Carey angers teachers with call for marriage lessons in school

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The Independent Online
Schools should devote more time to teaching pupils about the importance of marriage, the Archbishop of Canterbury said yesterday.

In an intervention which reignited the debate over teachers' role in instilling moral values, Dr George Carey called on schools to teach more about marriage, "why it is important, what it needs in order to flourish and what people entering marriage need to think about".

His comments in a speech to a London University conference on values and the curriculum drew criticism, both from traditionalists who support greater moral prescription in the classroom and teachers' leaders, fearful of alienating pupils whose backgrounds did not reflect the traditional family unit.

One headteachers' union leader said Dr Carey was asking schools to go "a step too far", while Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said teachers risked losing the respect of children from one-parent homes if they "preached that their is something wrong with their environment because they don't have two parents."

The debate rekindles the controversy which surrounded the work last year of a National Forum for Values in Education and the Community, which was set up by government curriculum advisers to identify "shared values" as guidance for schools.

The forum came under fire from a minority of its members and from Church groups who accused it of failing to emphasise the supremacy of marriage. Its statement of values was modified after consultation to include support for "marriage as the traditional form of the family, whilst recognising that the love and commitment required for a secure and happy childhood can be found in families of other kinds".

Dr Carey yesterday said he endorsed the forum's statement as a starting point, but he believed schools should go further. He urged them to build on the guidance and translate it into "a great deal of new thinking and classroom work about the institution of marriage".

Headteachers' leaders suggested their members would run into both practical and ideological difficulties if they followed Dr Carey's advice.

John Sutton, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said the dictates of the National Curriculum left only a limited time for personal and social education.

Teachers already discussed relationships including marriage, he said, but used "a fair amount of discretion" because of the variety of pupils' backgrounds. He added: "It is not a question of someone standing in front of a class and saying 'marriage good, divorce bad'. It is a question of someone saying there is a whole complexity of human relationships out there."

The values forum would do little to change schools' practice on teaching values, he suggested, although teachers would welcome new curriculum materials to use in the classroom.

Roger Hewins, president of the National Association of Head Teachers, challenged the Archbishop's right to advise teachers. Asking schools to teach more about marriage was "demanding a step too far", he said. "We stand in loco parentis and develop our relationships with pupils according to that, but to take it further and say we support a particular institution I think would be offensive to some of our parents".

However, Guy Hordern, one of the traditionalists who led the dissenting group on the values forum, accused Dr Carey of failing to reiterate earlier pronouncements that marriage was the "ideal" form of family. "There is a consensus that marriage is the ideal form of the family," he said.

Thoughts of the Archbishop

On marriage: "To my mind the specific mention [by the National Forum on Values and the Curriculum] of support for the institution of marriage can be translated into a great deal of new thinking and classroom work about the institution of marriage, why it is important, what it needs in order to flourish and what people entering marriage need to think about."

On virtues and vices: "Values and morals do not grow on trees or fall like manna from heaven, or just look after themselves. On the contrary, they are always vulnerable to the darker side of human nature, such as selfishness, greed, self-deception, vanity, lust and cowardice. Virtues need hard work [and] careful nurture."

On morality: "Morality is privatised, relativistic suspicion becomes the standard response to any talk about moral standards and it is found uncomfortable, even embarrassing to discuss morality in public."

On God: "As a result [of privatised morality], God is also banished to the private domain as a hobby or private consumer choice which suits some people, just as bird-watching, eating Chinese take-aways or going to keep-fit classes suits others."

On evil: "The social and personal damage done to us all when evil triumphs is plain to us all. Think of the social cost of dishonesty in the workplace; think of the social and personal cost of crime ... In a society disfigured by moral confusion and false theories of privatised morality, a shared set of values is a significant prize."