Need to clear the fog around values

5th July 1996 at 01:00
Readers of the short report, "Guidelines for RE weak, says think-tank" (TES, June 28) may have gained the impression that the report written by Professor Anthony Flew and myself, Spiritual Development and All That Jazz, was mainly about religious education with a dash of moral education thrown in. In reality we probed an outstanding social issue of the second half of this century - the nature of "the transaction between the generations".

It was with these words of Michael Oakeshott that Chief Inspector Chris Woodhead, in his 1995 Office for Standards in Education annual lecture, focused his challenge to "progressives". It is to be noted that Mr Woodhead did not once refer to "progressives", but this was the term used in The TES. He pointed to the danger of reducing "the moral and intellectual authority of the teacher to the technical expertise of the facilitator". It has since become clear that Woodhead was not thinking of the teacher as a moral agent. He simply had in mind the right of teachers to claim authority over their pupils in their own subjects. The big debate that Woodhead was opening up challenged progressives in what is technically known as the cognitive domain.

Important as it is to ensure effective teaching of accumulated knowledge and understanding, the affective domain is equally or more important for the nation because it concerns its heart and soul. Its focus is on attitudes and values and, to use almost outdated terminology, the teaching of right and wrong.

Our critique of the OFSTED guidance on "the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils" is of course a critique of the official line on what is expected in the whole of the affective domain of the curriculum. I have been pleased to learn that OFSTED's director agrees that more is at stake here than in the cognitive domain. It provides hope that changes will be made.

Your report was correct in stating that we regarded values clarification - which holds that pupils should decide for themselves what they should or should not do - as a disease, but mistaken in stating that we linked it with multi-faith schools rather than a particular version of multi-faith education.

Anthony Flew and I have drawn attention to the confusion that has arisen in the affective domain over the past few decades. The politically correct views of person-centred educators are opposed by many teachers and by a large section of the public, who would be shocked to hear that influential educators condemned that transaction between the generations which involves the transference of values. The confusion has arisen because of a failure to take into account the differences between different groups.

For example, OFSTED admits that, "There will be genuine differences in the approaches taken to the idea of the 'spiritual' . . . by those with religious belief and by non-believers." It goes on to say that "the inspection framework must apply to both sets of individuals, and to those at all points on the spectrum". Not surprisingly, it fails to say how this can be done. OFSTED is equally at a loss in defining moral, social and cultural development. In playing safe it has simply fudged the issues. The result is the charade formed by the OFSTED guidance.

Time and again OFSTED has firmly stated a cardinal principle of inspection. Inspectors should comment objectively on what they observe in schools, standing independent of political imperatives, educational orthodoxies and personal prejudices.

This is difficult enough to do in the cognitive domain, and already in some quarters OFSTED is being accused of bias. In the affective domain, it has become an outright impossibility. Schools facing an inspection in this area of the curriculum have every right to feel apprehensive.

Today the Archbishop of Canterbury is launching a House of Lords debate on moral education. Many Christians would say that it is a pity that the Church was persuaded by its progressives back in 1970 to give up pressing for the acceptance of any particular faith or belief system in schools. A great deal of damage has been done by the promotion of non-judgmentalism over the past 30 years.

There is concern, too, that the present Conservative Government's Circular on RE has misrepresented Section 26(2) of the 1944 Education Act in order at last to accommodate the liberal thinking of the Church. It is difficult to understand how Conservatives could allow themselves to be persuaded to abandon the idea that teachers should set moral standards in favour of VC. Under this Government, drugs education is about making pupils aware that they have a choice whether to take drugs. The 1996 OFSTED guidelines for nursery and primary children also emphasise choice. We'll be telling children next that they have a choice about whether to lie, cheat and steal.

Dr Carey may succeed in shifting public opinion on the need to set moral standards. The trouble is that a significant section of society believes that the changes in educational thinking over the past few decades have produced nothing but good.

It is these sharp differences of opinion that have led to the shambolic OFSTED guidelines and persuaded Professor Flew and myself that the long-term solution may lie in a radical approach more attuned to the demands of a pluralistic society.

Fred Naylor is secretary of the Parental Alliance for Choice in Education.

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