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Education for life

In the midst of an often boisterous and enthusiastic Year 7 RE lesson, interspersed with the sounds of the Backstreet Boys, Shania Twain, Queen and Pink Floyd, a small boy tentatively steps forward to share his personal choice of music with the class. We have been looking at symbolism in stories and music, and making connections with our lives.

He is one of those "invisible" pupils who rarely speaks in class. He is visibly torn between his desire to share something important, and the anxiety of being centre-stage before 30 of his classmates. In a barely audible tone, he tells us that his choice of Phil Collins's new "You'll Be In My Heart" speaks to him personally as, although his parents are divorced, he has been assured of their continuing love and concern. The class fall quiet - they realise this really is important stuff.

This fleeting moment in an ordinary week of lessons, reports and recalcitrant pupils, echoed in classrooms everywhere, is surely an example of that elusive term "spiritual development": transcending the everyday to greater self-knowledge, finding meaning and purpose in life's challenges and using creative outlets to express innermost thoughts and feelings. But this deeply personal discovery cannot be publicly acclaimed alongside porting triumphs or artistic excellence. It is not even recorded in any written format for qualitative evaluation upon which an anxious education system increasingly depends. Yet here is evidence of a vital ingredient of education for life: the process of self-discovery that will turn knowledge into wisdom and curiosityinto action.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is introducing new national expectations for RE to help raise standards through more refined assessment and target setting. This will facilitate evidence-gathering on progression, but where will one sunlit, spiritual moment on a wet, grey November afternoon be entered in the bureaucratic boxes? In our results-driven world, where nothing is valued unless it can be quantified or proven, where citizenship is the new buzz word in Blair's New Britain and an unquestioning reverence for ICT rules supreme, we are in danger of losing sight of our innate humanity.

The celebration of a new millennium has given many adults a new impetus intheir search for a spiritual dimension in their lives. Young people deserve the same opportunity - whatever the constraints of an increasingly crowded nationalcurriculum.

Rosalind Sunley teaches REat a boys' grammar school in Buckinghamshire

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