Schools (Teaching Values)

– in the House of Commons am 11:44 am ar 3 Ebrill 1980.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

12 noon

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

There can be no more suitable time than in Holy Week, and Maundy Thursday in particular, to look at the question of the teaching of values in schools. In my view, and regrettably in my experience, there has been a serious decline in the teaching of religious education in recent years. The figures that I received from my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State this week show that there are fewer specialist teachers of that subject. Many schools—primary but especially secondary—have no specialist head of department for religious education or religious studies, call it what one will, and very often there is no department.

There has been an enormous change in the style of school assemblies, which under the 1944 Act were intended to be acts of worship. I do not believe that we can simply ignore the fact that the law, in the form of the 1944 Act, is being ignored in so many schools, which it certainly is.

The act of worship in a school is of the highest value to the school itself. But today, in as many as 90 per cent. of schools—I am open to correction, and I would be happy to learn that the figure is not as high as that—some morning assemblies at best consist of a homily. That may well be a good way of conducting an assembly and putting a point across, but after a time a homily day after day from a headmaster or a teacher, however gifted, tends to fall on deaf years.

Many schools often run a quiz instead of an assembly, which can include many different subjects in order to achieve variety. Other schools arrange talks by outside people. Very often those can be successful, but they are frequently not linked to teaching values or to putting those values across to the children. I believe that assemblies should basically achieve that purpose.

Classes are often asked to perform playlets and plays at assembly. They are useful forms of self-expression and can be a means of fulfilment. But all too frequently they do not put across a concept of values, which is what I believe the school assembly exists to do. All sorts of things happen in many schools, except the necessary teaching about God, Christendom and our own culture which is essential for the well-being of society.

The age in which we live is said to be difficult, and it is. I accept that to some extent it is difficult for schools not to reflect society. However, they are educational institutions whose fundamental role is teaching, and I hope that the debate will remind them of that duty. Positive teaching, including Christ's great teachings and those of other world religions, if it comes to that—including the Bible and the Koran—can go well in assemblies. The children of today, like the children of the past, are interested in hearing what the great spiritual leaders have to say and have said. They want to know about it and to argue about it. Therefore, they should be told.

The weakness of some churches in teaching the children who attend them—and there are not always many who do—is part of the problem to which I should like to draw attention. Many children go to church and receive no teaching at all which is of any value about the religion which they and their parents follow. That means that there is a further serious gap in the teaching of values to modern society.

I believe and fear that a vacuum is being created. Who wants it? Of course, the Marxists want it. If there is no teaching of values from Christian or other religious points of view, a vacuum is created into which the Marxists are only too ready to dive, as we all know. There is great concern among parents about that.

We know from the polls—and I have conducted some myself—that more than 80 per cent. of parents want religious education for their children. They desire that not because they want their children to be indoctrinated in any way but merely to have the opportunity of understanding the values of our great and living religion. The children should be free to accept or reject those values, but they must be told what those values are.

The value of the ethos of the school assembly is enormous. It has the effect of bringing a school together, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will know from his long, remarkable and greatly respected experience. I am sure that commends itself to everyone who knows anything about schools. I know that there are sizeable ethnic minorities in many modern schools. Some people make this fact an excuse for ducking the teaching of values and the teachings outlined in the 1944 Act. The excuse is that it would be offensive to ethnic minorities. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Anyway, is it not fair to say that ethnic minorities, whichever they are, must accept the host country's culture, at any rate in schools? They do not have to believe it, but they must accept that it is the basis upon which our schools and society are run.

This does not mean that such minorities should fail to keep their own cultures and faiths alive or to practise and follow them, as so many do. In Ealing, the Polish and Asian communities are very strong. They follow their own cultures. However, in the context of schools, I believe that such minorities will accept that the values which are put across are those of Christendom. In any case, the values of Christendom closely correspond to the values of many of the other world religions which are followed by the Asian and other ethnic minorities.

