How do you learn moral values? Can morals be taught or are they "caught"? How should schools be involved? These are questions which are at the core of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's work on spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) education.
Children experience school as a community, not just a series of lessons, and no community can operate in a moral vacuum. Children learn by example, and the values that the school and individual teacher embody in their lives and behaviour will inevitably be passed on whether or not they are taught explicitly.
There is also the question of society's expectations of what schools should do. As citizens, it is in all our interests that children should become socially responsible adults. Along with families, schools play a major part in producing the society of the future.
This term, the QCA will send draft materials produced to help teachers in this difficult area to 150 schools taking part in a pilot project. These will suggest approaches which schools might adopt to prepare pupils for adult life and to put values at the heart of schools' work.
The approaches suggested in the draft involve: Identifying overall goals for spiritual, moral, social and cultural education, and securing the understanding and acceptance of everyone from pupils and teachers to the school's community Identifying specific key stage objectives Reviewing current provision, building on successes and implementing changes Recognising and rewarding good practice.
These steps will be backed up by case studies from schools which are already doing excellent work in this area, and cross-referenced to a directory of resources which have been found helpful by schools. The guidance is flexible and is intended to generate ideas and provide support for schools.
During the 18-month pilot, 50 schools will keep in close contact with the QCA. They will provide feedback on any changes that would make it easier to use and help it slot into schools' normal development. The other 100 schools will receive the guidance on a stand-alone basis and simply report back every six months on how they have used it.
Many schools as well as local education authorities have asked to take part in the pilot. It has not been possible to include them all, but the QCA is inviting schools to register their interest and will send them information about the guidance. This will be followed up by a six-monthly newsletter on the progress of the pilot schools and a summary of the final report.
In addition to information from the pilot, the QCA will set up a Web site to enable other schools to share ideas. An important part of the authority's work will be to consult groups representing key interests, especially parents, governors and employers, as well as teachers. By involving people in these areas we hope to make clear that the promotion of pupils' spiritual, moral, cultural and social development is the responsibility of society as a whole.
Marianne Talbot is a consultant for the QCA on spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. Schools wishing to receive updates on the pilot should write to Andy Harris at the QCA, Newcombe House, 45 Notting Hill Gate, London W11 3JB