In a week that has seen heated debate on morality and discipline in our school system, TES staff report on proposals for offering a framework for good behaviour and citizenship to the nation's children.
The common good is set to make a comeback under proposals launched this week by the Goverment's curriculum quango, nine years after Mrs Thatcher famously pronounced that there is no such thing as society.
Public figures should behave with integrity, the economy must run fairly and parents should sign up to community values if schools are to suceed in promoting spiritual and moral development, says the long-awaited consultation paper from the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority.
It was immediately welcomed by the Education Secretary Gillian Shephard, despite her earlier criticism that the document says too little about the family. In another apparent policy retreat, she praised the paper's treatment of family values as "particularly important."
Official publication of the document was brought forward by two days at the request of the Government amid the past week's heated debate on moral issues, behaviour and discipline.
All schools in England will be asked to comment on a basic moral template, placing the good of the community alongside personal responsibility and environmental concern. Pupils should, for example, strive to be good citizens, respect others, gain self knowledge and protect the natural world.
Speaking at the launch, the Authority's chief executive Dr Nicholas Tate said that the values could eventually be written into the national curriculum. SCAA is also gearing up for a thorough review of personal and social education.
In a separate move the authority announced that it is pressing ahead with a new, philosophically-based AS-level course in "critical thinking", likely to form part of a re-vamped general studies A-level.
The consultation paper has met with approval from professional bodies and religious leaders although the Churches remain concerned that there is no mention of religious belief.
There was particular praise from the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks. "I want to give this a powerful welcome," he said. "The document begins the process of building a consensus, seeking the support of society for the work done in schools - the kind of debate that will make the conscience of the nation articulate."
John Bangs, education officer of the National Union of Teachers said: "I think the Forum has done a very good job. It has acknowledged that schools have always been moral places. The big issue is whether society is going to reciprocate.
"We reached the nadir when Mrs Thatcher said there was no such thing as society. Suddenly SCAA has seen the light."
Publication comes as part of a nine-month campaign by Dr Tate against moral relativism and consumer values which he believes are undermining schools in their work. Speaking at the launch, he attacked the "no blame, no shame, anything goes" society. "Moral values," he said, "are different from tastes or preferences."
But he also emphasised the importance of social consensus. "It is time we gave more support to schools' vital work in this area. If society is able to agree on a set of core values this will give teachers greater confidence in promoting these among young people.
"The Forum's statement of values is designed to put an end to the lie that we are no longer a community; that, because we are diverse, we can no longer aspire to a common culture. Our shared moral code is our common culture. "
Assistant chief executive Tony Millns said: "Behind this document is the shift back towards a sense of common good, which has been expressed by groups as diverse as the American Communitarians and the Catholic Church."
The consultation document has been produced by the National Forum for Values in Education and the Community - a 150-strong group representing a variety of professional and religious interests.
The Forum concluded that the criteria for inspecting spiritual and moral development should be tighter; that questions of spirituality should receive more emphasis in teacher training programmes; and that children should get lessons in civics. The Forum also called for compulsory sessions of community service, a suggestion which has not been backed by SCAA.
However the most significant opinions will come from schools, who now have a chance to air their views. They are asked to comment on the statement of values and on the question of how parents and other members of society can support them.
Family values have stirred the greatest controversy. The document gives prominence to the family and says: "In particular we value families as sources of love and support for all their members and as the basis of a society in which people care for others."
But four members of the Forum, led by parent representative Guy Hordern, have objected, believing the document should specifically back marriage. They wanted reference to "a stable, moral and loving home environment with preferably both a mother and father present in a happy marriage relationship."
This view was apparently shared by Education Secretary Gillian Shephard who said in a weekend television interview that the values paper was inadequate. "I do think that more emphasis might be placed on the family as a bulwark of society and I shall be saying so. We must look at ways that we can strengthen that side of the report before it actually goes into anything we might instil in the curriculum."
Her statement this week however was considerably milder. "I am sure that the consultation will help to establish agreement on a statement of core values, " she said. "The reference in the framework to family values is particularly important and I am pleased that the consultation will be undertaken in the context of the different views expressed by forum members."
This has been a difficult week for Mrs Shephard who had earlier breached parliamentary convention by quoting from the values paper in a parliamentary debate - before it had been published. Immediate complaints from MPs meant that the document was then rushed out, two days early.
Dr Tate rejected the idea that the document should recommend marriage. "We have to be sensitive. We currently don't think it's possible to go in to classrooms saying that some forms of family are more valuable than others.
"The majority on the forum felt that the family was terribly important. Although many people do have views, they felt rightly and frankly that there's not a complete consensus."
Dr Tate insisted that the document aims at guidance rather than catechism. "It is not a Ten Commandments, or any of that nonsense. The last thing schools want is high-handed dictates from the centre on such delicate matters," he said. "We don't have to tackle them. The schools do."
Answering criticism that the paper is a statement of the obvious, Dr Tate said: "In matters of morality, it's very difficult not to re-state the obvious. It's very difficult to say anything new about morality that has not been said across the millennia."
SCAA will be launching a new two-year pilot study to help construct guidance materials on moral and spiritual development. These could be included as official documents when the national curriculum is next revised.
Responses to the document, must be completed by the end of this month. SCAAis also asking for examples of good practice.
The proposed new AS-level in critical thinking stems from a recommendation in Sir Ron Dearing's review of 16-19 education. Students will be expected to discuss moral and philosophical issues as they relate to three broad areas: the arts and humanities; mathematics, science and technology; and the law and civic life.
SCAA's SHARED MORAL VALUES SOCIETY
We value truth, human rights, the law, justice and collective endeavour for the common good of society. In particular we value families as sources of love and support for all their members and as the basis of a society in which people care for others.
Principles for action: On the basis of these values, we as a society should: * understand our responsibilities as citizens; * be ready to challenge values or actions which may be harmful to individuals or communities; * support families in raising children and caring for dependants; * help people to know about the law and legal processes; * Obey the law and encourage others to do so; * accept diversity and respect people's right to religious and cultural differences; * provide opportunities to all; * support people who cannot sustain a dignified lifestyle by themselves; * promote participation in our democracy; * contribute to, as well as benefit fairly from, economic and cultural resources; * make truth and integrity priorities in public life.
We value others for themselves, not for what they have or what they can do for us, and we value these relationships as fundamental to our development and the good of the community.
Principles for action: On the basis of these values, within our relationships we should: * respect the dignity of all people; * tell others they are valued; * earn loyalty, trust and confidence; * work co-operatively with others; * be mutually supportive; * respect the beliefs, life, privacy and property of others; * try to resolve disputes peacefully.
We value each person as a unique being of intrinsic worth, with potential for spiritual, moral, intellectual and physical development and change.
Principles for action: On the basis of these values, we as individuals should: * try to understand our own character, strengths and weaknesses; * develop a sense of self-worth; * try to discover meaning and purpose in life and how life ought to be lived; * try to live up to a shared moral code; * make responsible use of our rights and privileges; * strive for knowledge and wisdom throughout life;* take responsibility for our own lives within our capacities THE ENVIRONMENT We value the natural world as a source of wonderand inspiration, and accept our duty to maintain a sustainable environment for the future.
Principles for action: On the basis of these values we should: * preserve balance and diversity in nature wherever possible; * justify development in terms of a sustainable environment; * repair habitats which have been devastated by human development wherever possible; * preserve areas of beauty wherever possible; * understand the placeof human beings within the world.