I should like to say a word about the value of denominational schools and the need to expand and support them. The borough of Ealing faces challenges such as one would not believe in an attempt to establish a Church of England high school on the site of the present Twyford high school. The population in the area is falling rapidly. Three schools at present serve that declining population. Parents are no longer choosing the Twyford school in the same numbers as they once did. Ten years ago, the school was reasonably well subscribed, but it has not for some years been a very popular school, and this year only 75 first choice preferences have been received for 240 places. Therefore, I believe that parents are indicating this year, as they did last year—when only about 100 first choice preferences were received—that the school is one which the area would be prepared to see closed.

I therefore believe it right to establish a new school in that building. The Conservative-controlled borough council was elected on a mandate to establish a Church of England high school in the borough. In Ealing, the parents of 2,600 children have said that they want them to go to a Church of England high school within the next few years. That figure represents roughly 10 per cent. of the borough's children. Most of them belong to Christian worshipping families, although not all are Church of England. Many now attend Church of England first and middle schools in the borough. They come from all sorts of backgrounds.

For example, there are the railway community of North Acton, the Christian Asian community of Southall, the new housing areas of Northolt and Green-ford and the West Indian community. In short, they come from all areas and groups within the borough of Ealing. The idea is well supported by members of all ethnic minorities.

The Roman Catholic Church currently has a fully comprehensive system. The Church of England wishes to establish such a system but faces tremendous opposition, principally from the Labour Party. It amazes me that the national executive committee of the Labour Party has seen fit to interfere in this decision and has set up the strongest possible opposition to it. Shadow Cabinet Ministers have been to Ealing and spoken against the proposal. We have had more interference on this issue, which is very much a domestic issue, than one could possibly imagine.

I heard today from my hon. Friend the Minister that the section 13 notice procedure which has to be operated before the establishment of this school, and which does not invite supporters of the proposed new school to write in, invites only opponents to write in. Up to 26 March, three days before the closing date for representations on the proposed Church of England high school, we had no fewer than 9,970 signatures on the petition in favour of the proposal and 5,147 against. I hope that the Secretary of State will take those figures strongly to heart when reaching his decision. I hope that he will recognise that the emotion and dedication that lie behind those figures are vital to the widening of parental choice in Ealing and the maintenance of the teaching of values in our schools and all that goes with them.

It is said by opponents of the teaching of Christian values that they can be divisive. But I note that all core curriculum discussion recognises the importance of our aim. It is the Marxists and many Socialist supporters—though not all—who oppose this concept.

As regards getting Christian values across to children so that they pick them up for use in their daily lives in "shorthand", what is wrong with the teaching of the Ten Commandments? It is said by opponents such as those I have described that the Ten Commandments are negative and that this would be negative teaching. But so much of life is about what we cannot do. In the end there is not much that we are allowed to do, but we must know what we can and cannot do and what is ethically right or wrong. I know of no better or quicker means of getting across to children the basic difference between right and wrong than the Ten Commandments. I believe that they are vital.

The value of compassion for the underdog and the weak members of society needs to be constantly taught if schools are not be hotbeds of bullying. School assemblies, or the religious education period, can be used for this purpose. Bible stories, such as the story about the Good Samaritan, are excellent illustrations of compassion.

Thomas Arnold, the celebrated headmaster of Rugby school, said: My aim is to make Christian gentlemen; Christian boys I can scarcely hope to make. We must remember that education is a continuing process and that boys and girls need to be reminded daily of compassion in terms of living with one another in society, and I am keen that it should happen.

I also believe that the classical virtues need to be taught in schools much more vigorously, both by precept and by practice. The virtues of faith, hope, love, humility, self-control, truthfulness and right judgment should be taught. Who can challenge the value of teaching these great concepts to children at an age when they are receptive and able to practise them in their daily lives for their own well-being and that of their fellow men?

The fruits of the spirit are also great concepts and excellent teaching material for boys and girls, and also adults. The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Is it not valuable for these great ideals to be expoun- ded in society all the time in a positive and strong way?

We must not forget the seven deadly sins. About a year ago I set a group of children whom I was then teaching a task of putting the concept of each of the seven deadly sins into a sentence. I well remember a small but very fat girl saying that she thought that gluttony was when she took the last piece of cake off the plate when all other members of the family—there were 10 in her family—might want it. In her case she grabbed it first and thought that that was a fair concept of greed. Other children gave very succinct descriptions of their concepts of avarice, lust, and so on.

