Family values 'not real issue'

1st November 1996 at 00:00
In a week that has seen heated debate on morality and discipline in our school system, TES staff report on proposals for offering a framework for good behaviour and citizenship to the nation's children.

The Government drive to place marriage and traditional family values at the heart of school moral guidance has been attacked by some of the leading campaigners for citizenship education.

With one in three marriages ending in divorce, they warned against extolling the virtues of two-parent, stable households for children.

Don Rowe, director of curriculum and resources at the Citizenship Foundation, said: "The real issue about families is what kind of family can nurture caring and considerate young people, not whether your mum or dad are divorced.

"There are pathological families with a mum and dad - sometimes the standard 'ideal' family can be extremely damaging to children."

The Citizenship Foundation, formed in 1989, has Cherie Booth as a trustee, while her husband Tony Blair, the Labour leader, is on its advisory committee.

Mr Rowe said: "The relationship of the family to moral education is separate. We are afraid it might sidetrack education away from the real issues."

His view was backed by Professor Ken Fogelman, director of the Centre for Citizenship Studies at the School of Education at Leicester University, who said: "I would be anxious about presenting the traditional family point of view to young people whose family situations are very varied."

Both organisations supported the four core values for moral education set by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority.

The third main citizenship organisation - the Institute for Citizenship Studies - has called for a co-ordinated plan of action.

"I don't think a piecemeal approach will work," said Tobi Davidge, its development director. "This is a hot issue at the moment and it is better that we come to decisions on what to do together."

Citizenship education has come to the fore with the personal manifesto of Frances Lawrence, the widow of stabbed London headteacher Philip Lawrence.

She wants a national effort to reinforce citizenship and family values, to raise the status of authority figures and outlaw violence.

If the Government is serious about the subject it must invest both time and money, say supporters of citizenship education.

They argue that teachers will need to be trained how to tackle controversial issues such as the family and politics, and claim the subject must have its own place on the curriculum.

Seven years ago, a Speaker's Commission on Citizenship was launched. Guidance published in November 1990, the month of Mrs Thatcher's resignation, enshrined it in the national curriculum as one of the five cross-curricular themes, only to be ousted following the Dearing review.

Professor Fogelman is convinced now that it has a stronger case. "What seems to be happening, apart from the immediate political fuss, is a proper reconsideration of the curriculum and what education should be about. I suspect there will be another curriculum review before the end of the moratorium and that citizenship studies will be high on the agenda."

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