Private schools 'hold key to morality'

Head of prep schools body accuses ministers of intellectual fascism
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The Independent Online
Ministers must beware that their single-minded drive for higher standards does not turn into "intellectual fascism", a leading prep school headmaster said yesterday.

Dr Bob Acheson, chairman of the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools, told the association's annual conference in Harrogate that he welcomed the Government's promise of partnership with independent schools but was worried by some of its language.

"The word crusade conjures up pictures of intolerance of might being right, of myopic single-mindedness. Such single-mindedness runs the risk of becoming intellectual fascism and this sits uncomfortably with a truly liberal democracy. Education, education, education may be the starting point but history shows that such ideals all too often descend into regulation, regulation, regulation.

"There is a real risk that, buoyed up by a massive Parliamentary majority, this idealistic and fresh Government will, as it stumbles upon the uncomfortable and complicated realities of government, stop speaking to the people and start speaking for the people." Dr Acheson, head of Clifton College preparatory school in Bristol, said ministers should learn from independent schools' success in upholding moral values. Parents chose private schooling for their children not to buy social privilege or academic success but because they instilled discipline and morality.

Teacher unions immediately attacked the implication that fee-paying schools were more successful than state schools at inculcating values.

Dr Acheson said that, while the barbarians of immorality were knocking at society's door, independence was the key to private schools' moral confidence. "It allows us to create the kind of society and the kind of community which will preserve all that is good and worthy in our culture. It affords us the chance to lift the eyes of children from the gutter of the 20th century and to help them to aspire to the stars." He accepted that independent schools had no monopoly in this territory.

He bemoaned the decline of morality in a society in which respect for the Church, the police, Parliament and the Royal Family had all collapsed.

"How do we counter magazines being read by 10-year-olds with such eye- catching title pages as `Will sex keep you together?' ...How do we counter the influence of computer games which allow you to shoot children in a school playground or dismember your opponents with a power saw?" At least one child in his school had talked openly of seeing uncut versions of Basic Instinct and Pulp Fiction. The collapse of parenting had been another frightening feature of the last 30 years. He attacked the "pick and mix" independent school parents who subscribed to schools' moral values until they got in the way of their own convenience.

Schools could never make up for the collapse of family life. "How often does your blood boil when separating parents tell you in the cosy privacy of your study that they are about to split up but this won't, of course, affect the children."

Independent schools' future lay in "keeping the torch of moral firmness burning brightly as a new dark age threatens to engulf us." Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "It is not the sole prerogative of independent schools to promote moral standards. That is what every teacher in every school tries to achieve."

Leading article, page 13

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