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Fundamental British Values in the Early Years

Believe it or not, this new EYFS requirement is nowhere near as exasperating as you might think - and it's certainly nothing entirely new either. Fundamental British values have already been implicitly embedded in the Early Years Foundation Stage since 2014. But that's the problem - they've been in there, they just haven't been clearly or directly expressed. This is why so many of us need further clarity and guidance on what British values means to us in the early years. Hopefully I can give some reassurance and alleviate the confusion.

Let me break it down for you...

The fundamental British values are:

  • Democracy
  • Rule of law
  • Individual liberty
  • Mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths.

Now don't panic, nobody expects us to have graduated with a law degree, a politics degree, a history degree or even a theology degree. And we already have the knowledge and resources we need to be able to successfully demonstrate to Ofsted that we've got these Fundamental British Values covered. That said, you will probably find PACEY's new publication Common Inspection Framework, British Values and You and further resources at the bottom of this page useful


So, let's start with democracy. Think of democracy as a situation where everyone is treated equally and has equal rights.

This is probably a very fair description of your own setting. Well, within your setting I'm guessing you support children's personal, social and emotional development (PSED) by giving them opportunities to develop their self-confidence and self-awareness, to make choices and decisions about what they want to explore and how they're going to use the resources you've made accessible to them.

Like here for instance: Hollie has filled up a bucket with water and fetched a paintbrush which she's been painting the fence with. Does she mind Sean dipping in with a brush of his own? No, she lets him dip away and instructs him, in fact, to paint the decking for her. They are taking turns, sharing, collaborating and making decisions together. Skills that are essential if we are to get on in the adult world. I'm sure you can think of lots of other examples.

Okay, now we have just one cardboard box and two explorers who want it for their rocket. Who goes first? What will we each do while we're in the box and out of the box?

 Now we're negotiating: setting rules for how long we can each spend in the box before we have to let somebody else have a turn. Negotiating who will pass over the construction pieces and what's to be done with them exactly? Now we're trusting that our friend, our collaborator, will be fair and will stick to our plan.

Rule of law

This is about understanding that rules matter and you've seen this too in PSED - sorry, nothing new to report here either.

This is about learning to manage our own feelings and behaviour: about learning right from wrong: about behaving within agreed and clearly defined boundaries: about dealing with the consequences.

You've probably got 'house rules' a bit like this right? (we like to keep ours simple, less for young children to remember). It really doesn't get any harder than this guys.

Individual liberty

The remaining two values are both embedded within PSED and Understanding the World. For individual liberty we focus on children's self-confidence and self-awareness and people and communities.

We help children to develop a positive sense of themselves. Every time we provide opportunities for children to gather wild flowers, mix their own colours for leaf painting or take part in a sack race we are helping them to develop their self-knowledge, self-esteem and increase their confidence in their own abilities.

Every time we share a favourite book with a child, splash in rock pools or build a compound for our dinosaurs together we are giving children the time and space to explore the language of feelings and responsibility; reflect on their differences and understand that we are all free to have different opinions.

Mutual respect and tolerance

Finally, mutual respect and tolerance: where we learn to treat others as we want to be treated. How to be part of a community, manage our feelings and behaviour; and form relationships with others.

"you push, I pull" ~ figuring it out together at the local museum

Naturally we should have an ethos of inclusivity and tolerance in our settings, where views, faiths, cultures and races are valued and where we encourage children to engage with their wider community. 

"you push, I pull" ~ figuring it out together at the local museum

It is our job to help children to appreciate and respect their own culture and the culture of others.

Eid garden party at the child's own home

We can help them explore similarities and differences between themselves and others; among families, faiths, communities, cultures and traditions; and to share and discuss practices, celebrations and experiences.

engaging with the wider community at the local farm

Wherever possible, it's good to share special moments with our children's families whether that involves welcoming them into our own settings or accepting invitations to their own celebrations. 

Every time we see children becoming close friends and we encourage their parents to arrange play dates beyond the setting, we are giving parents and children opportunities to learn the importance of tolerant behaviours such as sharing and respecting other’s opinions.

sharing the experience of caring

After all, if children see and hear the adults they love respecting other cultures, religions and values then this will have a significant, positive impact upon their own behaviour and overall development. But being good role models isn't quite enough. Remember the old Confucian proverb: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

This means that for children to truly learn the importance of tolerance, they need to be given lots of opportunities to practice tolerance and to challenge stereotypes. For example, through sharing stories that reflect and value the diversity of children’s experiences and providing resources and activities that challenge gender, cultural and racial stereotyping. 

challenging stereotypes

I'm not talking about putting out the odd multicultural jigsaw or doll here - I'm talking about having an accessible and continuous provision of a diverse range of musical instruments - everything from djembes to kotos to manjeeras.

Or junk modelling materials to make anything from Native American dreamcatchers to Anansi spiders to Gwiazdy stars. Or lengths of fabric that can be saris just as easily as they can be superhero capes or Roman togas. If what we bring to the setting is diverse, then so will the children's experiences of the world and the people around them.

