It is common for many teachers and parents, when faced with quarrelling children, to tell them that if they can't get along then they should just avoid each other. This frequently used approach to dealing with problems through separation and avoidance is commonplace, but in my eyes totally wrong. The events of recent years, epitomised by the tragic events in France, have emphasised the importance of teaching children tolerance and respect, but above all have underlined the imperative to give them the ability and motivation to engage in difficult discussions, particularly with those who we find it most challenging to talk to. Jewish tradition teaches us the importance of 'makhlochet' or 'respectful disagreement': we cannot all agree on everything and we don't need to live in a fantasy of superficial harmony. I firmly believe that we need to do, and teach our children to do, is have honest and deep discussions with those who differ from us, in which we try our best to understand their perspectives and are prepared to respectfully disagree about things we can't see eye to eye about.
This notion of deep discussion was a feature of the work of governors this week, who spent an evening exploring British Values and SMSC (Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Education) at Alma. British Values have been at the forefront of the educational discussion for the past couple of years. They were initially identified as important in the Government's Prevent strategy, which was launched by the UK Government in 2011 to prevent the promotion of terrorism and radicalisation. The writers of the strategy identified some of the core British values they saw as the responsibility of schools and other organisation to promote. These include (amongst other things) respect for democracy, freedom of speech, respect for individual liberty and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. The principles of these values have since been incorporated into Department for Education advice and Ofsted guidance for schools. The guidance we explored underlies the importance of many of the values and practices which are part of our approach at Alma, such as teaching children to be reflective about their own beliefs, developing thir imagination, learning to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions, engaging with democracy and the parliamentary system and, in the words of Ofsted, developing an 'interest in exploring, improving understanding of and showing respect for different faiths and cultural diversity'.
It is against the background of these principles, and of helping our children to grow up with tolerance amidst fear and disharmony, that we were glad to welcome three guests to school over the past week: last Friday Muslim author Hajera Memon visited us, to share her beautiful children's book, 'The Story of the Elephant' with us, something we will be using as part of our Year 1 curriculum later this year. Hajera came to join our Friday morning singing (which she loved) and is part of a growing group of individuals from different faith groups, who are helping our children to learn about the beliefs of others.
Our other guests were two of our local MPs, who welcomed to school this Friday: Mike Freer, the MP for the Finchley and Golders Green constituency we are currently in and Theresa Villiers, MP for the Totteridge and Whetstone constituency, where we will be in the future. They had an opportunity to talk to the children and to hear about the things they are learning at the moment. They were both imprssed with the children's knowledge and Mike was especially pleased to be compared to Nelson Mandela, one of the heroes Year 1 are currently learning about!
The discussion in the press regarding British Values has not always been positive, but at the heart of the matter is the notion of creating a better society and a better world, something that guides the work we do here. Using discussion and dialogue to solve problems, find creative solutions and work in cooperation is not just important, it is essential to creating a world built on kindness and is at the heart of Alma, whatever we are learning. We need to talk to create a better world, a world not built on fear or hatred, but built on kindness.