Consider a recent headline from a British newspaper:
State schools churning out a generation of ‘amoral children’
Maybe you’ve seen it already, or perhaps you’re wondering (as a fair minded and reasonable adult) what sort of pathetic tabloid rag would print such rubbish.
This article was in fact published last week by The Telegraph – supposedly a respectable newspaper of record, well read by British middle class conservatives and others. The remarks contained in the article were in fact picked up and widely disseminated throughout the British media.
“Churning out”? “Amoral”?
We’re meant to believe that our entire state school system is deliberately or unthinkingly producing a generation of children and young people that is less “moral” than previous generations, and has no regard for values or virtues?
We’re also meant to believe that Britain’s independent fee-paying schools are uniformly excellent at educating children to be paragons of morality and virtue?
And where, we may well ask, is the actual evidence for any of this?
Here’s what the Telegraph has to say:
The chairman of the Independent Schools Association claims that pupils are no longer equipped with traditional values because of a focus on league table rankings in the state education system
Richard Walden, chairman of the Independent Schools Association, says teachers must provide pupils with a “rounded” education to equip them with the “moral compass they need for life”.
He suggests a failure to provide old-fashioned values may even risk fuelling extremism, saying education “is the mark of a civilised society; we believe it should prevent barbarism”.
Many private schools help build old-fashioned values by providing extra sport, community service, collective worship, pastoral care and school trips outside the classroom, he says.
But in a speech to the association’s annual conference on Thursday, he insists the state education system is shunning extra-curricular activities and pupil wellbeing because of pressure to inflate exam results.
He compares league tables to the “modern equivalent of the Gradgrinds” in Dickens’s Hard Times, with “endless testing regime and league tables replacing the birch”.
Mr Walden, head of Castle House School in Shropshire, says recent research has concluded that “the country is turning out too many amoral children because schools cannot find the time to teach the difference between right and wrong, as so much school time is spent on ‘teaching the basics'”.
It comes just 24 hours after an academic called for lessons in personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) – the vehicle used to deliver sex education – to become compulsory in all schools.
Prof Chris Bonell, from the University of London’s Institute of Education, said education policy should not focus solely on academic attainment at the expense of children’s health and wellbeing.
Addressing headmasters in Warwickshire, Mr Walden says: “Too many staff in maintained schools operate in a climate of fear. They are overwhelmed by the pressure to achieve results.
“I hear of primary schools that inflate results and then when the pupils reach secondary school, the teachers there know that the results are too high.
“This focus on league tables and attainment levels distracts teachers and effectively disables them from providing children with a more rounded and enriching education – one that will give them the moral compass they need for life.”
“Education is the mark of a civilised society; we believe it should prevent barbarism,” he says. “But it does not seem to be enough. Indeed, often it is the educated who perpetrate wicked acts.”
He adds: “Reception of factual information is not enough because it may be replete with falsehoods. It has to be knowledge with values.”
The strange thing is – we agree with many of these these comments. This article was written by Graeme Paton, the Education Editor of the Telegraph, who is doing an excellent job in publishing articles that highlight some very key issues in education and child wellbeing.
Mr Paton is clearly a thoughful and fair-minded professional whose work at the Telegraph is admirable. What’s not acceptable are headlines like the one above this article – which are written by the paper’s editorial staff, and are therefore likely to be sensationalist, biased and unrepresentative of the actual article.
We do NOT agree that state schools are “churning out” feral children who care nothing for values and virtues. The vast majority of young people have a strong sense of right and wrong, and a good system of values, in spite of the commercialisation and commodification of their world and their lives.
We do NOT agree that state schools pay no attention to children’s social, spiritual and moral development. However, we believe there’s nothing “old fashioned” about developing children’s personal, social and spiritual intelligences, and we insist that more time in schools needs to be spent on these essential areas of learning.
We most certainly do agree that these crucial areas of learning and wellbeing have been crowded out of the taught curriculum in many schools, and that many schools fail to create an ethos and an atmosphere that is conducive to the informal development of these vital intelligences.
Needless to say, we also agree that the relentless regime of targets, high stakes testing and league tables that has been inflicted on the English education system continues to have a deplorable and highly damaging effect on pupils and teachers alike, and must be abolished by a future progressive government.