Tate's Top Ten fails to score

26th January 1996 at 00:00
Mike Fielding questions the SCAA chief's demand for a national moral code. When the Government's chief curriculum adviser suggests that schools should get down to the business of teaching a nationally-agreed moral code, I'm inclined to ask not just what schools has Nick Tate visited lately, but also what planet is he on?

Teachers already spend too much of their lives helping children to distinguish right from wrong. They are prompted to do so mostly as a compensation for the dereliction of duty by the world outside school - the media, political parties and the finance industry.

Our children are constantly bombarded with instances where selfishness, violence and infidelity are considered OK while truth-telling, concern for others and integrity is for wimps.

These attitudes - with racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and the indiscriminate use and abuse of power - spew into schools leaving teachers' civilised values the only defence against anarchy.

Of course they don't always teach these values; they are more inclined to live them.

Respect for others, politeness and punctuality are part of every teacher's armoury. They are doing the job now, remonstrating with badly- behaved children and counselling the unhappy.

A world in which nothing existed unless it was taught (and then only if it could be assessed) would be a sterile place. If Nick Tate's aim is only to acquire moral "facts", then children will not be able to examine their own values nor, in an atmosphere of trust and understanding, discuss how they might deal with personal dilemmas.

This often happens during the PSE lessons that Dr Tate derides for lack of formality. Coping with the effects of their own broken families, inadequate housing or hopeless future is more relevant to pupils and, arguably, more important than "contributing to society's efforts to maintain structures centred on the traditional two-parent family".

He is certainly right when he suggests that we "need some broader national agreement" but education can no more bring about moral regeneration than the social engineering that comprehensive schools have failed to deliver in 30 years. Nor can "statements of values" - important as they are - bring about change unless there is the deep-rooted will in all parties to bring them about.

Meanwhile, teachers will recognise Nick Tate's new "Ten Commandments" as the cornerstone of their approaches to turning raw adolescents into effective citizens since long before the first "behaviour policy" was written.

Schools need recognition, trust and the support of people in authority. We do not need panaceas. However much he was misreported or had words taken out of context, the effect of Dr Tate's speech has been to make us feel more misunderstood by people who are insulated from the classroom.

Mike Fielding is principal of the Community College, Chumleigh, Devon

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