I remember a remarkable film called "The Seven Deadly Sins" which explained just what those sins are and mean to society. I have remembered the teaching which went with that film and I shall remember it all my life. I am not saying that an understanding of virtues and sin will produce the perfect man. Alas, the good society will always be unattainable. But if we cease to strive towards it and let the schools off the hook our society will be impoverished and there will be violence between man and man, and man and child, such as we have not previously known.

The debate in the House of Lords last week on sex education was of great value. Some peers argued for it to be kept out of the schools altogether and left as a responsibility for the parents. There is much to be said for that view. Other peers, who eventually won the day, believed that the school had a role to play in this process but considered that the parents should be involved. That is crucial. If schools are to teach sex education, it must be done in conjunction with the parents. This subject illustrates and typifies the whole problem of teaching value-laden subjects in today's schools. There is no doubt about that.

Those who wish to exclude sex education from the curriculum claim that the schools often introduce the wrong values. That is provable. Even if it is not possible to argue that these values, whether too liberal or too puritanical, were objectively wrong, at least they were different from those that parents hoped were being taught to their children. This can lead only to confusion at best or the downright undermining of moral standards at worst, which is serious, whether the undermining is done by the schools or the parents.

Despite the difficulties, the schools cannot just opt out and pretend that the problem is not there. The occasions when ethical questions about sex have to be answered cannot be avoided, whether they occur in the biology laboratory, because of the discovery of a pornographic magazine in the desk, or when pupils are discussing a television play—and we know there are many controversial plays—or following the news of the birth of a brother or sister. The teachers involved must be prepared to express some opinion and to bear witness to some values. The school of which they are a part should help them to identify which values they should be upholding.

Lady Young was right to point out in closing the debate in the other place that the governors of a school had some responsibility in that direction. They certainly have, and I hope that they will exercise it more strongly than many have so far. They have responsibilities with regard to values generally and not just over sexual attitudes and behaviour. Their job is not easy, nor is the teacher's. As the document by Her Majesty's inspectors, "Curriculum 11–16", put it in 1977, Value systems are changing rapidly and attitudes towards such problems as violence, sexual morality and the boundaries of tolerance are increasingly unclear.…In a world of pluralist values the messages received by schools can be contradictory and confusing. Society does not speak with one voice. Yet HMIs are quite clear that there are some standards that society can demand of the schools. As they say, certain general qualities and attitudes—integrity, reliability, application to work, and consideration for others"— all fundamental to a happy life for any individual and for society—should be established by example as well as by precept". I want to open up two further questions. First, what are the values—further to what I have said—that society can legitimately demand should be taught in the schools? Second, precisely how can they be taught, whether by example or precept, and how can the House assist? I have said that I want to open up the questions. I do not have time to answer them in detail, but I must set out in pursuit of one or two possible answers.

The recently published Department of Education and Science document, "A Framework for the Curriculum", suggests that the schools should have among their aims the following items: to help children develop lively, inquiring minds; to give them the ability to apply themselves to tasks; to instil respect for other people and for oneself; to instil tolerance of other races, religions and ways of life; to help children use language more imaginatively; and to help them properly to esteem the essential role of industry and commerce in maintaining the nation's standard of living. That last object is often undermined by all sorts of attitudes of Left-wing teachers.

Another separate item speaks of instilling respect for moral values, but it is not a separate activity. Even though very few of the words in the items that I have quoted are overtly value words, every item contains a major value judgment at its centre. It is judged to be a good thing that minds should be lively and inquiring, as opposed to being docile and merely receptive. Application and persistence are judged to be good things. So are respect for and tolerance of others—other races, religions, ways of life.

Language is seen as having a creative, imaginative function, not being used merely for basic communication of information and instructions. Industry and commerce are to be properly esteemed, not held up as monstrous polluters of the environment or manifestations of greed at its most unacceptable.

I am not asking you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to agree or disagree with any of those value judgments. I am simply showing how almost every item in that list of aims is shot through with value questions.

