Home truths learned at school
Not everyone was impressed by last week's paper on Values from the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority. It was variously condemned as an exercise in futility, as a statement of the very, very obvious, and as a piece of politically-motivated propaganda designed to help a Government in trouble.
"A glorious irrelevance," was how Nigel de Gruchy, General Secretary of the National Union of School Masters and Union of Women Teachers characterised the consultation document, titled Values in Education and the Community. This, he said, would be of no help to his members grappling with unruly children such as those in Halifax.
Peter Smith, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, was no less dubious. "This has more to do with party politics that the real issue of defining acceptable behaviour by children and adults," he said.
Not all the professional associations were critical; the National Union of Teachers said it was impressed with the authority's work, suggesting that it would send the right signals.
Which, according to the SCAA is is very much the point. But this may have been missed by teachers and by a public which in recent years has become less accustomed to discussion and guidance, and rather more familiar with the specific dictates of the statutory instrument.
So when the consultation paper says that children should strive for self knowledge, that they should respect others, seek to be good citizens and care for the environment, obviousness is part of the intention. And that, says one of the authors, Oxford philosophy don Marianne Talbot, is sadly necessary; however mundane the values may be, people are forgetting them nontheless.
"Yes, it is true that the document contains nothing new or controversial and it can, reasonably be said to be a statement of the obvious. But there are times when the obvious needs to be stated and this, or so the Forum members think, is one of those times. The very fact that these values are so obvious has caused them to become invisible so that people - including many teachers - actually say that in this pluralistic society there can be no shared values. If consensus is achieved on the values outlined in the statement, this will show once and for all that it is false to say that multi-culturalism precludes the existence of shared values.
"Teachers need to know that the values they impart to children are not 'theirs', but 'ours' and that children have, therefore, both a right and a duty to understand them," says Ms Talbot, a lecturer in philosophy at Brasenose College. "This will not only give teachers confidence in promulgating these values, it will justify their seeking the co-operation and support of parents and other sections of society. In the long run, pace Mr de Gruchy, this could be of enormous help with problems such as discipline. The values statement is not intended to be, as Mr de Gruchy implies, a stop-gap measure, an instant solution, but the first step towards long-term change.
"Schools will of course have to decide for themselves how the values outlined in the statement might best be applied in their community. The values statement is not intended to be the last word - schools have had enough of being dictated to. We hope it will be a trigger for debate, for the dissemination of good practice, and a mechanism for generating support in society at large for schools as they provide for the moral and spiritual development of pupils. "
The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority is asking schools to send in examples of good work in the area of pupils' moral and spiritual development. The Authority can be contacted on 0171 229 1234.