Education secretary Michael Gove about to make a speech on education earlier this year. Photo: Oli Scarff, Getty
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Gove urges schools to teach British values. But what are they?

Liberal or pluralist multiculturalism?

Michael Gove has announced that the government will require all 20,000 primary and secondary schools to “promote British values”.

The decision follows a watershed series of inspectorate reports into 21 Birmingham secular schools, which uncovered a limited, Islam-based ideology; rigged staff appointments; inappropriate use of school funds; and a "culture of fear and intimidation".

So the education secretary's exhortation that British schools should embody and teach the values that underpin our society is a reactionary, but understandable (and I would add commendable) command.

Only, the question remains: what are our values? It does not appear obvious to me that we, as a society, have decided collectively what they are.

For a start, isn't there a plurality of value systems in the UK, since we boast a vibrant variety of cultural, religious and ideological communities? Or, at the most basic level, could we count as a single set of coherent values those principles that are embodied by our multiculturalist outlook? That is, our respect for and tolerance towards diverse cultures.

Well no, I don't think we can point to such generic attitudes as being the heart of our value system. Not without a public debate about, and a clearer breakdown of, these values. Not least because our attitude towards multiculturalism - itself too wide an umbrella term - and the values it indicates, have become so confused.

It seems a muffled retreat has been staged from the policy of multiculturalism, which was rolled out by local authorities in the UK from the 1970s onwards. But it has been a fudged retreat without any indepth debate around what modifications we want to the policy.

David Cameron announced in 2011, for example, that multiculturalism had "failed" in the UK. Yet generally speaking, respect is still accorded to a diverse swathe of religions and cultures in Britain – that is, a multitude of cultures still persist throughout the nation.

So, we are multicultural whether you like it or not (and I happen to think it’s a good thing). The debate about the future now needs to centre around the kind of multicultural society we want to be – whether it be a liberal- or pluralist-multiculturalism that prevails.

The former describes a society in which all cultures are respected, but liberal human and civil rights remain an immutable standard overriding other cultural practices and ideologies. A society in which tolerance is a primary value, but, crucially, does not extend to the extreme beliefs of intolerant faiths and cultures, which could threaten the very existence of the tolerant society itself.

Pluralist multiculturalism, however, affords all cultures equal legal and moral status. Such a society extends respect for all faiths and ideologies so far as to accept cultural mores and practices, such as, say, the subjugation of women, that are at directly at odds with our own.

Ministers have reportedly described Gove’s announcement last night as a decisive shift away from moral relativism.

That suggests that the moral subjectivity intrinsic to pluralist multiculturalism (which prescribes respect for the "truth" of all belief systems even if they are mutually exclusive) is being eschewed and, instead, the government is affirming the moral objectivity of liberal multiculturalism (the idea that there is one objective moral "truth" - which, in Britain, is summed up by our defence of human and civil rights - which should prevail over differing belief systems).

But we need the conversation about these fundamental principles, crucial as they are to our society’s identity and soul, to be less opaque and unclear.

It isn’t good enough for Department for Education (DfE) sources to point vaguely at concepts such as tolerance, as they did last night, when alluding to British values. Because isn’t it precisely the British establishment's intolerance of Islamist ideology that has led the department to prescribe the promotion of British values?

Ditto the concepts of "liberty" and "mutual respect", which were also touted as chief British values. The question is, how far should individual liberty extend (should one have the liberty to inculcate children with extreme ideologies?), and how much respect should we afford to other cultures (should we have respect for cultures that have no respect for - would rather override - our own?).

I'm glad the education secretary has called for British values to be taught in schools, in part because the demand will hopefully provoke a society-wide dialogue about these issues.

We need a meaningful debate in order to remove the mystery from our value system. Otherwise good luck to those charged with promoting them in British schools.

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.


Photo: Getty
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Goodbye, Sam Allardyce: a grim portrait of national service

In being brought down by a newspaper sting, the former England manager joins a hall of infamy. 

It took the best part of 17 years for Glenn Hoddle’s reputation to recover from losing the England job.

Between leaving his job as manager in February 1999 and re-surfacing as a television pundit on ITV during the 2014 World Cup, Hoddle was English football’s great pariah. Thanks to his belief in faith healer Eileen Drewery and a string of unconventional and unacceptable views on reincarnation, he found himself in exile following in a newspaper interview during qualification for England’s Euro 2000 campaign.

But just as Hoddle is now cautiously being welcomed back to the bosom of English football, current incumbent Sam Allardyce has felt the axe fall. After less than two months in charge of the national side and with only a single game under his belt, the former Bolton Wanderers manager was caught up in a sting operation by the Daily Telegraph — allegedly offering guidance on how to circumvent his employer’s rules on third-party player ownership.

The rewards for guiding an English team to major international success promise to be spectacular. As a result, the price for any failure — either moral or performance-related — is extreme.

Hoddle’s successor – the endearing Kevin Keegan – resigned tearfully in a toilet at Wembley after a tumultuous 18-month spell in charge. His replacement, the laconic Sven-Göran Eriksson, provided moments of on-field excitement paired with incredible incidents of personal indiscretion. His tangle with "fake sheikh" Mazher Mahmood in the run up to the 2006 World Cup – an incident with haunting parallels to Allardyce’s current predicament – led to a mutual separation that summer.

Steve McClaren was hapless, if also incredibly unfortunate, and was dispatched from the top job in little over a year. Fabio Capello – who inspired so much optimism throughout his first two years in charge – proved himself incapable of lifting the hex on English major tournament fortunes.

The Italian’s star was falling from the moment he put his name to the oddly timed Capello Index in 2010, although his sustained backing of then captain John Terry over a string of personal misdemeanours would prove to be the misjudgement that ultimately forced his exit. As Allardyce has found out, the FA has become increasingly hard on lapses in moral judgement.

English football is suffused with a strange mix of entitlement and crushing self-doubt. After a decade that has given us a Wimbledon champion, several Ashes triumphs, two Tour de France winners and eye-watering Olympic success, a breakthrough in this area has never felt further away.

In replacing Capello, Roy Hodgson — the man mocked by Allardyce during his hours supping pints with Telegraph reporters — had hoped to put a rubber stamp on a highly respectable coaching career with a spell managing his own country. But this summer’s farcical defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016 put his previous career in a much harsher light.    

Allardyce was a mix of the best and worst of each of his predecessors. He was as gaffe-prone as Steve McClaren, yet as committed to football science and innovation as Hodgson or Capello. He also carried the affability of Keegan and the bulldog spirit of Terry Venables — the last man to make great strides for England at a major tournament.  

And as a result, his fall is the most heartbreaking of the lot. The unfairly decried charlatan of modern football is the same man who built a deeply underrated dynasty at Bolton before keeping Blackburn, West Ham and Sunderland afloat in the most competitive league in Europe.

And it was this hard apprenticeship that convinced the FA to defy the trendy naysayers and appoint him.

“I think we make mistakes when we are down here and our spirit has to come back and learn,” Hoddle mused at the beginning of his ill-fated 1999 interview. As the FA and Allardyce consider their exit strategy from this latest sorry mess, it’s difficult to be sure what either party will have learned.

The FA, desperately short of options could theoretically turn again to a reborn Hoddle. Allardyce, on the other hand, faces his own long exile. 

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