Speaking on Any Questions on Friday night Michael Morpurgo confessed to not knowing what British Values are despite being 71. Sadly for Michael, the opportunities for finding out about these values in the UK are tailored towards the young and the very young. In November 2014 the coalition Government published guidance on promoting British values in Schools to ensure that young people leave school prepared for life in modern Britain. Previously all Schools and even Pre-Schools had a duty to ‘respect’ these values, but from the introduction of this new guidance, these places of education have a duty to ‘actively promote’ them. This September will see the first School year in which the active promotion of British Values will have been included by teachers and Pre-School teachers in their curriculum and so the question was very apt as this summer, many teachers will be considering how to expand the work they do under SMSC or Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural development. As part of the announcement last November, examples were provided which included “an understanding of how citizens can influence decision-making through the democratic process” which the statement went on, could be demonstrated through “material on the strengths, advantages and disadvantages of democracy, and how democracy and the law works in Britain, in contrast to other forms of government in other countries”.
It was clear during the programme on Friday night that Michael Morpurgo who as a widely read author is also an educator, does have views on matters of democracy based on several of the comments he made. However his views might differ from those of Lord Nash who spoke at the launch of the guidance last November. John Nash is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools and has had a fascinating democratic career. His background is in banking and venture capital and in more recent years in the private provision of services within the NHS. He also founded a charity called Future which sponsors academies and he is joint chairman of the Pimlico Academy and for 2 years he sat on the board of the DFE as a non-executive director. He sits on the board of Centre for Policy Studies which Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher founded and he and his wife have between them donated over £300,000 to the Conservative Party. As a result of his extensive work and influence in various areas John Nash was elevated to the title Baron Nash of Ewelme in January 2013 and he was also appointed to serve as Schools Minister at the same time. It would be hard to find someone whose story was further from the values that I understand are implicit within a modern democracy than that of Lord Nash. However perversely his story does seem to be very British. If we follow his example we would see that influencing decision-making in the UK depends on making lots of money, giving some of it to a political party, and then getting invited to make decision on behalf of everyone else. Let us hope that the Schools and Pre-Schools are given a slightly different version of what works in a modern Britain than the life story of John Nash when they start lessons in September. However at some stage someone will spot the gap between the ideal and our reality. Perhaps Michael Morpurgo will help provide a perspective!