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“Walking on egg shells”: Brexit, British values and educational space

Francis Farrell (Faculty of Education, Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, UK)

Education + Training

ISSN: 0040-0912

Article publication date: 8 February 2019

Issue publication date: 23 November 2020




The purpose of this paper is to critically explore and foreground secondary religious education (RE) student teachers’ accounts of the dilemmas they experienced in their classrooms and schools in a highly racialised post referendum environment. Teacher narratives are analysed in order to suggest ways in which a transformative teaching and learning agenda drawing from a pluralistic human rights framework can be reasserted in place of government requirements to promote fundamental British values (FBV).


Qualitative data were collected in focus group interviews to gain insights into how the referendum environment was experienced phenomenologically in localised school settings.


The interview data reveals the complex ways in which the discourses circulating in the post referendum milieu play out in highly contingent, diverse secondary school settings. These schools operate in a high stakes policy context, shaped by the new civic nationalism of FBV, the Prevent security agenda and government disavowal of “multiculturalism” in defence of “our way of life” (Cameron, 2011). A key finding to emerge from the teachers’ narratives is that some of the ways in which Prevent and FBV have been imposed in their schools has reduced the transformative potentials of the critical, pluralistic RE approaches to teaching and learning that is promoted within the context of their university initial teacher education programme.

Research limitations/implications

The findings suggest that existing frameworks associated with security and civic nationalism are not sufficient to ensure that young citizens receive an education that prepares them for engagement with a post truth, post Brexit racial and political environment. Transformative teaching and learning approaches (Duckworth and Smith, 2018), drawing upon pluralistic, critical RE and human rights education are presented as more effective alternatives which recognise the dignity and agency of both teachers and students.


This paper is an original investigation of the impact of the Brexit referendum environment on student teachers in a university setting. In the racialised aftermath of the referendum the need for transformative pluralistic and critical educational practice has never been more urgent. The data and analysis presented in this paper offer a compelling argument for a root and branch reformulation of current government security agendas in education.



Farrell, F. (2020), "“Walking on egg shells”: Brexit, British values and educational space", Education + Training, Vol. 62 No. 9, pp. 981-997.



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