Schools must teach children the difference between right and wrong and instruct them in 'moral absolutes', according to the discussion paper on spiritual and moral education, published yesterday by the National Curriculum Council.
The report says schools should teach moral absolutes such as telling the truth, keeping promises, respecting the rights and properties of others, acting considerately, helping those less fortunate and weaker than ourselves, taking personal responsibility for one's actions and self-discipline. Pupils should be taught to reject bullying, cheating, deceit and cruelty.
David Pascall, the council's chairman, said teachers needed to work harder at moral education: 'Most schools will say that they promote these sorts of moral values, but look at what is happening in our playgrounds and classrooms. And look at the behaviour of some children when they leave school.'
Schools had responsibility, with parents, for these vital areas. He believed teachers had failed to take a strong line because they felt the concept of spiritual and moral values was too controversial.
'Lessons on sex education should be put into the context of a moral approach which has been agreed by governors and staff and which is understood by parents,' Mr Pascall said.
The document, which reinforces the moral crusade which John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, recently urged schools to take up, argues: 'Young people will inevitably question why things are as they are and will test the boundaries, but there need to be boundaries.'
As children grow up they will become aware of moral issues about which some parts of society disagree: these include drinking alcohol, smoking, bloodsports, divorce and abortion. It is up to schools, in partnership with parents, to see that children are in a position to take responsible decisions about them, the report maintains.
Mr Pascall said it was not for him or the council to make judgements about more complicated moral issues. Nor was the council dictating to teachers how they should dress or speak, but it was suggesting that they should think about their own behaviour.
Asked what would happen if two values appeared to conflict, for instance telling the truth and loyalty to a trangressing friend, Mr Pascall replied that there was no conflict. Honesty was a moral absolute while loyalty was not.
Morally educated school leavers, says the report, should be able to distinguish between right and wrong, to articulate their attitudes and values, take responsibility for their actions, recognise the moral dimension to a situation, understand the consequences of their actions, develop for themselves acceptable values, recognise that their values may have to change and behave consistently in accordance with their principles.
The report, which is being sent to all schools, says all pupils can make spiritual progress whether or not they hold religious beliefs. But it advises schools not to test children for spiritual or moral development.
Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: 'The ideas in this report are not bad, but Mr Pascall should send it to the Cabinet, the BBC and British Airways rather than to schools.'
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