OPINION: British values being taught in our schools is important

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Ipswich MP Tom Hunt says pupils should learn the importance of Britain's positive historic influence, and reflect where things have gone wrong - Credit: Getty Images

Our education system is something to be proud of in the UK. However, it is also something we must be continually assessing and improving.

Walking into the three-hour accountability session with the Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, I wanted to ask about investment in Ipswich schools, universal screening for dyslexia, and training for teachers on SEND. 

Ipswich has been an Opportunity Area since 2017, receiving more funding to improve our local schools, and it has been announced that we are also going to be a priority Education Investment Area. I wanted to clarify exactly what this will mean for Ipswich and our schools. 

The Secretary of State told me that the Opportunity Area is about identifying strong local leadership and working on a focused project to improve education in Ipswich. I was reassured that this hard work wouldn’t be lost. The Education Investment Area plan will take the best of what worked with Opportunity Areas and channel this into a new plan for education. 

I also raised Matt Hancock’s bill for universal screening for dyslexia, urging the Secretary of State to make sure the Department for Education is supportive. This universal screening would enable early identification of the learning difficulty, so pupils would be able to get the help they need. 

The Bill for universal screening for dyslexia is something I have been incredibly supportive of. I know some people have expressed concerns about labelling pupils as having learning difficulties like dyslexia, but as someone who has personal experience I know how much difference a diagnosis can make.

We need to work constructively to make sure we deliver the underlying aims of universal screening, even if that means refining some parts of the Bill to do so. 

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I am keen that the Department for Education finds a way to roll out this screening for dyslexia, as I told the Education Secretary this week. Nadhim Zahawi reassured me that the ‘parent pledge’, in the white paper, promises to identify gaps in reading and writing ability.

This is already the case in some places, but it should be the standard everywhere. Teachers will need the tools to identify whether children are dyslexic and dyspraxic, and was clear that the Department is looking to deliver the ability to fulfil this. 

Training for teachers on understanding learning difficulties and additional needs in the classroom. The Government’s green paper on Special Educational Needs and Disabilities includes new plans for SEND Co-ordinators in schools, however I still think more needs to be done in training each and every teacher – not just those who are specialists.

This has been raised to me by teachers and headteachers in Ipswich schools, who feel that there isn’t enough support at the moment. So, I wanted to take their concerns to the top.

I know from my visits to local schools that there is a lot of incredible work going on in Ipswich, from teachers dedicated to providing the best support for pupils with SEND. According to the green paper on SEND, only about 40% of teachers feel that they are adequately prepared to support students with learning difficulties.

We need to give them the tools to do this, by making sure all teachers, whether they are SEND specialists or not, have a good understanding of special educational needs and that not all pupils process information in the same way. 

I was quite taken aback, however, by the contribution of a Labour MP during our committee session. It seems that a small number of MPs on the far left of the Labour party are keen to establish the view in the mind of many of our young people that the UK is some sort of 'racist hellhole'. This could not be further from the truth. 

This is no clearer than in the backstory of Nadhim Zahawi himself. He came to the UK from Baghdad at the age of 11, not speaking a single word of English. Today, he is the Education Secretary in what he describes as ‘the greatest country in the world’. 

School is where our children develop their values and learn to think for themselves. Often the first place they are exposed to differences of opinion and different ways of thinking, schools have a responsibility to foster tolerance.

I firmly believe that schools should be helping our younger generations grow up with a strong understanding of British values. I also think it is important that schools create a sense of pride in our country. Sadly, this seems to be something which some on the Left disagree with.

With this emphasis on values comes the responsibility to teach an account of our history which appreciates that Britain is and always has been overwhelmingly a force for good in the world. This isn’t something I expected to come up in the Education Committee this week, but I know it is an important topic which many feel strongly about. Myself and the Secretary of State for Education included.

Of course children should learn about British history. But pupils should learn the importance of Britain’s positive influence, as well as being prepared to reflect on where things have gone wrong.

When I was making this point, I was interrupted by a Labour MP, who then stormed out of the meeting. It seems that some from the Left want to instil a sense of resentment towards British history without any appreciation of the positive legacies. 

Nadhim Zahawi gave an interesting example in the committee - in Iraq, the British mandate left a civil service that was recognised as one of the best in the Middle East. However this was sadly dismantled under the dictator Saddam Hussein.

There seems to be a temptation of the left to do Britain down. Ultimately, we should teach everything about our past. I personally don’t think we should shy away from patriotism and our positive history.  Patriotism is no bad thing and pride in our country is something we should be able to promote, and should be unashamed to do so. 

Some students in our schools sadly still experience racism and this must be stamped out whenever it is seen, however fundamentally we are a tolerant and welcoming country.

Our goal should be for pupils to feel proud to be British. Fortunately, having visited the vast majority of schools in Ipswich since I was elected, they are all in the right place on this issue.

I agree wholeheartedly with what the Secretary of State for Education – that “Our values, British values, being taught in schools is incredibly important.” Included in these values should be pride, patriotism, and perspective. 

- Tom Hunt is the Conservative MP for Ipswich