schools, church youth groups and even choirs to ensure that they are promoting so-called ‘British values’. Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute said “regulating the activities and teachings of churches – that’s the kind of thing they do in China. I did not think it was the kind of thing the United Kingdom government would ever try to do.”