Scots schools claim moral high ground

Morality in schools is a hot topic at the moment. That is, except in Scotland, where Peter Ross finds, it is yesterday’s news.

While teachers sorrth of the border are learning to live with the idea of right and wrong being taught in the classroom. the concept isn‘t new in Scotland. Scottish schools already have a moral programme in place. which pupils and staff alike claim is far better.

Morality and good citizenship have been taught in Scottish schools since 1993. when the Scottish Office introduced a set of guidelines. The curriculum now includes religious and moral as well as personal and social education.

Pupils are encouraged to develop their own ideas about important human questions and learn about moral values. particularly in their relationships with others.

The ‘statement of values' for schools in England and Wales. unveiled by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority earlier this month. is intended to represent a consensus on moral values. Teachers will now promote an idea of right and wrong in the context of society. relationships. self and the environment. However. the code has been criticised for not placing enough emphasis on marriage and the family.

The morality issue has been high-profile since last month when Frances Lawrence. widow of rrrurdercd headmaster Philip Lawrence. launched her campaign to instil a proper sense of right and wrong in the young. This and recent events at the Ridings School have placed morality in schools firmly on the political agenda.

At Shawlands Academy. a large school in Glasgow's Southside. pupils discuss social issues including racism. drug use and sexuality and are encouraged to develop their own values wirhin a given factual framework. Pupils seem to prefer this system to the back-to-hasics approach proposed for the English curriculum.

‘The school doesn‘t force you to accept one opinion.‘ says Noreen h’lohammed. a sixth-year pupil at Shawlands Academy. ‘We are given the facts about drugs. AIDS. homosexuality and so on. and we give feedback on what we think about these things.‘

Noreen believes the strict code of moral values. with an emphasis on marriage and the family. advocated by Education and Employment minister Gillian Shepherd. would be difficult to implement and ultimately ill-advised.

Frances lawrence: high profile campaign

‘Everybody has their own opinion of what‘s right

and wrong. If the public in general can't make up their minds. how can the Government expect pupils to learn

moral rules'." Teachers should give pupils the facts and leave them to make their own decisions. she argues. Her view is


that morality is simply not within the educational remit: ‘Sehools don't have the right to tell you what‘s right or wrong. Nobody can tell you what to think.‘ she says.

While David Sneddon. another sixth year at Shawlands Academy. is firmly in favour of some kind of moral education. he too believes the Scottish system helps schools teach morality rrrore effectively. ‘Moral questions are very rrruch left open-ended in school. You have to reach your own conclusions. which means the moral attitude you adopt will stick better.

‘At Shawlands Academy. we learn about morality through classes and activities such as community parties for the old folk. Actually doing something for the community like that is a better way to learn what is right and wrong than being taught about it in a classroom.‘

Scotland's main teaching union is highly critical of schools seeking to teach morality. Fred Forrester. (lepute general secretary ofthe Educational Institute of Scotland (ElS). believes the issue has become a political football:

‘ln a period of stringent control of public spending there's a great attraction for politicians in focusing on peripheral issues like morality and avoiding the important question of how to fund a proper education service.

‘()ur members see a funding crisis. they see classes getting bigger. they see something approaching the collapse ofeducation in GlaSgow. But all they hear politicians talking about is moral values and bringing back the cane.' Forrester says.

The rrnion leader is also sceptical about the feasibility of teaching morality effectively in schools. He believes many teachers are unsure about what exactly moral instruction should entail.

Jean Murray. headteacher at Shawlands Academy. believes schools should teach rrrorality brrt should be wary of making value judgements in sensitive or ambiguous areas. ‘There are absolute moral values such as honesty. integrity and support for the weak. which we should be transferring to the young people in our care. Brit if you start preaching that unmarried people living together are sinful. then that could well be their parents. I think that is a dangerous road to go down.‘ Murray says.

Meanwhile. the Scottish ()ffice continue to support the personal and social education programme. The Secretary of State for Scotland. Michael Forsyth said: ‘Pupils should be helped to identify values. the importance of their role at home. in school and within the community; to respect and to tolerate others and take responsibility for their own actions.‘

And finally. .' . lecturer sleazy, church uneasy, | feel queasy!

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water. along comes Breaking The Waves. Lars von Trier‘s movie about a young woman‘s ostracisrn by her Calvinist community. Its hand-held carnerawork left some viewers at Edinburgh‘s Cameo Cinema feeling decidedly seasick. with a couple so badly affected they were impelled to redecorate the foyer in glorious Technicolor.

lf car sickness were the only ill- effect of David C ronenberg‘s ("ms/r. we might get a chance to test-drive it ourselves. Worried by the film‘s auto— eroticism (in more ways than two). the British Board of Film Classification continues to vacillate

over a decision. while Virginia Bottomley has urged local councils to exercise their powers of veto and ban screenings whatever the outcome.

()lder readers may recall feeling as sick as a dead parrot at having to make the journey beyond Glasgow‘s city limits to see Monty Python 3' Life ufBrr’mr after the great and the good had deemed it a danger to our moral health. In a memorable TV debate. that bastion of propriety Malcolm Muggeridge railed. ‘I knew before I saw this film that it would be second- rate.‘ to which Python‘s Michael Palin responded disrnissively. ‘Well. I realise you approached it with an open mind . . .‘

Anyone who feels nauseous (and hasn't been watching Breaking The ll’ar'cs) may have fallen victim to The

Little Voodoo Kit. Quite clearly the work of Satanists and gainsayers of Christian values. the toy - being marketed as a stress-reliever comprises a cotton doll. pins and instructions on how to punish bullying bosses. irksorne neighbours and unfaithful lovers. As with everything this year. it has invoked condemnation by church leaders. Bill Wallace of the Church of Scotland‘s Board of Social Responsibility. is quoted as saying. ‘lt's always dangerous to treat evil as a joke.‘ ls it any less dangerous to treat jokes as though they were morally significant? Someone who may find himself the target of vicarious body-piercing is Dr Chris Brand. The Edinburgh University Psychology lecturer first encountered censure when his book

'I'lrc g Factor purported to show an intelligence gap between whites and blacks; next came his appointment and dis-appointment as head of a student ethics committee: now. like a naughty schoolboy revelling in his infamy. Brand has again courted bad publicity with his remarks that non- violent paedophilia (with a consenting paedo) is harmless as long as both parties are of above-average [Q

()n Brand's analysis. this rules out black children; on any other. it rules out Brand. While his previous pronouncements may have had liberals quoting Voltaire’s ‘l disapprove of what you say. but I will defend to the death your right to say it'. his latest gaffe proves an older adage: a fool's tongue is long enough to cut his own throat. (David Harris)

The List l5-28 Nov I996 5