I’ll keep it brief: Modern Britain sucks.
I don’t mean that being here, actually living on this small island is bad, for the record, I quite like it – we have a national health service, the BBC, a good solid class system that allows me to feel socially awkward pretty much constantly, and some of the best cheeses known to man. No, living here, suits me down to the ground.
What I dislike about ‘modern Britain’ is that it’s now been appropriated by politicians and become a ‘thing’. Modern Britain has now, apparently, arrived and of course, schools have not noticed. While we’ve been busy teaching girls how to walk in a steady line whilst balancing a pile of books on their heads and developing boys’ aptitude for shimmying up chimneys, the world has moved on.
Modern Britain is totally new. It’s all shiny and fast and touchscreen. And that’s great and people want that. But they also kind of want traditional things, how things used to be – you know, cups of tea, starched shirts, McDonalds. Imagine Britain was like the Booker Prize and the winning book was a mash-up of Thomas Hardy and Irvine Welsh. Modern Britain is exactly like that. Classic, sweary, comfortable, edgy, shabby, chic.
Except…there’s more. According to facts there is also radicalisation, separatism and a poisoning of good old fashioned British values. I’m not sure what these British values are: imperialism, colonialism, Thatcherism? But in between the Old Britain and the New Britain is the Bad Britain. Close your eyes and think of Britain today: you’re probably getting an image of a tattooed Mary Berry piping salted caramel curry sauce on a Yorkshire pudding whilst sexting. That’s modern Britain, red in tooth and claw, and that last bit…that’s the bad bit.
This is the full hard core Britain that we, as educators, were just letting children blindly wander into. But now, thanks to Ofsted that is set to change. No longer can we just get on and try to survive in whatever sort of Britain we wake up to – now we must prepare children for a pre-defined modern Britain; the one that we apparently all want and have subconsciously agreed upon.
There’s just one problem…this idea of Modern Britain is a bit, well, naff. And I say that knowing that I’m discrediting my previous three paragraphs. That’s how sure I am that the people who decided, in the new Ofsted consultation, that schools should prepare pupils for life in modern Britain, hadn’t really thought it through. I mean I put a lot of thought into the Mary Berry bit (a little too long to be honest) and well, even though I reckon that’s the most accurate picture anyone has ever come up with to describe modern Britain, I wouldn’t want to hang my school’s whole curriculum on it – let alone yours!
But soon we’re going to be subjected to proving how we’re preparing children for someone’s idea of modern Britain. How is that going to work? Who is that someone? Why will their version of British values be relevant for my pupils or yours? And does anyone really think it’s going to work?
My suspicion is that this body of work will be reduced to box ticking. All over the country websites will change, ever so slightly, to make sure words like ‘modern’ and ‘British’ and ‘values’ are visible to impending Ofsted inspectors. Every school policy will be updated with identical incidental paragraphs promising that promoting British values is an integral part of school life. During the inspection Heads will do whatever the modern British values equivalent is of lighting a candle in assembly in order to pass it off as ‘collective worship’.
No school will actually sit down and decide for themselves what British values are and how they promote these in their school. And if they did, what would stop a rogue inspector saying ‘No, no, no, these are not British values…these are!’ It’s an inappropriate misappropriated mess.
I don’t doubt that the concept has come from a good place. But seriously…let’s be British about it and think about it sensibly. How about bringing back community cohesion? That was pretty good wasn’t it? Looking at your community, celebrating its strengths and challenging its weaknesses. Working out how you could give your children the best start in, not just modern Britain, but the modern world – an even more rapidly changing place.
Some might say, that schools have been doing this for years, even when community cohesion wasn’t considered cool anymore. Yes, a minority of schools may have failed some of their pupils by not safeguarding them effectively from the more sinister fractions of their community but their failings are lessons learned and taken forward by all of us. We don’t all need another knee-jerked bolted on initiative to put into action…we just need to keep our ears open in order to hear the winds of change because modern Britain doesn’t suck…it blows.