As usual, I find myself refusing pre-packaged sets of opinions. Mostly, I approve Katharine Birbalsingh's approach to running Michaela Community School (especially for pupils up to 16), which I suspect is not inimical to stimulating creativity in later life. Indeed, I agree - in general - with schools being secular although French experience might lead us to wonder about that. But there is one practice Birbalsingh insists upon which I do not support: singing patriotic songs.

My objection in this case takes no notice of the 'metropolitan elite' Emma Duncan (Times, April 19) talks about being embarrassed by displays of patriotism. Far be it from the metrpolitan elite to understand the problems with patriotism. At the crudest level, a level that always matters for politics and ethics, patriotism is a game tyrants, terrorists, and even ordinary criminals can play as well as free societies. Yet the other values Duncan cites us as sharing - democracy, freedom of speech, and tolerance (don't mention rule of law!) - tyrants and terrorists in particular cannot imitate. Values are to be practised as well as taught. The point about patriotic display already applied even for my parents' generation; Rule Britannia! never really matched Deutschland uber Alles

Accordingly, I maintain Birbalsingh is not wise to include patriotic songs in regular teaching of values. Just because it is not a value distinctive to Britain, or any other country, it is one that is supportive only in the context of all out war. But already in the Cold War (1947-91) the Western powers, being already in the age of nuclear confrontation, had to avoid all out wars (the one exception, Vietnam, ended in disaster) and rather engaged, along with the Soviets, in proxy wars, espionage, deterrence, economic rivalry, etc. Patriotic songs have no place in any of that. The case is even clearer now when NATO struggles to stay on its tightrope while the proxy warriors in Ukraine and Israel do the actual fighting, dying - and patriotism. The reality of mass destruction technology (no longer only nulcear) permits no other option. Don't bother about the metropolitan elite - just listen to Vladimir Putin. 

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