Moral guideline for schools says marriage is best

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Explicit support for marriage has been included in new guidance for teaching morality in schools after traditionalists put pressure on government advisors.

Draft guidelines had made no mention of marriage, referring merely to valuing families as the basis of a caring society. But after public consultation, the statement of values for use in moral education has been revised to say that "we as a society should support marriage as the traditional form of family".

The change, announced yesterday, will please Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, who said that she wanted more emphasis on the family than was included in the original. Five members of the 150-strong forum which devised the draft statement had also called for stronger support of the family.

However, the forum, set up by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA), was at pains to point out that the change should not devalue the experience of children growing up in non-traditional families. The new clause adds that society should recognise "that love and commitment required for a secure and happy childhood can be found in families of other kinds".

Dr Nick Tate, SCAA's chief executive, said the changes represented a compromise following consultation, and denied that Mrs Shephard had influenced the recommendations.

Evidence showed that areas with low levels of marriage and high divorce rates suffered greater social and educational problems, he said. "The challenge to the education system is how can it best help to create a system in which children aspire to lifelong marriage and are more likely to achieve it."

Countries boasting a strong academic performance often included moral education as a core part of their curriculum, Dr Tate said. Although there was no evidence that moral teaching improved standards, "it clearly does not get in the way".

The changes have been made following a wide consultation including a survey of almost 1,500 adults in England and a random sample of 3,200 schools. Fourteen groups of headteachers, school governors and parents contributed their views, and 400 organisations responded to a postal questionnaire.

The MORI poll revealed that the vast majority of adults agreed with the statements, although the teachers felt that many of the terms used were capable of differing interpretations and thought the guidelines should be shorter and clearer.

The consultation found an even split between those who believed there was no single form of the family and those supporting an increased emphasis on the family and marriage. Schools were similarly divided.

The forum concluded that there was less disagreement over family values than had been thought, and felt the new wording offered a suitable compromise, Dr Tate said.

The guidance is intended as a basis for teaching moral values to pupils, to prompt debate and discussion rather than to be adopted wholesale. The revised statement will be put before the forum next month. Recommendations will be put to the SCAA and Mrs Shephard in February.