21st April 2008 at 01:00

SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT IN THE STATE SCHOOL: a perspective on worship and spirituality in the education system of England and Wales. By Terence Copley. University of Exeter Press. pound;13.99.

In this book, Terence Copley looks at the state of spiritual education in schools in England and Wales. Unlike other authors in this field, he does not try to develop a model which can be applied to today's secular and multicultural society, but instead harks back to the days of Thomas Arnold (headmaster of Rugby in late Victorian times), when spirituality was safely confined and defined by Christianity.

He uses the lives and works of other eminent Victorians to chart the rise of secular spirituality, and the thoughts of a various philosophers to illustrate his story, but underneath this historical survey is an argument that spirituality can be understood only in the context of a religion, and in this country that means Christianity.

If children are to be nurtured in their spiritual development, this means using religious education and collective worship in schools. He discounts the idea of a faith revival but believes spiritual development cuts its cords with religions and religious language at great risk.

This is difficult. In general, religious education has bcome more plural, and collective worship has become a variety of assemblies that address any issue teachers believe children should think about. I agree that spiritual education has somehow got lost between religious education and personal and social education, but I don't believe we can reverse these changes. And I don't believe we should. We have begun the development of plural spiritual education in schools and it must continue.

In contrast to Copley, I think that this country is no longer Christian, not even broadly or vaguely, and the days of forcing faith on the un-faithful are over. Attractive though the certainties and simplicity of a spirituality based on Christianity might be, we have to acknowledge that it will remain outside the experience of the majority of children in our education system.

However weak and confused our attempts at plural spirituality might be at the moment, it remains the only way forward that might possibly acknowledge and include every pupil. To paraphrase Matthew Arnold, the tide of faith has receded and Copley's vision, along with Thomas Arnold's, is shipwrecked on the beach.


Jane Erricker is principal lecturer in education at the school of education, King Alfred's college, Winchester

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