Promoting British values as part of SMSC

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The recent terror attacks in Paris prompted Nicky Morgan to reiterate the government's desire to 'actively promote' British values such as free speech and tolerance in schools. But what does that mean? We summarise the DfE's recent guidance on the matter in relation to teaching SMSC as part of a broad and balanced curriculum.

The 2002 Education Act requires all maintained schools to promote the spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development of pupils at the school and of society, as part of a broad and balanced curriculum. This DfE guidance explains how schools can actively promote fundamental British values in schools through the 2002 Act's general requirement to deliver SMSC education.

The guidance follows calls by ministers for schools to actively promote British values after concerns about an Islamist takeover in some Birmingham schools. The advice is aimed at head teachers and governors at maintained schools.

The guidance is intended to make clear to schools the extent of their duties under the Act. In particular, the guidance emphasises that pupils should be encouraged to understand that ‘while different people may hold different views about what is right and wrong, all people living in England are subject to its law’. Schools’ ethos and teaching ‘should support the rule of English civil and criminal law and schools should not teach anything that undermines it’.

The guidance urges schools to take particular care to ensure pupils understand the difference between the law of the land and religious law. They should ‘challenge’ opinions or behaviour in school that is contrary to fundamental British values, it adds.

The guidance says schools must meet requirements for a daily act of collective worship, but they should also ensure pupils understand that freedom to choose and hold other faiths and beliefs is protected in law. Having another faith should not be the cause of prejudicial or discriminatory behaviour, it explains.

Pupils should also learn how citizens can influence decision making though the democratic process and how power in Britain is separated between the executive (government) and the judiciary.

The document suggests various classroom and extra-curricular activities to promote British values. It gives examples such as setting up a school council or using general elections to run mock votes and debates so pupils can argue and defend points of view.

The guidance covers:

  • the requirement for schools promote pupils’ SMSC development
  • what is expected of schools in promoting fundamental British values
  • how this aligns with schools’ duty to promote SMSC.


Schools should:

  • enable students to develop their self-knowledge, self-esteem and self-confidence
  • enable students to distinguish right from wrong and to respect the civil and criminal law of England
  • encourage students to accept responsibility for their behaviour, show initiative, and understand how they can contribute positively to the lives of those living and working in the locality of the school and to society more widely
  • enable students to acquire a broad general knowledge of and respect for public institutions and services in England
  • further tolerance and harmony between different cultural traditions by enabling students to acquire an appreciation of and respect for their own and other cultures
  • encourage respect for other people
  • encourage respect for democracy and support for participation in the democratic processes, including respect for the basis on which the law is made and applied in England.

The understanding and knowledge expected of pupils as a result of schools promoting fundamental British values includes:

  • an understanding of how citizens can influence decision making through the democratic process
  • an appreciation that living under the rule of law protects individual citizens and is essential for their wellbeing and safety
  • an understanding that there is a separation of power between the executive and the judiciary, and that while some public bodies such as the police and the army can be held to account through Parliament, others such as the courts maintain independence
  • an understanding that the freedom to choose and hold other faiths and beliefs is protected in law
  • an acceptance that other people having different faiths or beliefs to oneself (or having none) should be accepted and tolerated, and should not be the cause of prejudicial or discriminatory behaviour
  • an understanding of the importance of identifying and combating discrimination.

Download the full DfE guidance here.

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