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?
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.
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.
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:
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"?
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: