A Yorkshire Labour MP has said the Government should focus on lost learning for children rather than whether they should ‘sing a song’ later this week in support of a campaign which aims to instill pride in Britain.
While education leaders in the region, alongside local authority leaders have said the campaign is running the risk of countering the very aims that the West-Yorkshire founder set out.
The warning comes as the Government backed the One Britain One Nation (OBON) Day - which is due to be celebrated in schools on Friday, June 25, through the singing of a patriotic song.
The campaign was launched by West Yorkshire-based former police inspector Kash Singh, in Bradford. He said he set up the campaign in Bradford, West Yorkshire in 2013 after retiring from the police force in 2012.
Fabian Hamilton, MP for Leeds North East, told The Yorkshire Post: “Rather than having discussions and arguing about whether children should sing a song, the focus must be on restoring all the learning our children have lost due to the pandemic.
“After depriving thousands of children in Leeds of free school meals several times in the last year, the Conservative Government should concentrate on reversing its shameful cuts to our schools so they can make up for all the teaching they have missed out on in the last 18 months.”
Ian Cuthbertson, the Executive Member for Children, Young People and Education, at the City of York Council, added the campaign is an "unnecessary distraction" for teachers and pupils, who are doing all they can to catch up on lost learning and adapt to the challenges arising from the pandemic.
He said: "The campaign was not requested by parents, teachers or pupils.
"This seems to be a simple gimmick on the part of the Government aimed at distracting from their failings in the education sector throughout the pandemic."
Mr Cuthbertson added a long-term investment was needed from the Government for education and a fully-funded catch up plan.
He said: "We are all too well aware of the disparities still present in education across the country. If levelling up meant anything at all, it would start with support for teachers, their assistants and pupils in our classrooms from coast to coast."
Mr Singh previously said the launch of the education campaign was “born from a dream as a police officer” after coming to the UK as a six-year-old boy who “couldn’t speak a word of English”.
He told Times Radio: “We started the concept in Bradford and West Yorkshire, and it’s been very, very successful indeed, so what we want to look at is taking it across the nation.
“It was something that was born from my dream as a police officer in terms of what I'd see, in terms of my passion, pride and frustration, and something that I feel needed to be done in this country.
"This country is a brilliant country. I came to this country as a six-year-old kid who couldn’t speak a word of English. My parents were labourers, they worked in a factory and foundry, and there are fantastic people in this country.”
The Department for Education confirmed to The Yorkshire Post it was encouraging schools across the UK to celebrate OBON Day on Friday, so that “children can learn about our shared values of kindness, pride and respect”.
A spokeswoman from the DfE, said: “Our schools should promote fundamental British values including tolerance and respect.
"As such, we support One Britain One Nation’s broad aims to help children learn about equality, kindness and pride, and it is for schools to decide how they teach these important values.”
The spokeswoman added the DfE has not asked people to sing songs or endorsed any specific materials for One Britain One Nation day.
However, the idea has been derided by one of the Conservative Party’s own MPs, Caroline Nokes.
The MP for Romsey and Southampton North retweeted a preview of the OBON song saying: “I can’t unhear this (however fervently I wish I could)”.
Meanwhile in Yorkshire Dr William Allchorn, from the University of Leeds, said: "The problem with OBON and other previous governmental attempts to define Britishness and British values is the vague, colonial, and elite-driven nature of such interventions.
"I wish Kash Singh the best of luck with this initiative but until we have a national conversation about empire and what it means to be British, everyone will be none the wiser."
Previously actress Joanna Lumley has expressed strong support for the organisation, according to the OBON website.
In a statement on the site, she said: "The aims and aspirations of OBON are extremely impressive and timely.
"I wish the project all the success it so richly deserves and I support its vision of one nation with all my heart."
The OBON website describes its vision as to "create a strong, fair, harmonious and a proud British Nation, celebrating patriotism and respect for all our people".
A spokesman for Bradford Council, said: "The initiative seems to have suddenly become more controversial this year and our first thought, as always, is with the children who are inadvertently at the centre of this.
"We’d ask that whatever comments people make, they think of these children first.
"We’re sure all of us would agree that the ambition of promoting respect and understanding for each other is important but this latest initiative is running the risk of countering the very aims that the Founder set out which we’re sure was not intended. "
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