FE staff told to locate their moral compasses

11th December 2009 at 00:00
New guidelines look to promote spiritual, social and cultural teaching that goes beyond religion

Consultation is underway on a new set of guidelines designed to raise the amount of moral and spiritual teaching that takes place in further education.

A framework on spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) education calls on further education staff to promote SMSC learning to students in conjunction with their mainstream studies.

The consultation document says that despite longstanding appreciation of the importance of SMCS - it was recognised in the 1944 Education Act - its integration into mainstream learning provision has been patchy, due largely to there being no statutory duty to promote it.

But the framework argues that a number of recent developments have underlined a growing centrality for the SMCS agenda. These include the Government's Every Child Matters policy and the 2009 Ofsted Common Inspection Framework, which says that inspectors will assess the extent to which learners develop personal and social skills (including spiritual, moral and cultural aspects).

It also cites the 2005 Foster report, which challenged a narrow, skills- based approach to FE and emphasised the importance of learning providers driving social justice and promoting values.

The Revd Dr John Breadon, the Church's national adviser on further education, said that the need for SMCS in colleges went far beyond organised and church-based religion.

"It is about knowledge over ignorance," he said. "It is not about religion. We are coming up with inclusive guidance. Colleges are secular, which is fine, but this has defaulted to mean that we will do the training but not offer some morality or humanistic education."

Dr Breadon said that educationalists often felt uncomfortable offering moral or spiritual guidance.

"There has been a slippage where people do not put forward their views on morality or spirituality for fear that they may be seen to be forcing these views on young people," he said. "But this is really about having intergenerational conversations.

"Staff in FE need to be Jacks of so many trades. Much is demanded of them in terms of teaching and nurturing young people post-16.

"Out of the blue, a tutor in construction or health and beauty may be asked about climate change, sexual ethics, terrorism, or depression. Without a strong sense of their own identity and morality these questions might be ducked rather than dealt with."

SMCS is seen by Dr Breadon and others on the guidance steering group - which comprises representatives from Ofsted, the Learning and Skills Network, the 157 Group and the British Humanist Association - as particularly useful for FE.

"Given the nature of further education it probably deals with more vulnerable people than almost any other section of the education system," he said. "More vulnerable people need better SMSC."

The group is also stressing the practical nature of such education in terms of its role in helping to create better rounded and more socially aware people.

"If young people are to go out and become workers and citizens, they must know the basics of how society works in all its diversity," he said.

"Somewhere along the line surely it is the duty of everyone working in our FE institutions to hand over this knowledge. It is about knowledge over ignorance."

Andrew Copson, director of education and public affairs at the British Humanist Association, said: "From a humanist point of view, education is not just training in a set of skills but the development of each person to live a flourishing life. To say that those learning in schools should have the right to a well-rounded development of themselves but that those in FE should not is to deny FE students their entitlement to a well-rounded curriculum."

The deadline for submissions to the consultation, which is being carried out under the aegis of the Learning and Skills Improvement Service, is December 18.

- Copies of the framework are available at www.fbfe.org.uk.

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