Who's to say what's right and wrong?: John Patten wants morality back in the school curriculum, but is this practical in an age of diverse values? - Self-esteem is fundamental

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Dennis Richards, headteacher of St Aidan's Church of England High School, Harrogate, North Yorkshire

I DO believe that society has lost its way. I do think that there is moral malaise. But I don't think that there's any way back to the almost simplistic medicine that Mr Patten has proposed.

I believe, and this makes my job as head so much easier, in the ethos of Anglicanism: 'Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself.' That says an immense amount. It gives you some marvellous parameters. One of the key things is, it is a pretty poor look-out for your neighbour if you have got low self-esteem, so it is fundamental to morality, and to Christian morality in particular, to boost the self-esteem of the individual. I think that is very often where the old approach, that of making children feel sinful and guilty, is flawed. Children thrive on their self-esteem being valued.

Then the crucial thing is the kind of lead that is being given, not just by the head, but also by the staff. And you do need a fundamental acceptance among the majority of parents as to where you are going and how you are doing it. My own method is that of the dripping tap - pushing over and over again the ethos on which the school is based.

There's also the quality of relationships between staff and pupils, and thoroughness in following every single situation through; close links with home, especially where there's a family breakdown; and standing alongside people. It's going the second mile really, and then the third mile, and then the fourth mile . . .

Either end of the spectrum - the 'bash 'em on the head and tell 'em they're all sinners' brigade, or the humanist approach, which is basically saying: 'Well, let's all reason together' - I believe both extremes are fundamentally cruel to children.