No measurement for spirituality

1st February 2008 at 00:00
I read your report "Non-faith schools can be spiritual" (TES, January 18) with interest. Since 1944, all schools - whether faith schools or local authority schools - have been under a statutory obligation to provide for "the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils at the school, and of society". My doctoral research (King's College London, 2006) showed there was much confusion among schools and Ofsted inspectors about what constituted provision for spiritual development.

The problem lies not in whether schools are spiritual places or not, but in understanding the nature of spirituality. There is no universally accepted definition, but most recent literature on the matter points to a notion of a person's spirituality being the essential nature of that person. The influences that make people who they are may or may not include religious ones.

Influences of any kind may have a positive or negative effect on the development of an individual. In response to religious teaching, children may become convinced that a religion is credible or, at the other extreme, they may totally reject all forms of religious belief.

Ofsted is faced, once more, with the impossible task of assessing pupils' spiritual development as the current framework requires. It may be possible to attempt a description of an individual's spirituality, but there can be no criteria to measure it that are in any way comparable, for example, with the key stages and levels of national curriculum assessment.

The school environment cannot help but be an influence on pupils' developing spirituality. It must be up to each school to set its own aims and objectives for such development and to be judged against appropriate criteria. To that extent, all schools are spiritual places.

Sadly, our obsession with judging children's education statistically tends to diminish the extent to which we credit schools for helping pupils develop as people. A balanced approach to education surely requires that we attach equal importance both to what children know and to what sort of adults they are becoming.

Dr Tony Wenman, Retired LEA and Ofsted inspector, Claygate, Surrey.

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