Young rarely look to Church

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The Independent Online
Morality is a multicoloured mishmash for 15-year-olds at Moulsham High. "There are no black-and-whites. There's black, yellow, white, orange . . . everyone has their own opinion. Everyone has a different colour, if you like," said Alex Hassell, the son of a Church of England vicar and a practising Christian himself. This is, he said, a "good thing". "Everyone should be individual," he insisted.

Pupils at the 1,500-strong mixed comprehensive in Chelmsford, Essex, say that they turn to their parents first for moral guidance, but also rely on their teachers to "help, enhance and back [their parents] up". But nothing and nobody is going to bamboozle these children into believing anything they don't agree with.

Few take their moral cue from religion, and they would all be happy to rewrite the Ten Commandments. "By our age you don't go by the Ten Commandments," said Liza Coffin. "You go by what's right and wrong. Sometimes my parents will say I'm wrong, but I've got my own views."

Others don't know where they stand, and are happy to admit it. "I don't know what I believe," said Jonathan Ellicott. "I want to do what I want to do. I take every day as it comes."

Many of their morals depend on circumstances. There are no out-and-out no-nos, except for murder. Divorce is "fine" if you don't love each other any more - you shouldn't "fake it". Liza, a practising Christian, took a relatively strong stance on the subject. "Divorce shouldn't be so easy but it should be an option," she said.

Twice a week the pupils have a 50-minute lesson called Religious Personal Development (RPD) which covers issues such as drugs, sex, careers and religion. "It's definitely helped me" said Emily. "At the moment, we're doing drugs. We're given the information and we make our own minds up." Alex disagreed. "To be perfectly honest, RPD hasn't shaped my opinions at all," he said. "It's not because I think the teachers are wrong, but I have quite detailed opinions."

Each child attends assembly twice a week. The format of depends on who is taking it, but the headteacher, Dr Chris Nicholls, 45, likes to give a brief talk designed to convey a moral message and to end with a prayer. "One of [assembly's] functions is to bring to youngsters an opportunity to gain some contact with issues of spirituality and faith. In modern society it's no longer the case that one can guarantee it is happening anywhere else," Dr Nicholls said.

But the message doesn't seem to be hitting home. Assembly, the children say, "does nothing at all." No one has respect for assembly," said Jonathan. "There are so many people sitting in a room listening to someone talking. It's boring." Instead, they learn from interaction with teachers individually.

The children were divided on whether they would pocket a stray note, or hand it into the police. "I wouldn't hand it in. I'm afraid it's their loss, my gain", said Andrew. For Emily it would depend on the sum of money. "I'd feel guilty if I kept a five-pound note." Alex wasn't sure. "If I found a pounds 50 note I'd have to think about it. I mean, who's going to claim it back?"