Will Mammon clean up in a spiritually bankrupt slump?

22nd October 2010 at 01:00
With cuts likely to be made to spiritual, moral, social and cultural studies, six education figures argue the case for their survival

In the age-old battle between God and Mammon, the false god of money's stock is expected to rise, if only because of scarcity. Last week, in the face of cuts, the fbfe - the National Council of Faiths and Beliefs in Further Education - gathered religious and educational organisations in debate last to ask how spiritual, moral, social and cultural education could survive in the coming years when it is unfunded and often regarded as an optional extra. Is a spiritual and moral element essential to FE, or just a luxury for the good times that can be cast off when the going gets tough?

Reverend Janina Ainsworth, Chief education officer, Church of England

Our contention would be that hard-wired into human beings is a spiritual search. I use those words, but you could use others - "a search for meaning", perhaps. In the "impartial" television programme that (The God Delusion author) Richard Dawkins presented on faith schools, he quoted evidence that children preferred as an explanation for a physical phenomenon one that imputed some kind of meaning and direction. He saw that as something you need to grow out of, but for us it is evidence that a spiritual search is at the heart of human existence. That is a feature of the society our students and teachers live in. Education needs to take account of that.

Ian Millard, Principal, City of Wolverhampton College

People will say this is too important an issue in its own right, and it should be done for its own sake, and that is right. But this is absolutely fundamental to the social and community cohesion agenda, above all else. The communities that my college serves need the work we do on faith issues; they need it from the learners' perspective and from the communities' perspective. I noticed a lot more of our students were expressing quite strongly their own faith beliefs and that we as a college were not in tune with those beliefs. Our students wanted a stronger relationship with the college on faith issues.

We see this as a dispensable luxury at our peril. Whatever happens with public sector cuts, and the pace of economic recovery, the challenge will be about how our communities will be pulled apart, not pulled together. That sense of shared future, of rights and responsibilities, of civility and a sense of commitment to equality, has to drive us in these challenging times. Colleges are crucial to that agenda; we have a major responsibility and a challenge to deal with those things.

Tahir Alam, Chair, education committee, Muslim Council of Britain

When I went to college, it was very much about me finding my space in that place. I met so many people from different cultures and backgrounds, and I arranged so many debates with the Christian Society and the Atheist Society. My daughter went to college for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and when I was speaking to her about my experience I noticed that I never mentioned my A-levels and what I did; what I spoke about was the kind of people I met and things that shaped and excited me in a broader context. It's the wider experience I remember because that is where the biggest contribution for me was.

Sally Wootton, Chair, Further Education Tutorial Network

There is an anxiety for lots of tutors that they really do not have the knowledge and experience to hold these kinds of debate. I think that comes from the fact that we, as educationalists, do not get the opportunity to do this for ourselves, so we cannot explore it and we do not understand the process and the issues that arise from that. We also need to be working with schools to learn from their experience and the journey they have already been on in developing these programmes.

Ben Whittaker, Vice-president for welfare, National Union of Students

The sector is about to be obliterated by financial cuts and college principals will be looking at the books and where they can make savings. Many of them will say, "This is not a priority," not, "What we should do?" This is because we have an education system driven by outcomes and how many people you can pass, and not necessarily output and the actual value in the classroom.

The challenge for me is for government and decision-makers to say, "If you want to stand up here and talk the talk, if you believe in communities and shared values, if you do believe, as I do, that people should have the right to express their beliefs and faiths in a supported way, you should make this a priority."

Bernadette Joslin, Project manager of post-16 citizenship development programme, Learning and Skills Network

It is sometimes seen as an add-on or enrichment work. A description applied to it is that it is about developing "soft skills". This particularly irritates me, as it somehow suggests that the skills and knowledge in these areas are both easy and unimportant.

Work on this is perhaps some of the most important that we do with young people as it links into fundamental questions about the value and purpose of education and the sorts of individuals and society we want to create.

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