The Spectator

School report | 7 September 2017

Including: promoting British values in school; compulsory sex education; threat to private schools in Scotland

School report | 7 September 2017
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New drive to promote ‘British values’ in schools

The recently appointed Ofsted chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, has vowed to press ahead with the ‘active promotion of fundamental British values’ in schools. Speaking to an audience at Wellington College, Ms Spielman said that the terror attacks in London and Manchester had brought into ‘stark relief’ the scale of the threat posed by extremism in Britain.

It was essential that the country’s children were equipped with the ‘knowledge and resilience’ required to confront the violent rhetoric peddled by those who ‘put hatred in their hearts and poison in their minds’, she said. In 2014, the Department for Education published guidelines on promoting ‘fundamental British values’. These included a requirement for schools to provide children with an ‘understanding of how citizens can influence decision-making through the democratic process’.

In a sign that Ms Spielman may go further than her predecessor, Sir Michael Wilshaw, she criticised ‘superficial passive displays’ and ‘tick-box exercises’ of the past, such as pinning up the Union Jack and pictures of the Queen.

Ms Spielman’s speech comes in the wake of fierce criticism of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy. The scheme, known as Prevent, is under review, with Labour’s Andy Burnham dismissing it as ‘too top-down’ and calling for greater community involvement at the grassroots level.

Should sex education be compulsory in schools?

The UK government has voted to make Sexual and Relationship Education (SRE) compulsory in all schools, a change that could be in place by September 2019. In the current system, only state schools have compulsory sex education classes, and these do not cover the emotional aspects of relationships. Now, Education Secretary Justine Greening has stated that all children from the age of four will be taught both the social and biological aspects of relationships.

The curriculum will be updated to include modern dangers such as sexting and online pornography. The decision, which was originally rejected in January, may have been influenced by research from Barnardo’s, which found that three-quarters of young people believe compulsory SRE would ‘make them feel safer’.

Some, like the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, feel this legislation takes responsibility away from parents, who will ‘be absolutely powerless to protect their children’ from presentations of sexual activity. School leaders, however, were supportive, agreeing that it is important for young people to understand what is appropriate in relationships.

Scottish private schools attack proposed rates rise

Headteachers at Scottish private schools have hit back at plans that would see their business rates dramatically increase. The rises would cause school fees to go up by hundreds of pounds and could lead to bursary and scholarship funding being reduced. All of this, it is argued, would serve only to make Scottish private schools more elitist.

At the moment, Scottish private schools pay only 20 per cent of their business rates, as they are classed as charities. But new recommendations that have emerged from a review commissioned by the SNP suggest schools pay the full amount. The report, conducted by a former chairman of RBS, says the measures will bring in £5 million a year, with some schools looking at a bill of almost half a million pounds. The head of Gordonstoun school, Lisa Kerr, arguing against the changes, said that they would ‘impact on our ability to offer assisted places – the overwhelming majority of which are offered to Scottish students’.