Will we get away with sticking up a few posters and dotting a few multicultural books about?

No we won't I'm afraid, but then again that's never been enough to show that we actively promote respect for and tolerance of other faiths, cultures and races; challenge gender stereotypes; involve children in their wider community; challenge behaviours (whether of staff, children or parents) when they are not in line with our Fundamental British Values. It's more about what we do and what we say every single day - and that's completely free.

So what's the bottom line? 

Well, it's all good news really. Providing you recognise how British Values links to the EYFS and can confidently demonstrate this, there's no need for extra planning. No need for extra paperwork. No need for extra toys or equipment; and most importantly no need for worrying. What's not to love?


Common Inspection Framework, British Values and You

EYFS and British Values digital download

Webinar: Judgements to British Values, an essential guide to the Common Inspection Framework Available to members and non-members

British Values and the Prevent Duty guide Available to members and non-members

Preparing for your Ofsted inspection practice guide for childminders  - now updated to cover CIF changes

Preparing for your Ofsted visit factsheet - now updated to cover CIF changes

Safeguarding factsheet - now updated to cover CIF changes

About the author

Andrea is a Registered Childminder who leads a small outstanding team of skilled and experienced practitioners. Andrea has been a member of PACEY since 2004 and, through her commitment to CPD, has achieved Fellow-Ambassador membership status. She has been a PACEY Associate for over 2 years and has her own early years training and consultancy business. She enjoys working with children, parents and carers and the wider children’s workforce. Her enthusiasm for raising the quality of childcare and education is matched only by her passion for improving outcomes for children, especially the most deprived and vulnerable.

Milena Traykova
Thanks so much for the information.
18/07/2022 16:52:53

Odinachi Mbadinuju
A great read Andrea and very helpful. Thank you so much.
02/07/2021 14:42:06

Sima Hayati
Thank you for making it simple for us
In our sitting we always putting in place the British values , and building children conference .
18/06/2021 20:29:41

* failure to challenge behaviours (whether of staff, children or parents) that are not in line with the fundamental British values of democracy, rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs
18/08/2020 09:32:45

Lola Ogbiru
Thank you so much for your explanation about the British values. It's so easy to relate to EYFS effective practices.
13/02/2019 10:12:05

Thank you for this insite. I always fluster when asked how do I promote British Values, especially as I know we do but couldn’t verbally describe it. Now I can. Thank you.
15/04/2018 07:54:04

Ishatta Bah
Thank you so much for the simple break down this has been so helpful and reassuring
12/07/2017 12:18:40

Great thank-you. X
11/04/2017 23:37:43

Glynis Davis
Thank you so much for reassuring me that we were doing everything right in our setting.
29/09/2016 13:40:37

Tracey Barrington
Thank you for making it simple and clear
01/06/2016 18:06:03

Sue Smith
Great reading Andrea ! thank you for sharing your knowledge and making it simple to understand and simple to implement. I will share this with my PACEY Local group too!
29/05/2016 08:35:09

elaine mccauley
Fab break down Thankyou x
10/05/2016 06:56:03

C. Andrea Turner
thank you Nicki, Mel, Joan, Denise and Louise. Glad it helps.
22/02/2016 15:58:18

C. Andrea Turner
Louise Sprenger, I completely agree with you. Our values are the same the world over and I too find it quite arrogant to take them for our very own. They are global values. Thank you for your feedback.
22/02/2016 15:55:32

Louise Windass
thank you for helping us understand values more
07/12/2015 19:19:22

Hi Denise Tupman, so glad you found this blog useful. We'd be happy for you to use the information as a resource with clear accreditation and link to this original blog post written by Andrea for PACEY.
10/11/2015 16:02:29

Denise Tupman
This is lovely and very simple to understand so many people are getting themselves in knots over this. Would you mind if I adapted it to use on my website if I mentioned that the original came from you, or should I mention Pacey
10/11/2015 14:32:15

Joan Ankers
Thank you so much for this information, it's interesting reading and like you say we all do it anyway. It's good to be able to read jargon free too, thanks again
29/10/2015 08:10:35

Fantastic way to put it! thx!
18/10/2015 20:32:10

Louise Sprenger
This is a useful article and I'm sure it will stop many people from worrying.

However, my concern with this issue is the parochialism and ethnocentricity of describing these values as 'British'.

I feel I have to find some way of expressing my distaste for this arrogance when demonstrating how I incorporate these values into my work.
18/10/2015 13:57:44

andrea turner
thanks Viv,x
15/10/2015 12:02:06

Vivienne Dempsey
fantastic extremely useful x
14/10/2015 20:25:13

andrea turner
I'm so pleased you found it useful Nicki, thank you for the feedback.
14/10/2015 14:24:14

nicki newman
thank you so much for that easy to digest breakdown of British Values! I must admit when I first started this part of the training I was OMG I know nothing! but this really helped me understand
08/10/2015 17:01:55

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