31st May 1996 at 01:00
The name of John Patten is still vividly remembered in educational circles up and down the land. Who could forget his pronouncements on moral values? His trenchant character assessments of Tim Brighouse and Roy Pryke - senior education officials both - which proved financially painful? Or his promise that he would eat his hat, garnished, if vast numbers of schools had not opted out by the next general election? (Supper chez Patten on election night is looking increasingly indigestible).

Still, the former Education Secretary was always one of the Diary's favourite characters, and his loss - to fight the Government's divorce reform Bill from the back benches - has been severe. So it is with much joy that we peruse a little book, called Christian Values (Hodder and Stoughton Pounds 7.99), in which Dr P's contribution is to opine on education and morality.

His first theme is that Christian values should be central to education in a Christian country. "The second is that those Christian values, besides informing the lives of children under the influence of preachers and the instruction of teachers, are also vital to the development of that common mechanism which now links countries and communities across the globe of all religions and none - the market.

"The market needs to be regulated, but vigorous capitalism provided it has its own strong moral component is something which is a positive good, if put to good uses. It should thus be recognised, taught and praised by Christians and others, both from the pulpit and in the classroom."

Crumbs. But Dr P is now in full flow, holding forth that the market is A Good Thing because it enables the poor to be helped whilst revisiting one of his favourite phrases - that schools must not be value-free zones. Capitalism is A Good Thing, he argues, because it produces the wherewithal to live and, moreover, is a social phenomenon. "It is about people freely exchanging and freely contracting, and accepting the consequent costs and responsibilities ... it is not just the oil on the wheels of the economy, it is a vital lubricant in the social mechanisms of country, community, family and individual life. It needs a clearly understood framework with a strong moral component."

He thunders: "This should be reflected, I think, partly in religious education lessons as such, and partly also in the general run of instruction under the heading of 'other subjects' where none the less valuable lessons about life can be imbued. It is vital for teachers to make their pupils aware of the moral challenges and necessities of capitalism, for this is the world that their charges will enter. It is also, of course, good for teachers to remind themselves that it is through the profits of other taxpayers that their salaries are paid - just as those 'other taxpayers' should be aware and remember that the products of those teachers are vital to the supply side of the economy."

It's nice to know that Dr P can still make teachers up and down the land choke on their coffee. But wait - something extraordinary comes in the next sentence. "Given no bright, hard-working, ambitious and achieving youngsters, the free market would soon collapse. We should be grateful to teachers that this does not happen."

Carborundum has arrived. It's official. We have finally received a communication from the indefatigable Keith Flett, the man who is to letters pages what British beef is to menus for visiting European dignitaries.

In short, Mr Flett is ubiquitous, and so the absence of his missives from Carborundum's fax basket was becoming slightly alarming. But it seems he waited until he had matters of importance to impart, in the form of hot news from the Beard Liberation Front: "Teachers With Beards Launch Manifesto".

It seems that beardies feel discriminated against, categorised as razor-shy layabouts. Designer stubble is no good: what they want to see is the acceptance of full-frontal fungus, ranging from the goatee to the beaver and that dreadful variant of beard-without-moustache.

But we digress. Highlights of said manifesto include: "Every Tory education secretary since 1979 has been clean-shaven. This is no accident [Gillian Shephard has performed the odd miracle, but sprouting a five o'clock shadow might attract unwelcome publicity]. David Blunkett has a beard. This is welcome but it is not enough. [He's not expected to sprout shagpile on his shoulders, surely?] "Clean-shaven Chris Woodhead, head of the so-called Office for Standards in Education, has launched an offensive to drive bearded teachers from schools." Are they saying that the Chief Inspector's 15 per cent of dodgy pedagogues can all be identified by their furry faces? More bafflingly, it continues: "It is no accident that both Doug McAvoy and Nigel de Gruchy are clean-shaven," before concluding: "It is demanded that space be given in the national curriculum to teach the importance of beards in history." Jesus, Henry VIII, Prince Albert, Edward VII ... it could be a winning syllabus with the Campaign for Real Education.

And the burning question of the week. Which do school staff hate more: pupils or parents? The suggestion at the heads' conference that parents should be forced to sign agreements promising not to thump Sir or Miss suggests that pupils may be the least of teachers' troubles.

Confirming this jaundiced view comes a story from a large Home Counties conurbation where the mother of a six-year-old was summoned to the head's office to explain why her child had been 10 minutes late every day in a six-term school career. The head was mildly surprised as mum went on the offensive with a languid request for staggered starting times. "I simply can't bear walking through a playground full of children," she sighed.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today