Children must be taught British values in school to help them develop resilience against terror attacks, the new head of school inspectors has announced.
Giving her her first official speech since the General Election, Ofsted chief, Amanda Spielman, said she would carry on her predecessor’s efforts to counteract extremism by searching for illegal, unregistered schools where children are at risk.
Speaking to school leaders at an education festival in Berkshire, she said: “One area where there is room to improve is the active promotion of fundamental British values in our schools.
“Recent attacks in Westminster, London Bridge, Manchester and Finsbury Park have brought into stark relief the threats that we face.
”In the coming months, I am sure we will see heated debates about how to improve our security without impinging on the liberties that are central to our British way of life.
“But just as important as our physical safety is making sure that young people have the knowledge and resilience they need to resist extremism of the sort peddled by those who, as our former prime minister David Cameron said, seek ‘to put hatred in their hearts and poison in their minds’.”
Ms Spielman’s comments follow a Government pledge announced in the Queen’s Speech to establish a Commission for Countering Extremism, which will “support the government in stamping out extremist ideology in all its forms”.
Under the Government’s current anti-extremism strategy Prevent, organisations such as schools and local councils are asked to develop projects to reduce the risk of young people becoming involved in terrorist activity.
Around 42,000 people participated in 142 projects in the 2015/16 academic year, according to government figures.
But in the wake of recent terror attacks, schools must do more to improve their programmes, Ms Spielman suggested.
“Teaching the young about British values is critical to developing that resilience,” she said.
“And by that I do not mean superficial passive displays or tick box exercises... ‘the active promotion of British values’ means giving young people a real civic education, the sort of education that teaches young people not just what British values are, but how they were formed, how they have been passed down from generation to generation and how they make us a beacon of liberalism, tolerance and fairness to the rest of the world.
By judging schools’ progress through the national curriculum survey, she said Ofsted inspectors “hope to find good examples where schools have mastered this teaching, so that others who have struggled with the new requirements can build on their work”.
She was unable to give examples of how the promotion of British values might be marked by inspectors when questioned.
In terms of academic standards, Ms Spielman warned teachers should stop placing so much emphasis on league tables and concentrate on giving children a rounded education.
Too many schools in England put their league table results above pupil interests, she said, with the pressure to boost exam grades overtaking important learning values.
“I know better than most quite how high-stakes these qualifications are as passports to future success,” she told educators at Wellington College, “[but] if you are putting more resources into providing exam scribes than in teaching your strugglers to read and write, or scrapping most of your curriculum through Year 6 to focus just on english and maths... then you are probably doing most of your students a disservice.”
Ms Spielman blamed pressure on teachers, saying as a nation “we should be ashamed that we have let such behaviour persist for so long”.
Earlier this year, Ofsted warned an increasing number of schools appeared to be entering pupils for non-academic qualifications regardless of their own skills or interests, in order to boost their performance data.
Pressure to perform highly in national league tables was leading some schools to narrow their curricula and exclude children who might bring down results, the body said.
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