The following extracts are from the Guardian’s recent report on headteacher Richard Walden’s claim that state school teachers are “distracted” from the key task of providing children with a rounded and enriching education, causing our young people to lack values and virtues. This post also contains extracts from various letters to the Guardian on this topic, as well as our own comments on these matters.
Independent Schools Association: state schools fail to provide ‘moral compass’
State schools are failing to provide pupils with a “moral compass” because of the pressure on teachers to deliver good academic results, the head of a fee-paying-schools association will claim on Thursday.
Richard Walden will also imply parents are partly to blame by buying into the notion “that the only results that matter are those which have created added value in terms of raising a pupil’s statistical level more than the norm from one age group or stage to the next”.
Walden’s assertion that too many staff in the state sector, living in “a climate of fear”, are unable to provide children with an enriching education, was rejected by state head teachers’ leaders.
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said there was no evidence of an “amoral generation” leaving state schools and pointed the finger at those who had a privately funded education for events such as the financial crash.
Walden, making the remarks as chairman of the Independent Schools Association meeting at Combe Abbey, Warwickshire, will say: “The 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”.
Walden, head of Castle House school, in Newport, Shropshire,for two-to-11-year-olds argues fee-paying schools devote more time to extra-curricular activities, a wide curriculum and personal, social, health and economic education. Learning good values allows students to “distinguish the good from the bad and the true from the false” and develops their character.
“The very nature of our schools, with their respect for discipline and academic seriousness, sport and culture, citizenship and community, service, environmental awareness, spiritual life and personal responsibility, sends out into the world young people with emotional intelligence, developed moral understanding and a willingness to make a contribution to society,” he says.
“These are not measurable by statistics or on inspectors’ tick charts, but they are the qualities that employers want and the world as a whole needs. We cannot measure the growth of maturity in a young person grade by grade. It is not a linear progression anyway.”
Walden says: “It takes time, but if we hold our nerve as educators and as schools – and that may mean resisting the demands of parents who want quick-fix results, or the pressures of external statistical grading systems, not to mention the difficult financial situations that we can face – if we hold our nerve, we will continue to turn out well-rounded individuals who make a difference to society, as we have for many years.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT said: “I don’t think there is evidence to support an amoral generation emerging from our schools. In many ways, the coming generation has higher standards than our own. Indeed, one has only to look at sectors with high proportions of publicly-schooled people – like those who led us into the financial crash – to doubt the truth of this proposition.
“Values are not just found in the curriculum but in the way you teach the curriculum, in the behaviour policies and code of conduct, in the way adults treat children and each other. Teachers in state schools would love time for greater breadth and extra-curricular activity, but they are teaching strong values nonetheless.”
The Guardian’s letters page published several interesting responses to Mr Walden’s remarks:
Lessons in virtues and values
While an exclusive focus on exam results is, no doubt, detrimental to character development, quarrels about different school types are just a distraction. More important is the acknowledgment that all schools need to foreground this aspect of learning to develop flourishing individuals and a flourishing society. Recent comments made by politicians may indicate this acknowledgement has already been made at Westminster. Unfortunately, many politicians seem to understand character merely in terms of so-called soft skills, such as resilience and self-confidence, which are, in essence, amoral and only instrumentally valuable. Teachers should join academics in trying to persuade politicians and policymakers that the sort of character most worthy of development in all schools is moral character, and that such character is an intrinsic part of any well-rounded life.
Professor of character education and virtue ethics, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, University of Birmingham
We support Richard Walden’s suggestion that government must do more to encourage social and moral development in its state schools, although many are exemplary and surpass many private ones. The national curriculum subject of citizenship exists already as a mechanism for this. Indeed, we have challenged Mr Gove and his ministers repeatedly to broadcast their support for the citizenship curriculum, yet they remain silent. The Department for Education’s comment – “We are also giving all schools more freedom to offer extra-curricular activities that will build character. These include sports matches, debating competitions, cadet training and inspirational careers talks from outside visitors” – indicates they can’t even commend its own curriculum when offered the chance, preferring to talk in terms that only Biggles might recognise.
Chief executive, Citizenship Foundation
While the headteacher of a small private preparatory school in the Shropshire countryside is entitled to his view, the opinion he presents is flawed on also every level. My 35 years experience of state schools informs me that state schools are continually engaging with their students on the issues that support a fair and just society. What Mr Walden fails to mention is that most parents who send their children to private schools such as his do not do so for their children to develop a sense of community, but to give them an advantage denied to over 90% of our population. I challenge his belief that the privileged young people he praises so highly are especially rounded, socially aware or caring. They are certainly confident, but with no intention of rushing out of their ivory towers and lush lawns to help society.
The students who attended fee-paying schools do not populate the caring services, do not readily sacrifice the privilege their wealthy parents bestow on them by working in the public sector. If you want to find Mr Walden’s paragons of virtue you will find them where the most money is to be made. The nearest any of these young people will be to the community is where you find the best opportunities for personal advancement and/or enrichment. Just look at the people who are drawn to the Westminister gravy train.
Mr Walden does not offer a scrap of evidence of moral decay among the young in state education. While teachers’ heavy workloads, and the tyrannical conduct of many Ofsted inspections and politicians involved in education undoubtedly cause problems for teachers which might filter through to pupils, the changes I see in the conduct of young people are changes for the better.
Author, Teaching Citizenship Education: A Radical Approach
We agree entirely with the points made in these letters, and there’s not a lot we need to add, except
1) It’s obviously untrue that the majority of young people have no values and are lacking virtues in their day to day conduct.
2) There has been no measureable reduction in standards of behaviour in schools or by young people in society – although there is plenty of scope for improvement. Every school has a number of pupils who are potentially or actually aggressive and/or disruptive – and this is not a new phenomenon. (Both passive and aggressive behaviour can be the result of outside factors as well as styles of teaching, and/or an unengaging curriculum.)
3) There’s a lot more that can and should be done to enable young people to become better citizens with higher levels of emotional literacy, personal intelligence, social intelligence and spiritual intelligence. All teachers and teaching assistants should receive training in how to support these aspects of learning.
4) These intelligences and their associated “life skills” are little recognised and given very little prominence within our school system – certainly in terms of time allocated to enable them to be right at the centre of the learning that takes place in all schools.
5) Provision for learning is generally lopsided and heavily slanted towards the academic and the measureable, and away from vocational skills, personal and life skills, and multiple intelligences. Many different organisations including the CBI and the BCC have clearly understood this and have produced reports that insist we need to re-invent our system of education in order to benefit our young people as well as businesses and society in general.
6) Politicians and educationalists alike must now rethink what education in the UK is meant to achieve, and learn from what other countries have done to improve their systems of education. We also need to understand and emulate best practice within our own system.