The World has changed – has this changed British values?

ETF Associate Selina Stewart explores how events in recent years have changed the world and influenced how some learners’ perspectives on British values may have changed as a result, asking what opportunities these evolving attitudes present for learning.

There is no doubt that the World was changed by Covid and the long periods of isolation which everyone endured. We may now be able to meet up with friends or family, but the months of limitation on our liberty and the requirement to keep to strict laws has impacted on all of us: particularly young people.

As tutors and lecturers, we need to be aware of this. In some ways this makes the links to British values in learners’ everyday lives easier to point out but also, in some ways, more challenging to explore.


During the Covid crisis everyone could see a democratically elected government making laws which we were all told to obey. For some, elected leaders were taking care of the population with lockdowns, the closure of schools and the purchase of vaccines. Others saw the Covid lockdown experience or the high UK death rate as failures of democracy.

Some interpreted media coverage of the parties at Number 10 as a sign that those at the top, who had been elected, believed they were above the law; others thought that partying at Number 10 was irrelevant. There is a real danger with those in high-profile public positions not keeping to the rules they have made because this can undermine faith in democracy.

In addition to this, a very large number of our students use social media to get their news and in fact reject what they call mainstream media. Algorithms which support social media lead us all to the most controversial and exciting, although often not accurate, material, which again, can undermine our democratic system. This can lead to a belief in conspiracy theories rather than a belief that individuals and groups can make a difference by democratic means.

Rule of law

Students and apprentices will have been very aware that during Covid our elected government was making decisions about what was and was not legal for all of us. Some young people will have supported restrictions because of their fear of the virus and concern for vulnerable friends and particularly elderly and disabled relatives. However, others will not have obeyed the law.

Of course, following on from this came the Black Lives Matter movement, which although triggered byevents in USA, has a resonance in the UK. The rule of law, and policing as part of that, depends on consent and trust in the police and the legal system.

The government published figures for April 2021 to March 2022 which show that there were 7.5 stop and searches for every 1,000 white people, compared with 52.6 for every 1,000 black people.

The views of our black students and apprentices will inevitably be impacted by their own experiences.

In addition to the Black Lives Matter movement looking into the treatment of black people by some of the police, the issues around women and the police were also highlighted during the period of Covid. The rape and murder of Sarah Everard led to women’s concerns about trusting police officers. This has been followed up by coverage of the abuse of women by some men in police forces.

The abuse of black people and women has undermined public faith in the rule of law and, in many cases, the police as the law enforcers. The police are now taking action, as Sir Mark Rowley, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police stated in January 2023, he expected that two to three police officers each week will be facing trial. It will take time to rebuild trust in the rule of law, and trust will be based on personal experience.

Individual liberty

During the Covid-19 crisis individual liberty was severely curtailed, as we all experienced, in ways that none of us expected. Current 16-to-18-year-olds were between 13 and 15 years of age. These are ages when young people are normally developing their independence and going out with friends, whether to the local park, the shops, cafes or friends’ houses. For a significant amount of time none of this was legal. We know this had a significant impact on many people psychologically and that this impact has been ongoing for many.

Some people accepted the need for restrictions on our liberty. However, others think our freedoms should never have been curtailed. When we discuss individual liberty with our students and apprentices, we need to be aware that their experience will impact on their attitudes. Those who had vulnerable people in their families may well have welcomed the restrictions whereas those who had relatives in care homes, whom they may not have been able to hug for 18 months or more, may feel that was excessive.

Mutual respect and tolerance

Over the last three years we have seen a greater awareness of the lack of the mutual respect and tolerance that many of us hope for in society. During the Covid lockdowns more and more people – especially young people – came to rely on social media for communication. This had led to increased use of pornography, often violent, and also to social media encouraging racism and misogyny. Extensive online misogyny, which particularly reaches young men, has encouraged contempt for and abuse of women. The murder of George Floyd in the USA led to greater discussion of racism in the UK, particularly in the police, but also across UK society and institutions. Students and apprentices may question whether there really is mutual respect and tolerance in colleges, training providers and workplaces, and we need to explore this with them.

Rape Crisis Centre’s research states that one in four women, one in six children and one in 20 men have been raped, sexually assaulted or sexually abused. In September 2022 the police recorded 70,633 rape cases but only 2,616 charges were brought. The actual rate of rapes is estimated to be much higher as five out of six women and four out of five men don’t report rapes. Thirty-eight per cent of these say they do not report rapes because they didn’t think the police would help. This of course feeds back into attitudes to rule of law.

So, with this somewhat depressing background, how do we explore British values with young people? The last three years have made the discussions challenging but topical. Teaching British values never been about telling learners how lucky they are to live in the UK; it has been about the exploration of the reality of British values in the UK. Discussions can focus on what has gone wrong and what has gone well in the UK over the last three years and how learners would like to see the values influence the future of our country.

We need to encourage young people to engage in democracy. Politicians of all parties often make policy which favours older people because they tend to vote. The only way to encourage government to have policies which favour young people is for young people to vote!

The rule of law is important to all of us. We do not want to be stolen from, assaulted or abused, but that does not mean that the rule of law and the way it is enforced is always fair. It has been clear that some people seemed to get away with law breaking during Covid and others did not. When exploring rule of law learners will often want to explore this but it is important to show learners that the rule of law itself is vital to the whole population.

We all lost many aspects of our liberty during the Covid crisis. Attitudes to the loss of individual liberty will vary and there is no doubt that many individuals suffered as a result of the lockdowns. Students may not have been able to kiss their grandparents for months, or even years if they were in care homes. Many people suffered psychologically because of the isolation from family and friends. These are issues to discuss and explore.

Few students will question the need for tolerance and mutual respect, while, sadly, many of them will have seen a lack of it. Again, as part of the exploration of British values, it is important to discuss this.

Yes, over the last three years we have faced challenges in relation to British values. This is something to explore with learners, but there is no doubt that British values can still be positive. We can explore with learners:

  • how they can participate in and influence democracy
  • the importance of law to each of us
  • the extent of and limitations on our individual freedoms
  • the importance of mutual respect and tolerance.

There is little doubt that most of your students and apprentices will want British values respected in the future. Discussion of British values may be more challenging than pre-Covid, but it is quite possible that students and apprentices will appreciate their importance even more as we look to the future.