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Who do we think we are? - What is Britishness?

Who do we think we are?

This lesson looks at Britishness and what the term means to different people.

Key questions

  • What is Britishness?
  • What does Britishness people to different people?
  • Can Britishness be summed up in one word?

Britishness has emerged as a hot topic over the last couple of years, with questions such as What is Britishness? and What does it mean to be British? frequently debated in the media. Although defined on Wikipedia as 'a term referring to a sense of national identity of the British people and common culture of the United Kingdom' there is no single definition, and it is often a question which raises a plethora of responses from a variety of different people. Even politicians cannot agree on what Britishness is; a point highlighted when the global financial services provider Morgan Stanley organized a debate on the subject. During the debate, Jim Knight, Minister of State for Schools and Learners was asked whether Britishness should be taught in schools. He replied, "I'm not sure whether exclusively there are characteristics you can define as British, but I think there are important values to promote." He went onto say, "Be proud of your country but define Britishness for yourself." (This quote is taken from the BBC News article Can Pupils learn Britishness? October 2008)

In June 2008, 500 schools across the country were involved in the first Who do we think we are? week of events and activities to explore identity, diversity and citizenship. This educational programme was set up following the Curriculum Review of Diversity and Citizenship undertaken by Sir Keith Ajegbo, who recommended that the event be held, to involve "investigations and celebrations by schools of pupils' histories and their community's roots and of the national and global links that they can make". (Quote taken from the Who do we think we are? website.) One of the four main themes of the project is Britishness, national identity/values and the 2012 games. The government is keen for students to have the opportunity to explore their roots and heritage in relation to the country in which they live, and to try to construct a definition of what Britishness means to them as individuals. However, the debate remains as to whether Britishness can or should be taught in schools.

Commissioned by the Daily Telegraph in 2005, a YouGov poll found that 51% of people who took part thought Britishness should be taught in schools as part of the national curriculum with 56% believing it would increase the feeling of national identity. (View summary of poll results.) With the absence of an agreed definition for Britishness, there remains some uncertainty as to how the topic should be tackled. However, when learning boundaries are extended and students have a constructive, but not restrictive space in which to learn, they are able to consider complex questions such as What is Britishness? and start to form their own interpretations of the concept based on their geographical imaginations and personal experience.




Do you feel British?

Watch the video clip on this page of the BBC News website. It shows secondary school students being interviewed about whether they feel British.

With your partner, discuss what Britishness means to you. Do you consider yourselves to be British? Do you feel British?

Share your thoughts with the rest of the class.



What is Britishness?

Watch the what is Britishness PowerPoint presentation. It includes a lot of images that might be considered to represent Britishness.

  • What do you think of the images that have been used in the presentation?
  • Do any of them surprise you?
  • Are there any images that you would remove from the presentation?
  • Are there any additional images that you would include?

With the rest of your class, discuss whether you think the presentation gives an accurate representation of Britishness.

Now it is your turn to make your own PowerPoint presentation to answer the question "What is Britishness?"

Your presentation should have no more than eight slides. Use the Internet to find and choose images that you think represent Britishness. You can include text and music too, if you like.

Show your presentation to the rest of the class.


If you have got time, choose one image that you think represents Britishness most closely. Import this image into a Word document then use text boxes to annotate it and explain why you chose it.



What does Britishness mean to you?

On a Post-It note, write one word that sums up what Britishness means to you. With the rest of your class, create a Word Wall where you all stick your Post-It notes. You can then see what others have written.

As a class, use the words to try to come up with an overall definition of the word Britishness.

Can you come up with a definition? Or does the term mean too many different things to different people?

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