That leads on inevitably to the assertion that every teacher is a teacher of values. That is generally accepted in primary schools. The recent HMI survey of primary education in England notes that social development and moral learning are so general that they rarely appear as timetable headings, yet they are frequently given attention in the course of the day to day teaching in every classroom". Here we have come to my second question. How are values taught? What is the role of example? What is the place of precept?

Example obviously plays a crucial role. However misguided the recent Health Council propaganda film may or may not be, it is right in its basic premise that children learn smoking from their parents. Children also learn loving and caring from their parents. The same is true of pupils and teachers. There is an anonymous prose poem that sums this up very well:

"Children Learn What They Live.

  • If a child lives with criticism
  • He learns to condemn.
  • If a child lives with hostility
  • He learns to fight.
  • If a child lives with ridicule
  • He learns to be shy.
  • If a child lives with shame
  • He learns to feel guilty.
  • If a child lives with tolerance
  • He learns to be patient.
  • If a child lives with encouragement
  • He learns confidence.
  • If a child lives with praise
  • He learns to appreciate.
  • If a child lives with fairness
  • He learns justice.
  • If a child lives with security
  • He learns to have faith.
  • If a child lives with approval
  • He learns to like himself.
  • If a child lives with acceptance and friendship
  • He learns to find love in the world."
However, the truth of that does not mean that there is no place for precept as well as example, to interpret and generalise the first-hand specific experiences that example will have provided. But there is more to precept than telling someone what is right and what is wrong. Schools must never be content simply with telling. There should at least be basic interaction between the mind of the teacher and the minds of the pupils in discussion. The more lively and vivid that discussion is, the better.

There is a need to help the pupil to see for himself what is right and what is wrong, and why. That involves a fairly long process of development in exploring moral issues, moral quandaries, and examining and discussing other people's moral decisions. Moral judgment is indeed something that can be taught by both direct and indirect means. But not all specific moral decisions are made only on the basis of one's moral skill and ex- pertise; they are made ultimately on the basis of one's moral vision, one's presuppositions about the nature and significance of human life, and indeed of the whole web of existence.

Here we come to the heart of the teaching of values—whether through the medium of poetry, plays, novels, music or the visual arts or through the study of specifically religious material, such as the scriptures, prayers, hymns or any other of the writings of men of vision. This grappling with questions of meaning and significance must underlie all the teaching of values in our schools, the sense of striving that has gone on throughout the ages.

I asked earlier how the House could forward the process, which I am sure most people will agree is vital today. One simple answer is to ensure that there are enough teachers to do the job and that they are given the resources to enable that job to be done properly. On 8 February my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary gave figures indicating that even if every religious education specialist currently employed in our schools were teaching his own specialism in a secondary school, there would be only one RE teacher for every 273 pupils. What a situation!

If, as one suspects, only two-thirds, at the very most, of these specialists are in secondary schools, there will be only one specialist for every 410 pupils. That is an unacceptable ratio. It is not enough simply to be told the total number of specialists in the subject. We need to know precisely how those specialists are deployed. The Department of Education and Science has that information embedded in its recent staffing survey. Is it not time that that information was made available? We could then see how many specialists are teaching the subject, and, if the pupil-teacher ratio is as low as one suspects, we must call on local education authorities to ensure that the number of RE teachers in secondary schools is brought up to an adequate level and that sufficient provision of semi-specialists is made in primary schools.

I am not castigating the Government. The previous Labour Government, in particular, allowed the situation to deteriorate at an alarmingly rapid rate. I was in a school for the past five years and I felt the situation deteriorating. It became difficult to recruit specialist teachers of RE. If one found such teachers, it was difficult always to place them in the subject that one wanted. Pressure is put on them to teach other subjects. That deterioration has become particularly marked during the past five years.

It is not enough simply to call on the LEAs. One needs to ensure that salary structures in the subject are right and that training and retraining schemes are widely available for those who want to teach this subject. We must also ensure that teachers are released to take the in-service courses available, that books and other resources are provided in the schools and that examination entries in that subject are not discouraged by the schools. Each LEA should make sure that general support is available from a specialist adviser. Only about 40 per cent. of LEAs have a specialist adviser in this discipline. If we seriously want our schools to be adequate upholders of spiritually-based values once again, these are some of the urgent practical steps that we must take.

