Schools chief attacks the `me' culture

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A national culture based on self-gratification and the decline of the Protestant work ethic are among the main reasons for poor educational standards, Chris Woodhead, the Chief Inspector of Schools, said last night.

In his annual lecture, he recalled that the grammar school that he attended had been underpinned by belief in fortitude and the understanding that pain and adversity should be confronted with courage. "Thirty years on we live in a society which neither mentions nor believes in anything resembling fortitude: a society characterised by what is a narcissistic pre-occupation with self."

He complained of the ever-increasing reliance on therapists and counsellors to bolster self-confidence. In such a climate, pupils were unwilling to submit themselves to hard work and to persevere in the face of failure.

"Is it surprising that swimming against an aspect of the cultural tide which militates against the very psychological condition upon which education depends our teachers find it difficult to keep afloat?"

Society's refusal to admit that objective knowledge exists was linked to our longing for painless gratification, he said.

Two weeks ago at a teacher- training conference, he said, "one professor of education stated with breathtaking certainty that it is now absolutely clear that there is no such thing as objective knowledge".

Such views were responsible for the widespread notion that children should be encourage to discover things from themselves rather than being actively taught. He attacked Sir Geoffrey Holland, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education until three years ago, for his comment that schools' priority should be "learning not teaching".

The nature of our national culture, he said, went a long way to explain why we were finding it so difficult to nurture the schools we needed.

But teachers must take their share of the blame. He spoke of the "orthodoxies" held by teachers and academics which were blocking improved standards. Too many teachers still subscribed to the old discovery methods and refused to accept that it was their job to pass on a body of knowledge to pupils.

He pointed to white-working class communities which had lost faith in education, partly because there were no jobs for them but partly because their children had not been taught in a systematic and rigorous way to read.

t Studying music and art could help children do better at maths and reading, the Government's curriculum chief said yesterday. Speaking at a conference in London on arts in the curriculum, Dr Nick Tate said studies in the United States, showed that pupils aged 4 to 11 improved by more that 80 per cent in the three Rs over two years after receiving special tuition in the arts. Research has found the "mental stretching" involved boosted their abilities in basic skills.