Teachers reacted angrily last night to a claim by the Government's chief curriculum adviser that they spent too little time teaching children traditional moral values and too much boosting their self-esteem.
They said they were already teaching right and wrong and blamed the national curriculum and public sleaze for stunting children's spiritual development.
Nick Tate, chief executive of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA), had told a conference in London that trainee teachers were so worried about being accused of racism or sexism they were unwilling to teach any values.
Dr Tate said the death of Philip Lawrence, the head teacher stabbed to death last month as he tried to protect a pupil, highlighted the need for society to support schools in teaching moral values.
One teachers' union leader accused Dr Tate of siding with the radical religious right. Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said schools spent so much time teaching morals they were sometimes accused of neglecting the "Three Rs" as a result.
"These moral and religious fanatics forget that morality is caught, not taught. How can schools counteract the devastating examples set by so many of the rich and famous? In reality, they are often oases of morality in a desert of couldn't- care-less-about-corruption."
Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said teachers had warned eight years ago that the curriculum could squeeze out personal and social education. The Government must get the sleaze out of public life. "The role model for young people these days is likely to be a football manager involved in shaky deals or an MP failing to declare an interest," he said.
Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said his visits to schools had convinced him that children knew the difference between right and wrong. But they had difficulty in reconciling it with what they saw around them.
Roy Chapman, the headmaster of Malvern College who created controversy in 1994 when he criticised moral standards in public life, warned that parents bore a greater responsibility than schools for a child's conduct. "For too many children money and material goods are provided as a substitute for love and interest. " he said.
Fr Kieran Conry, spokesman for the Roman Catholic church, welcomed Dr Tate's speech."More and more schools need to support parents if they don't have a moral framework to work within," he said.
Sir Ron Dearing, chairman of SCAA, also supported Dr Tate's view: "The gradual erosion of the Christian religion, the decline of Sunday school as part of a child's Sunday and the values they stood for have . . . loosened the code that our society is based upon," he said.
Sir Ron, the former chairman of Camelot, the firm which runs the National Lottery, admitted to having an occasional flutter but said he saw nothing immoral in this.Reuse content