No edicts, just pass the bean bags

12th July 1996 at 01:00
There's a lot of squealing and laughing among the two Year 4 classes at Bentley West primary in Walsall. No, it's not playtime. This is serious stuff, even if the Archbishop of Canterbury has probably never seen anything like it.

The children call out the name of the person to whom they are simultaneously throwing a bean-bag. It starts off in an orderly fashion then becomes noisier and more chaotic. But there's method in this madness and it's called affirmation; everyone who gets a bag thrown at them feels good that they've been chosen by someone.

This is just one exercise in the West Midlands Quakers' Peace in Education project, designed to teach children co-operation and mediation. It has been running at Bentley West for nine weeks helping children to work through conflict resolution as part of the school's moral education.

"Morality has to be so much more than something shoved in a morning assembly; it has to pervade the whole ethos," says Ros Bayley, the school's deputy head. In an hour from now, a few miles away, a man with a machete will break all the moral codes known to humankind by attacking innocent children and adults.

Ms Bayley, along with thousands of teachers around the country, is dismayed at pronouncements by the archbishop and Gillian Shephard about the teaching of right and wrong. She has been doing it for years without edicts ecclesiastical or ministerial.

A member of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority's Schools Forum on Spiritual and Moral Development, she believes that children's moral and spiritual selves are linked but different. "Our spirituality can grow out of our morality and vice versa. But to emphasise one or the other is not useful or productive.

"We believe that if we can help children cope with the here and now, it will help them to get on in the there and then. The child who is able to deal with their own needs, to interact effectively, help and support others and take part in social groupings will get more of a spiritual awareness. All human beings have an innate capacity for good. Even among children who have been damaged, it can be hard to repress."

The school is obeying the law on collective worship, even if it wishes the law was different. Ms Bayley believes that "We need to look at spiritual education outside the parameters of organised religion and collective worship and develop a wider definition that has meaning for both those who believe in a deity and those who don't."

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