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Is it a school's duty to ensure students' moral and spiritual well-being?

"The average anxiety level of a western teenager today is equivalent to a level which would have denoted a clinical anxiety disorder in the 1950s," reveals Alastair McConville in this week's TES.

With that in mind, Mr McConville, director of teaching and learning at Bedales School in Hampshire, focuses on the duty of schools to oversee students' moral and spiritual progression. 

But, as with most pastoral issues, how much responsibility rests with schools – and how can teachers know if they are doing it effectively, or indeed correctly?

Mr McConville suggests that schools might take as a starting point for the definition of moral and spiritual well-being: "People who are reliably kind to others, tolerant of difference, comfortable in their own skin, compassionate, understanding of their responsibilities to people other than themselves, and 'reflective about beliefs, values and more profound aspects of human experience', to steal an Ofsted phrase."

Among other ways of guiding students towards such well-being, Mr McConville points to the current non-statutory guidance for religious education as being a "well-established education framework" for learning about spirituality, belief and moral attitudes.

"Dishearteningly for those interested in promoting and measuring moral and spiritual development," he writes, "this guidance is due to be jettisoned from September 2014, which is part of a wider decline of RE’s status in the UK.

"Not only have bursaries for RE teacher trainees been cancelled, a study conducted by the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education shows that well over a quarter of schools admit to not fulfilling their statutory obligations; the number of specialist staff is in dramatic decline, as is curriculum time and training."

However, despite this, he sees green shoots elsewhere in the increase in mindfulness lessons in schools throughout the country, as well as in findings from recent academic research on the subject. 

Read Alastair McConville's complete article on students' moral and spiritual well-being in the 11 July edition of TES on your tablet or phone by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up in all good newsagents.

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