Ofsted has increasingly focused on how well schools promote fundamental British values and meet their ‘equality duties’, expecting Schools to show an active rather than passive approach.
All schools are under a legal duty to actively promote fundamental British values, which are legally defined as being democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. Schools are also obliged to promote the ‘spiritual, moral, social and cultural development’ of their pupils, which includes, amongst other things, encouraging ‘respect for other people, paying particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010’. This is part of their ‘public sector duty’. These characteristics include sexual orientation, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership.
Ofsted has emphasised that it will judge schools based on the depth of their pupils’ understanding of British values. In a speech last month, Ms Spielman explained that ‘wall displays and motivational assemblies’ will not by themselves be sufficient to satisfy this requirement. Rather, the four British values must be ‘embedded’ in a school’s curriculum, and must be ‘actively promoted’ to pupils, including through ‘challenging opinions or behaviours in school[s] that are contrary to fundamental British values’. In particular, pupils will need to have an understanding of the democratic process, and the need to identify and confront discrimination.
Regarding religious schools, teaching the four fundamental British values is rarely an issue. Schools are free to promote religious laws, provided that the need to follow secular state laws is also explained. Some schools however find the need to encourage the ‘spiritual, moral, social and cultural development’ of their pupils through respect for people with protected characteristics more problematic. Whilst schools are not obliged to promote sex-same marriage or gender transitioning, Ofsted expects them, as a minimum, to explain that these are rights protected by British law. This does not, however, prevent schools from also teaching pupils what their religions’ beliefs on these issues are. This Ofsted requirement is consequently a cause of concern for schools whose faith prohibits any mention of sexuality before marriage. Ofsted has made it clear that a refusal to explain these issues will lead to a school being deemed to have failed in its duty to promote its pupils’ social and cultural development. Ms Spielman has also told schools to be extremely wary of censoring any teaching materials, or allowing a religious organisation to limit the school or trust’s discretion as to dress codes and how subjects are taught.