How are British values relevant to us in the era of Covid-19?

In the fifth of a series of blogs around the theme of safeguarding, ETF Associate Selina Stewart considers how British values are relevant to us in an era when Covid-19 has placed limitations on the freedoms we normally enjoy.

The previous pieces in the series can be accessed on the blogs section of the website.

As teachers, trainers or lecturers we still have the requirement to explore British values in our teaching even in the era of Covid-19. In some ways this has given us even more opportunities to explore what British values means.

We all know the British values: Democracy, individual liberty, rule of law and mutual respect for those of other faiths and beliefs as well as a commitment to promote the Equality duty.

Democracy

In some ways democracy may appear to have taken a back seat, with local elections and mayoral elections cancelled last year because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Although we may not have voted last year, more and more people are contacting MPs and campaigning about issues that concern them through social media. We have seen the Black Lives Matter movement take off through demonstrations on the streets, but also through social media posts. There is no doubt that this has had a significant impact on politicians and institutions in the short term; what impact it has in the long term is yet to be seen. Sadly, we have also seen an increase in trolling and racist and sexist abuse online. This is an area where we in education have a moral responsibility to train learners is appropriate use of social media.

Individual liberty is a clear topic for discussion as we all cope with lockdown and social distancing. This is an area where we can really see that at times our liberty declines for good reason, to save lives. We often refer to the balance between liberty and restrictions on our lives; over the last year we have seen far greater national or local restrictions on our lives than ever before. We cannot have friends or relatives in our homes, in the first lockdown we couldn’t even meet one person in the park; and in the lockdown that ended recently we could only meet one person.

There is also space to discuss the minority who ignore the lockdown and continue to socialise and even party. Young people are often blamed for this, and some are undoubtedly breaking lockdown rules, but most young people have kept to the rules. Many are very worried about family members at home so wouldn’t risk bringing the virus home – so in their own lives they balance individual liberty and responsibility.

Rule of Law

Again, the last 12 months have seen a rapid increase in laws that we should be obeying in relation to Covid-19. In many ways this is the reverse of individual liberty. By January 2021, 32,000 penalties had been imposed for breaching Covid laws, most of those in the second half of the year as police decided that people should now be aware of the laws. In the early stages policing was mainly letting people know that they should not be socialising, but the approach has toughened up since the autumn.

Mutual respect and the Equality duty

Generally, we combine these into one area. Clearly, since January 2020 there has been an increase in racial and religious abuse. There was a 300% increase in attacks on Chinese and South East Asian people since the pandemic was publicised in January 2020. Sadly, there has also been an increase in online, verbal and physical attacks on other people from minority ethnic and religious groups including Muslims and Jews. In the Summer the Black Lives Matter movement grew enormously and started to impact on institutions across the country who recognised that change was needed. These ranged from the National Trust to the NHS. With our learners we continue to have responsibilities in this area, to challenge racism and to create a positive environment for all our learners where every one of them can succeed.

All aspects of British values have been at the at the forefront of our experience over the last year and all of them can be explored with learners. Covid-19 and the Covid-19 vaccinations give us a wealth of opportunities to really understand British values and how they relate to all of us.

An ETF webinar for all those responsible for safeguarding and Prevent in the FE and Training sector considering grooming and extremism and what they mean takes place on 20 April. For details, and to book your place, please visit the ETF booking site.

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