British values and geography

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has told MPs that schools should not shy away from promoting ‘fundamental British values’ to their pupils (15 October 2014). Ofsted reports highlight how geography can make a significant contribution towards citizenship. Here we provide some useful information about what Ofsted require and how geography can support and promote British values and some relevant GA resources.

Ofsted requirements

The precise requirement from Ofsted on British values can be found in the most recent School Inspection Handbook (2014).

This includes such statements as:

‘pupils develop and demonstrate skills and attitudes that will allow them to participate fully in and contribute positively to life in modern Britain’ (133, p. 35)

‘The cultural development of pupils is shown by their understanding and appreciation of the range of different cultures within school and further afield as an essential element of their preparation for life in modern Britain.’ (134, p. 36)

Geography’s contribution

The contribution of geography to citizenship was highlighted in the last Ofsted report on geography teaching, Geography: learning to make a world of difference (February 2011):

‘Geography education encourages pupils to explore how places have been changed by the contexts and processes that have shaped them. It helps them to understand the complex ways in which communities and societies are linked and to appreciate the diversity of people’s backgrounds. Geography also helps pupils to understand society better. Appreciating diversity encourages positive relationships and shared values. It promotes tolerance and partnership, within local and wider communities.’ (111, p. 45)

The report describes a geography lesson, in a school where the students were predominantly White British, explored the idea of Britishness and what it meant to different people. The intention was to highlight the difficulties of defining Britishness and to encourage students to talk about their personal ‘geographies’, to think critically about their own place in the world and to appreciate the diversity of the world (118, p. 48). In the lesson Year 7 students watched a news item showing secondary school students in a London school being interviewed about whether they felt British and discussed what Britishness meant to them. Initial discussions reflected their immediate heritage but more perceptive points emerged: ‘You don’t have to be born here to be British’. The teacher skilfully linked the points being made to the diversity of places in the United Kingdom. The students considered whether images shown on the interactive whiteboard were from the UK or elsewhere. Perceptive questioning challenged the students’ thinking and perceptions as they explored the images and began to look beyond the obvious. The students created a ‘word wall’, with sticky notes, to answer with one word the central question of the lesson: ‘What is Britishness?’ The students considered the responses they had all made and, as a whole, tried to define Britishness. A small minority of the students reinforced stereotypes, but other students were more evaluative: ‘it's how you feel and not where you come from.’

The 2013 Ofsted Geography subject-specific guidance states that outstanding achievement in geography is demonstrated by:

‘Pupils are able to express well-balanced opinions, rooted in very good knowledge and understanding about current and contemporary issues in society and the environment.’

GA resources

Resources are available from the GA to help with the teaching of British values with some more help and support to come.

For primary teachers

Primary Geographer Summer 2009 focused on Britain and Britishness. It is packed with articles giving practical help to teachers in the primary setting, such as; ‘Local to global: is there a British identity?’, ‘What it means to be British’ and ‘What does Britishness look like in our school?’

Download a FREE poster ‘Britain and Britishness’ and some starter activities to use with the poster and images that was included in the summer 2009 issue of Primary Geographer. You can buy the whole issue for the special price of £6.49.

Geography Plus The UK: Investigating who we are by Stephen Scoffham and Terry Whyte includes fully-resourced lessons on the UK including ‘Images of the UK’, and ‘Who are we?’

For further resources for teaching about the UK: Barnaby Bear investigates the UK, Barnaby Bear’s UK map, UK wall map, UK in Maps.

For secondary teachers

KS3 Geography Teachers' Toolkit: Moving Stories: Why is the population of the UK changing? By John Widdowson includes a fully-resourced lesson on ‘Who are the British?’ Students study images and biographies of well-known people who can trace their ancestry back to immigrants. Students produce an annotated world map using information about different groups of migrants to the UK and analyse the patterns that this reveals.

Download the lesson plan and accompanying resources for lesson 1 ‘Who are the British?’ and:

Buy the book Moving Stories: Why is the population of the UK changing? with ten-fully resourced lessons plus an introduction to the topic, a medium-term plan, glossary, links to further resources and an assessment framework.

Several articles in Teaching Geography, our journal for secondary geography teachers, would also be helpful in thinking about teaching about British values. This article by John Morgan, focuses on discussions of ‘cultures of difference in Britain and their links to young people’s geographies and the types of teaching and learning that might allow geography teachers to engage students in these debates. Following on from this article, Sarah Watts describes how she explored what it means to be British with key stage 3 students in a series of lessons. These articles are free for GA members and cost £2.49 to non-members.

Britishness, geography and education by John Morgan (2005)

Year 8s explore ‘Britishness’ by Sarah Watts (2005)

The GA website has several online CPD courses that support teaching about migration and community cohesion and come with resources to use in the classroom.

The GA is a partner in the Global Learning Programme which supports the development of SMSC and skills such as critical thinking. For more information and resources click here.

Further reading

Department for Education, Promoting fundamental British values as part of SMSC in Schools (November 2014). Available here.

Comment on this page

Comments made by GA members appear instantly and don't require security words to be entered - make sure you're logged in! Guest comments will be sent to a moderator for approval.

Join the GA

For professional journals, huge discounts on publications and CPD and online access to member only resources.

Join now


  • Primary Geography
  • Teaching Geography
  • Geography

Free access to subscribers

  • Become a geography examiner
  • Cambridge International Examinations
Receive our email newsletters

Sign up to our email newsletter for all the latest news and updates throughout the year.