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Promoting British Values 1: Democracy

Here's how to implement the government's requirement to teach the concept of Democracy as part of 'Promoting British Values'.

This is the first post in our new mini-series focussing on promoting British values. The requirement for EYFS settings to actively promote British values has become increasingly formalised over recent years. It is now perhaps best summarised in the Ofsted inspector's handbook, which identifies the following as a characteristic of outstanding leadership & management;

"The promotion of equality, diversity and British values is at the heart of the setting’s work. It is demonstrated through all its practices, preventing - including tackling - any instances of discrimination and being alert to potential risks from radicalisation and extremism."

For many early years professionals, the idea of promoting British values to the youngest children is a bit mad. Through this mini-series we will explore 4 British values, and how they can be promoted in your setting.

British Value One - Democracy

Photographer: Element5 Digital | Source: Unsplash

Technically speaking, democracy refers to a political system which allows members of a community to select and replace their government. This narrow and formal definition is of very little use in an early years context. Instead, it is easier to consider some of the features of a democracy, which can be more readily integrated into your practice:

  • collective decision making/majority rule
  • active participation
  • representation
  • political awareness

Collective Decision Making

At the heart of democracy is the idea that big decisions are made by the whole community. Majority rule means that the most popular option is the one which is implemented. This feature of democracy is something you probably incorporate into your practice already. Have you ever asked for a show of hands to decide between 2 books?  Yes? Then you've exposed children to the idea of collective decision making.

Development Matters suggests that children only begin to understand the idea of sharing between 22 & 36 months old, with an appreciation of others' needs only being developed between 30 & 50 months old. It is important to keep this in mind before asking groups of children to chose between options by voting. Children who aren't able to understand that other people have different needs and preferences to them will find majority rule difficult to accept.

A good way to incorporate collective decision making into the early years is to decide the order of activities. Read both books, using a vote to decide which story to read first. You can also incorporate more gross motor development into this sort of decision making. Try asking all the children who want Book A to stand by the front door, and all those who want Book B to stand by the back door.

Active Participation

In adult life, democracy only truly serves those who actively participate in the process. In an early years setting, the democratic idea of active participation sits side-by-side with PSED milestones around self confidence. Encouraging children to develop the confidence to play with their peers, and take part in activities also teaches them the importance of participation in life generally.

Older early years children can be introduced to the idea that taking part helps your preferences be incorporated. If a preschooler is being grumpy because an activity isn't incorporating their preferences, try to help them understand that the only way to change an activity is to take part, and express their preference.


In a democratic political system, there are nearly always representatives elected to make decisions on behalf of a section of society, normally based on where they live. Lots of primary and secondary schools will give children the chance to experience these ideas through school councils. This is unlikely to be age appropriate in an early years environment.

Instead, early years professionals can lay foundational ideas about representation by trying to represent each child's background in the setting. Celebrating a wide range of religious festivals, not only Christmas & Easter is a great starting point. You could also think about whether;

  • food which is served in your setting is representative of all the different home cultures of your children
  • adults working in your setting are representative of the communities you serve.
  • books, toys and images in your setting show other people looking the same as the children you care for

Remember, it is not appropriate to make recruitment decisions based on race, gender, disability or any other similar factors. Instead, you might consider inviting special guests from different, under-represented communities into your setting.

Political Awareness

Once again, the idea of nurturing politically aware two year olds seems farcical! However, instilling some very basic knowledge can help to promote modern British values.

A great example of this is the Queen. Young children are often excited by the idea of Britain having a real Queen, like the ones they see in books and on television. The context given by such stories can lead children to grow up thinking that the Queen is the person in charge of Britain. Some very basic political awareness can be developed in children by helping them to learn that the Prime Minister is the person in charge. Older children can be taught the name and picture of the current Prime Minister to reinforce this idea.

10 Downing Street
Photographer: Jordhan Madec | Source: Unsplash

Promoting British values is certainly a challenging requirement placed on early years professionals today. Keeping these basic features of democracy in mind can help you and your colleagues to promote this first value more naturally through your practice.