Sunday, June 23, 2024
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Chris McGovern: Kids who can’t tell right from wrong? Poor not amoral teaching is to blame


According to, Richard Walden, the chairman of the Independent Schools Association, state schools are creating amoral children.

Apparently, this is because they spend too much time on academic studies and too little time on learning right from wrong.

If state schools do, indeed, have this claimed over-academic focus, it is not reflected in performance compared to high achieving education systems around the world.

Nor is it reflected in what many employers and universities are telling us about the academic standards of school-leavers.

Too many state school children are suffering from fairly poor academic teaching rather than too much academic teaching.

Judged by SATs results, alone, 20 per cent or more of children are leaving primary school without even a basic competence in literacy and numeracy.

It is not long before they fall even further behind at secondary school. As they become increasingly disengaged, many may become the amoral youngsters spoken about by Mr Walden.

The prisons are packed with those who cannot read, write or add up beyond an elementary level.

Sadly, these ‘failing’ youngsters are, also, ‘failed’ youngsters. They rarely suffer from a lack of ‘moral’ education.

Lessons in maintained schools have, for a long time, been fairly stuffed, often indirectly, with moral matters. It has even extended to, and corrupted, our public examination system.

GCSE Science exams, for example, have been as concerned with the morality of science as with scientific knowledge.

Questions about nuclear energy are as likely to be about the rights and wrongs of nuclear power stations as about the science of nuclear energy.

It is for such reasons that the Government has been forced to promise a new generation of more rigorous exams.

If there are too many pupils at state schools who seem, to some observers, as amoral, it is
not caused by a lack of a moral education so much as by the lack of a decent, effective and worthwhile education, in general.

In the hands of our best teachers, there are few children that become so disengaged that they enter that twilight world of amorality.

Children who are making genuine progress have no time for such mindsets. They are moving forward and they, invariably, wish to move forward further. Success breeds success as much as failure breeds failure.

And what about pupils in the private schools represented by Mr Walden? Do they really turn out as the moral superiors of the state school kids?

Is the child born with a silver spoon in his mouth likely to be morally ahead of the child born into poverty? Sometimes, perhaps, and sometimes not.

I suspect that true moral values may be nurtured, supported and encouraged. They may, even, to a certain extent be ‘caught’ but I doubt if they can be taught.

They come more from within than from without. They are what parents give to their children, in every sense of the world.

It is true that a lot of independent schools, often with wonderful facilities and some inspiring teachers, are very successful in developing what they like to call ‘the whole child’.

Maintained schools may be less successful in this mission but many do succeed.

The true amorality, in any discussion of our children, is to give up on the next generation.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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