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'Don't blame schools', says Archbishop

"I want to emphasise most strongly how wrong it would be to load all our anxieties about the spiritual and moral state of society on to schools, " the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his House of Lords speech. "Schools are far more moral places than are the places where many children find themselves outside school.

"More generally, I believe that many schools feel that if society itself is too confused and reticent about its shared beliefs and values, it is very difficult for schools to have the confidence that comes from feeling authorised by society to teach them to children."

Dr Carey went on to praise the SCAA initiative to consult widely on the values to be transmitted to pupils, and welcomed the greater attention being paid to religious education. But he expressed concerns about the number of schools providing a daily act of religious worship for all pupil.

Perhaps predictably, teachers' leaders criticised the Archbishop for misunderstanding the sterling work being done by schools , while politicians including the Prime Minister praised him for taking a strong moral line.

But academics take a more sceptical view. Dr Helen Haste of Bath University, who writes and researches on the subject, said: "National curriculum documents are about maintaining social order, not about moral courage or autonomy or standing up against crime. It's good habit stuff." Nobody was more rulebound than a juvenile delinquent determined not to break the rules of his or her gang, she said.

Perhaps the most cynical - but refreshingly honest - opinion on schools and morality will be espoused at a conference celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Journal of Moral Education which takes place at St Martin's College, Lancaster next week. Among the more provocative speakers is likely to be Dr Robert Hogan of the University of Tulsa. His subject: Being moral is high status: can we fake it?

His abstract reads: "Being moral is a strategy for getting along - people who conform to accepted rules are liked. But in the competition for status, people who follow the rules are at a disadvantage. The trick is to seem as moral as possible while not losing out by following rules competitors will ignore . . . High status people also have better social skills than low status people, and such social skills enable us to seem moral. Perhaps we should include in moral education the skills of how to appear moral."

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