Gary Eason, BBC News, April 7, 2007
The first ethnic minority president of the National Union of Teachers has said ministers fuel racism by ordering schools to teach “British values”.
London assistant head teacher Baljeet Ghale told the union’s annual conference Britain did not have a monopoly on free speech and tolerance.
The move only fuelled the “shadow of racism” behind some notions of Britishness, she said.
A government spokesman dismissed her claims as “nonsense”.
Ms Ghale, who came to England from Kenya at the age of eight, also criticised Labour’s record on other education issues.
In January, the government published a report it had commissioned from Sir Keith Ajegbo in the wake of the London bombings, into how “citizenship” and “diversity” were being taught in schools.
It said more could be done to ensure children “explore, discuss and debate their identities”.
At the NUT conference, in Harrogate, Ms Ghale said Education Secretary Alan Johnson had described the “values we hold very dear in Britain” as “free speech, tolerance, respect for the rule of law”.
“Well, in what way, I’d like to know, are these values that are not held by the peoples of other countries?” she said.
It was another example of government making policy without talking to those it would most affect.
She wanted an education system that valued diversity and accepted her right to support Tottenham Hotspurbut France in the European Cup, Brazil in the World Cup, Kenya in the Olympics and India in cricket but England in the Ashes.
She went on: “I certainly don’t pass Tebbit’s cricket test but none of my affiliations make me a less valuable person or less committed to being part of this society, but they do make me a global citizen.”
For some people, racism lay behind notions of what it meant to be British, she said.
The government’s move was not about integration, participation or national pride but failure to assimilate or who should be here in the first place.
“To demand that people conform to an imposed view of Britishness only fuels that racism,” Ms Ghale said.
A spokesman for the Department of Education and Skills said: “It is nonsense to suggest that learning British values in citizenship classesbased on a major independent review by respected former headteacher Sir Keith Ajegbohas anything to do with racism.
“On the contrary, teenagers learning about shared British history is one of the essential building blocks of community cohesion.
“Sir Keith’s report in January concluded that all children should be taught core British values such as tolerance, freedom of speech and justice and included a series of recommendations aimed at improving community cohesion and helping children understand both diversity and identity.”
In her wider attack on Labour’s record, the NUT president gave examples of failures in the school rebuilding programme, such as a new roof on part of a school being removed because the supplier had not been paid.
She said the money being spent on academies should be spread more widely around the system and she highlighted the smaller class sizes enjoyed by pupils in Cuba.
She called for the end of national testing and league tables and accused the government of having a negative and low expectation of pupils.
“If the current government was marked with an Ofsted grading it would be given a notice to improve,” she said.
Its leadership and management was inadequate and change was required.