Tony Blair's Labour administration is likely to stiffen schools' bid to promote moral development, Nick Tate, chief executive designate of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority south of the border, forecast at a values education conference last week in Edinburgh.
Dr Tate, a former head of secondary teacher training at Moray House Institute, said in an address to the Gordon Cook Foundation conference: "I sense strong support for a re-examination of our current balance between individualism and community and between rights and responsibilities and a desire in both cases to shift the emphasis towards the latter without losing the benefits of the former."
Such a shift would help schools meet their legal responsibilities in England and Wales to promote the moral development of pupils and of society.
Dr Tate said he was convinced it was time for a national push on values education and said ministers already had the report from the National Forum on Values in Education and the Community, a group of 150 people brought together by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority. The forum found broad support for a wide range of values but it was not proposing, as some headlines had suggested, a national curriculum for morality, A-levels in morals or a substitute for the Ten Commandments.
Moral education, Dr Tate said, could not be delivered through the traditional curriculum disciplines or by raising standards of attainment for all.
"A more literate, numerate and better informed society, and one that contains more people who have succeeded academically, will provide a stronger basis for a more morally responsible society. But it will not by itself guarantee that people are more virtuous. There is no correlation between qualification levels and crime rate," he stated.
Schools did help shape moral development and the notion of community required some sense of moral consensus. "If schools are to play their part in helping to maintain and strengthen a sense of community, they need to help young people come to an understanding of those values by which the community is characterised," he said.
But teachers themselves would not be able to promote respect for shared values, moral issues and the common good if respect was absent in the wider society. Schools had to work with the whole community.
Dr Tate lamented the apparent lack of common culture among young people, especially in some parts of England. A recent study in London had shown the importance of links between racism and cultural and moral development. "The report described how white children in Greenwich schools walked the richly decorated corridors of their multicultural, internationally conscious schools like cultural ghosts. The appalling racism of many of those surveyed appeared to have its origins, at least in part, in the felt absence of any culture with which they themselves can identify," Dr Tate said.
Racism, jingoism and the lack of identity and collective self-esteem that underlay them had to be tackled by developing a sense of pride in the majority culture while recognising and respecting diversity.
Dr Tate said values education was critical in helping young people cope with changes such as the breakdown of the nuclear family, the weakening of the extended family and local communities and the pace of cultural and technological developments.
Bart McGettrick, chairman of the Gordon Cook Foundation trustees and principal of St Andrew's College, said the two major trends were secularisation and individualisation. Values deriving from the community were emerging as the third. The foundation did not promote any particular set of values.
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