Letters: British values lie in diversity

These letters appear in the June 19 issue of the Independent

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As Fellows of the Royal Anthropological Institute, we share a professional interest in identifying the attitudes and values of the many peoples around the world – including Britain – with whom we work (Letters, 17 June).

We are also well placed, because of our collective experience of a wide range of diversity, to support the principles of inclusivity that are essential for the success of a multicultural society such as Britain. We are particularly concerned, then, to read recent media reports that would appear to associate expressions of xenophobia with the advocated promotion of “British values” in our schools.

On the contrary, our professional experience working abroad – where we are likely to encounter competent British people in many walks of life – suggests that as a nation we have a rather strong facility for fostering a sense of global citizenship.

We would like to recognise the positive way in which our schools encourage the longstanding British propensity to value diversity at home and abroad, and appeal to them to hold firm in producing the next generation of global citizens. One recent demonstration of this “British value” has been the enthusiastic take-up of the A-level in anthropology, which opens up our field to young people at a crucial age. It marks a clear way in which our young people, immigrants and otherwise, can work together to build a future of respect and value for each other’s historical origins. Taught together with the history of our nation, future British adults can hardly fail to notice that it is a very British value indeed to absorb a highly diverse range of cultural influences.   

Clive Gamble, President

David Shankland, Director

Hilary Callan, Former Director Paul Basu, Chair, and Barry Dufour, Peggy Froerer, Joy Hendry, and Brian Street, members of the Education Committee,

Royal Anthropological Institute, London W1


Like Francis Kirkham (letter, 17 June) I am dismayed by the tub-thumping about “British values”, a term which, if we are not careful, will soon join “hard-working families” and “benefit scroungers” as meaningless political soundbites. “British values” have been infiltrated into the Teachers’ Standards, by which all teachers will now be judged for their pay progression.

Teachers are required to “not [undermine] fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”

Why British? Surely also Dutch or Norwegian or Belgian or a host of other nations? And how are we British to demonstrate that we uphold these values? By singing the appalling lyrics of “I vow to thee my country”? By reciting lists of kings and queens?

Or, more chillingly, from another of your headlines (17 June): “Gunmen kill Kenyans who cannot pass Islamic test?” What is to be the “British test”?

Susan Jackson

Skipton, North Yorkshire


If the Education Secretary wants to see British values being taught at British schools, why do the GCSEs that my son and thousands of other students are currently taking being taught in US English?

AQA and others insist that sulphur is spelt with an f, that kilogrammes are spelt kilograms and that the history taught is American (such as the civil rights movement) rather than the much more important English civil war.

Leslie Rowe

Richmond, North Yorkshire


I am an anthropology teacher in a west London comprehensive school. My year 13 class is made up of students whose parents are from Morocco, Pakistan, India, Kenya and Mauritius. I am Croatian; I came here in 1992 as a refugee from the Balkans wars.

All my students are second- or third-generation immigrants or refugees. But they are proper British kids who listen to popular music, follow fashion, and have the same issues as any other British teenager. But this is what makes it beautiful for me. This is for me what British values are: freedom to express this multiculturalism.

All of us in my anthropology class have hybrid identities. Perhaps we eat food at home with spices from our original countries, or watch satellite soap programs from our native countries, but when in my classroom we have something in common that allows us to communicate. Is this a British value? Why does it have to be labelled British? Very soon we realise that there are simple values that apply, wherever you are and whatever cultural background you come from. They are love, respect and compassion.

Tomislav Maric

Heston Community School, Hounslow, Greater London


Feed the world – but not with chemicals

On the strength of the story “GM banana could transform life expectancy in Africa” (17 June) your editorial once again urges us all to embrace GM foodstuffs. The banana story is indeed a promising one and the fact that the crop has been developed through a benevolent grant suggests that it may eventually be shared with small farmers rather than exploited for profit, but I suspect that – just as with the long-running Golden Rice project – child malnutrition would be better tackled by improving access to an adequate balanced diet based on sustainable local agriculture.

At least the banana and rice projects are aimed primarily at improving human health. Most of the GM crops currently cultivated in the Americas (and exported to Europe as animal feed) have been developed specifically to benefit a small number of large agro-chemical companies by increasing plants’ tolerance of highly toxic herbicides and pesticides. The crop types were introduced to reduce chemical use but in practice they have – just as predicted – produced increasing tolerance in the pests being controlled and therefore to ever-increasing use of chemicals in agriculture. 

I don’t think we improve our chances of feeding the growing human population by dousing the land in weedkiller, or by allowing large corporations to control agriculture for profit.

Sarah Thursfield

Highmoor, Llanymynech


Keep drunks out of A&E departments

During my long career as a clergyman I often attended the local infirmary’s A&E department when a parishioner was involved in a serious road accident or some other emergency. Forty years ago Friday and Saturdays evenings were a nightmare as Scotland’s infamous legion of violent, noisy drunks clogged up the wards and frightened patients and staff.

Today, with 24-hour drinking and the pervasive availability of narcotics, paramedics can be seen struggling with some intoxicated hooligan at any hour of the day or night.

So I fully support the senior nurses calling for “drunk tanks” – special units in town centres or hospitals where people can sober up – to be piloted across the country (report, 17 June).

Rev Dr John Cameron

St Andrews


Education: Earlier is not always better

The positive tone of your report on the research finding that children taught to read early via phonics “achieve” reading ages several years “ahead” of the norm (“Phonics pushes up reading age”, 16 June) must be challenged. If, say, it was shown that sex education led to children engaging in full sexual relationships two years “ahead” of the norm (eg at 13 rather than 15), would this “outcome” be celebrated as some kind of educational success? Yet such is the kind of absurd logic that this crassly uncritical way of thinking exemplifies.

The only really meaningful research questions should be: what are the long-run learning and developmental consequences of early literacy; and what is the opportunity cost, in terms of curtailed early childhood, that ideologically imposed cognitively biased early learning entails?

On this, the research is clear and unequivocal: children introduced to literacy later, after the age of six, have caught up, if not surpassed, the literacy abilities of early readers by the age of 10 or 11 – but with their love of reading intact.

Dr Richard House

Educational Campaigner, Save Childhood Movement,

Stroud, Gloucestershire


Are youse talking to me?

Like John E Orton (letter, 17 June), I can remember natives of the Forest of Dean, in the 1950s, using “Ow bist?” as a form of greeting. We Welsh-speakers differentiate between the second person singular ti and the plural chi, just like many other European languages. Does this usage still exist in English and if so (apart from the Lord’s Prayer, the King James Bible and some hymns), where?

Dr Meic Stephens



Call time on these calls for change

Ruth Coomber (Letters, 18 June) will have to wait for Welsh and Cornish independence before she gets her time-zone change. Going west also affects at what time you see the sun. The current time zone suits most of the country except, it appears, the south east.

Maybe she should start campaigning for independence for East Anglia?

Martin Oakes