Many schools put the RE teacher on a much lower salary scale than correspondingly important heads of department. We all know that that can happen. Heads and governors do not always take a stand for this discipline. I hope that they care—as they must—about the wellbeing of our society. If they do, they will offer the top scales in order to encourage teachers to become heads of RE departments and to take a lead in the teaching of values. RE is an interesting and valuable intellectual discipline. Many pupils study RE to GCE O-level, A-level and CSE level. Many of them thoroughly enjoy the subject.

There are other ways of teaching values. Those methods have been undermined recently in subtle and, perhaps, unintentional ways. Team games have been derided by many people who should know better. Emphasis has been taken away from the value of playing in a team. Playing in a team should be jolly and a bit of a joke. However, I have taught teams in one game or another for 22 years—from my first year in a school to my last. Sometimes I have been responsible for two or three teams at a time in a large school. I know the importance of getting members of a team to understand the value of supporting each other and of playing together fairly and honestly. I know the value of teaching them to avoid dirty tricks.

Those values have a particular appeal to schoolchildren. A great deal is conveyed to pupils by means of team games. Pupils often see football violence on television. They may go to football matches and see the referee's fair decision being questioned. They may see players walking off the field in a temper. There are great abuses of team games by people who should know better.

We should reassert the value of team games in schools. We should wholly support teachers who are prepared to give their time and effort to helping with team games. We should encourage them. We should constantly stress the fact that fair play is valuable on the field, off the field and in all that one does in life. That can be taught by means of team games.

I am not denigrating sports in which the individual competes against the environment. Such sport is also valuable. I am a strong supporter of sports in which the individual competes against the environment, or against himself. A man who is riding against the clock is up against the most tremendous pressure to be decisive and forward-looking and to plan ahead. Each of those points is basic to the quality of sound, good and sensible living.

Being in the saddle for any time is also valuable. Winston Churchill said that being in the saddle was of the utmost value to any human being at any age. He said that no hour spent in the saddle was lost. The individual who rides a horse in open country or in a riding school has to concentrate completely on the animal that he is riding. He must try to achieve a situation in which horse and rider move as one. All other thoughts must he eliminated from the rider's mind. Concentration is induced in the rider and horse, and that is of great value. It is important to have the ability to concentrate one's mind on what is important and to keep it there. Therefore, individual sports also have much to offer.

One could speak similarly about skiing, mountaineering, athletics, and many other sports. I want to encourage strongly the great value of fair play in both team and individual sports. I wish to encourage give and take, because that is what life is all about.

A sound ethos is vital to the success of any school. There is no substitute, in my view, for the Christian ethos. It may be possible to establish an honest and sound ethos in other ways. However, I could not do that myself. I do not say that it could not be done; I am merely doubtful. I have tried to explain how to achieve an understanding of values in society. I have tried to explain about virtues, deadly sins and so on.

Methods of teaching are a matter for constant research. I have suggested the lines that might be taken. These values should be taught as long as the pupil remains in school. They should be taught every day from the moment that school starts until the moment it ends. High standards of work, behaviour, discipline and attendance will follow upon a respect for high values. Work is essential—whether in the home or elsewhere—and it is basic to the life of every happy person. Discipline and compassion also go together in the life of an integrated pupil. The integrated pupil will attend school and will be keen.

It is impossible to achieve a totally acceptable and happy atmosphere in a school without sanctions. We should have sanctions which pupils accept and understand, and which teachers respect and can enforce. Many local education authorities have got rid of valuable and long-standing sanctions without putting anything in their place. That has done as much to undermine schools as anything else. It is very serious.

May I quote what Piaget said: Young children learn all their moral judgments from adults and older children". It is important for the teaching profession to remember its central responsibilities. I have a piece of work written for me a year ago by a pupil of 15, who was not a high-flier. He said this of good teachers: The qualities of the good teacher are that he/she must be patient. He must not be too strict, but strict enough to keep the pupils under control and must make the lesson interesting for them. If the teacher is too strict the pupils turn against him and they find it difficult to get on with each other. If he is too weak, the situation will be even worse He should be able to make things clear and be fair.