Promoting British Values: Rule of Law

In this, the second post of our mini-series, we will be exploring the rule of law. The rule of law in British society means that every person and organisation is sub-ordinate to the law. It doesn't matter if you're a teacher, a waitress, a police officer or even Prime Minister, the law applies to us all equally. It can be easier to understand the rule of law by looking at a society where it doesn't exist. In a country subject to a dictatorship, such as North Korea, what is illegal for most citizens is not illegal for those who control society. How can you be promoting British values in your setting?

One Rule For All, As Far As Possible

The greatest difficulty in promoting the rule of law in an early years context is the children. Children represent the greatest exception to the principle of the rule of law. For obvious reasons, lots of things which are legal for adults to do, are not legal for children. This situation is almost certainly also true in your early years setting. Whilst adults are allowed into the staff room, the kitchen and the cleaning cupboard, the children probably are not.

Image licenced under creative commons 2.0, photo by www. allenandallen .com

That said, it is still possible to help children learn that by default, the same rules apply to everyone. A good example of this relates to eating and drinking. Depending on your setting, it's likely that children are only allowed to eat and/or drink whilst sat up a table. But, I bet it's not uncommon for staff to grab a quick bite of a snack as they hurry from one job to the next, or to walk around outside on a cold day with a mug of tea. The British value of the rule of law can be promoted in the early years by adults who follow the same rules as the children, until there's a genuine reason not to.

Rules Don't Easily Change

Another feature of the rule of law is the presence of a challenging process for the law to be changed. In Britain, before a law can be created or amended, a majority of MPs in the House of Commons, and a majority of Lords in the House of Lords must agree on the precise wording. The more complex or contentious the change, the harder and longer this process can be. This complexity protects citizens from a dictatorial government who could otherwise manipulate the law to their own ends, at will.


Image licenced under creative commons 2.0, photo by San Sharma


When promoting British values in an early years setting, you can reflect the idea that rules are bigger than any one individual, and are not changed on a whim. Some practical ways to achieve this include:

  • taking your behaviour policy/code of conduct and recreating it in a version suitable for your older children. Using very short sentences and clear imagery you can show acceptable behaviour in your setting. Include this version of the policy at the same time that you share the main copy with parents.
  • displaying your main rules somewhere visible and accessible to the children. Let's take the rule "we share with each other" - reminding a child that our rules board says that we need to share the bikes outside promotes the idea of rule of law better than you as an individual adult telling them so. Don't let this sort of display look like something from that Harry Potter film though..
  • with your older children, involve them in the process of changing the rules. Imagine a new piece of equipment is introduced outside, and a decision needs to be made about how to fairly allow everyone to enjoy it. Ask your preschoolers what they think is fair, and explain to them how the decision has been made in the end.
  • hold yourself and colleagues to account, according to the rules. Let's say one of the simple rules is, "always walk indoors". One day you run to try and catch the phone before it stops ringing. A colleague who can openly and professionally remind you not to run because of the setting's rules will be promoting British values of the rule of law in a big way.

It is worth saying here that attempting to promote this British value should not make you do anything which would otherwise be considered poor practice. Early years settings should not be like later stages of education with dozens of different rules for children to follow. Keep your rules to a minimum, always phrase them as a positive "do this" rather than a negative "don't do that", and maybe agree a different word to use instead of "rules"?

Using the Rules

In society, laws are only useful and relevant if they are used. This means that crimes are investigated, suspects are tried, and guilty people are punished. The transparency and effectiveness of the system which enforces the laws are essential parts of promoting British values.

Similarly, how rules are used in your setting is important. Children need to learn that they benefit from being treated fairly and according to the rules. This is regardless of who they are, what they look like, or how old they are. In practice, this looks like:

  • accusations or problems being investigated. It can be easy to dismiss a child who always tells tales. It can also be easy to assume that a child who is often overly rough has pushed someone. By properly, even if only briefly, investigating potential poor behaviour, children learn. They learn to speak up when they see something wrong. They also learn that they will not be in trouble without good reason. These are both important British values to promote.
  • allowing children the chance to share their views, and maybe make amends. Just as in adult society, there is a big difference between someone who does something wrong and is sorry, and someone who isn't. You can promote British values by allowing children to express themselves if they've done something wrong, in an age appropriate way.
  • explaining the reasons for any remedial action. In general, an early years professional should try to be consistent in how they respond to children's poor behaviour. That said, there are times where a child's development, and wider behaviour context may influence how you react to their behaviour. Where this is the case, being clear and open about why they are being treated differently will still help to promote the value of the rule of law.

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