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? - Instability as families fall apart

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The Independent Online
Anita Higham, the principal of Banbury School, a comprehensive in Oxfordshire

I DON'T know how much worse things are compared with 100 years ago, but of course there's been enormous investment in education, and there's now education for everyone, which there wasn't then.

Human beings have the right to be treated with dignity and respect, and similarly they have a social and moral responsibility to treat their fellows with dignity and respect. In a school you have to have a staff who are agreed and share a value system.

In the 34 years since I first walked into a classroom, probably the area that has most changed is the number of children who are emotionally and behaviourally disturbed, and who are not socialised.

They can operate only on their terms. The generation who were parents in the Fifties and Sixties were the first who earned quite a bit of money relative to what they would have earned pre-war, and there was a sense of 'we will give to our children things that we never had'. What they didn't give them was the sense of time, community and the things that children really need, which are the people around them. This has escalated out of all imagination.

The social impact of the enormous increase in divorce as well - you just can't measure it. What children see is that the most significant beings to them walk out on them and they don't really understand why. Their sense of stability, of the world being a safe and reliable place, totally disintegrates. Most children don't talk about it, but they act it out. Anywhere from the age of nine through to 20, they will demonstrate their anger, their lack of respect, their lack of trust through behaviour, and sometimes it is very violent and selfish. We're now building generation on generation of children who are themselves the products of families that have fallen apart.

If I had the money, I would employ trained caseworkers as part of the staff of my school to work with teachers and children, children and their families, in a therapeutic manner; helping children to accept that they haven't got all that they might have but to do their best with what they've got.

There is certainly an increase (in problems), but it isn't the whole story. I come across adolescents who are so generous, vital and lively - one has to keep always a sense of balance and hope. There has to be a future for the young.