Teachers should seize every opportunity to develop moral reasoning throughout the curriculum, Nicholas Tate, chief executive of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, said last week.
A revised national curriculum would probably contain a separate programme to explore moral issues, he told the Independent Schools Association study conference held in Cheltenham.
This will be one of the recommendations of the consultation paper produced by the values forum set up by SCAA earlier this year. The paper is due to be published later this month.
The forum, composed of 150 people from a wide range of backgrounds and faiths (and none), agreed "to reassert that matters of morality are matters of truth, not just matters of taste and preference", he said. "I expect that when the report is published we may be criticised for the very general nature of the moral code on which the forum has agreed. My riposte will be that big and simple ideas are often the most powerful - look at the history of Christianity - but are also the most likely to be forgotten or to be buried under the weight of specifics." He said the forum's draft statement of values would not supplant traditional moral frameworks. "Perish the thought that we might be aiming to replace the Ten Commandments, for example."
For a school it would mean a deliberate cultivation of an ethos "to ensure that it models a moral community"; seizing every opportunity to develop moral reasoning through the different subjects of the curriculum; and specific exploration of moral issues via a separate programme. "I do think that in due course we may need something of this kind as part of the statutory curriculum. "
SCAA was also considering the possibility of a new AS level in critical thinking as it had great potential to develop young people's understanding of the nature of knowledge, and in particular moral knowledge, he said.
Dr Tate told delegates there was a growing case for considering a place in the curriculum for a citizenship programme or civic education. While the moratorium on changes to the national curriculum before 2000 should be respected, he said, there was scope for running pilot schemes.
He appealed to schools to use the "weekly, termly and annual rhythms of the school" to develop in young people a sense of membership of a wider community.
Dr Tate returned to this moral theme when he gave the Hugh Kay Memorial Lecture to the Christian Association of Business Executives in London last Tuesday.
Like schools at their best, business can hold up a model of what it means to be a moral community. "At best, business can illustrate the application of a range of virtues: honesty, reliability, perseverance, punctuality, foresight, restraint, self-discipline, obedience to the law and to rules, self-improvement, concern for others and the environment. Business can show that moral issues should be taken seriously, that acting morally is not easy, but that moral decisions often require careful thought."
In another speech this week to teachers and employers at a conference on work experience, he appealed for schools to see the few weeks most 14 and 15-year-olds spend learning about working life as an opportunity to gain a sense of responsibility.
Dr Tate advocated work experience as a means of promoting "duty and responsibility, self-control, restraint, concern for others, loyalty, enterprise and perseverance . . . the virtues that society needs to keep itself together and that business needs if it is to operate effectively."