Eric Spear: Schools can improve morals

From a speech by the president of the National Association of Head Teachers to its annual conference in Torquay
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The Independent Online

As a society we have not yet found an effective way of dealing with youth disaffection, which often leads to low standards of education and sometimes to criminality. The most powerful sanction a society can have is the knowledge that all actions have inevitable consequences for the actor. The sanctions available to schools, on the other hand, are limited and subject to being overturned on appeal.

As a society we have not yet found an effective way of dealing with youth disaffection, which often leads to low standards of education and sometimes to criminality. The most powerful sanction a society can have is the knowledge that all actions have inevitable consequences for the actor. The sanctions available to schools, on the other hand, are limited and subject to being overturned on appeal.

It is easy to define the disease, less easy to prescribe the antidote. How do you shift the course of a whole society? Politicians tend to look for quick fixes and sticking-plaster solutions, but deep-rooted problems need a long-term commitment to making available the resources, training and support necessary if sustained, self-perpetuating improvement is to be achieved.

Schools have one great advantage: the whole of a generation passes through their doors between the ages of at least five and 16, often longer. If we can be resourced in terms of personnel and money and supported by legislation, which puts the necessary authority into our hands, we ought to be able to make a difference in the long term. If we can't, we might as well shut up shop and go home. We have to be in this for the long haul and it could take another generation before the fruits of our efforts become fully apparent.

That is one of the reasons why politicians need to place more faith and trust in the teaching profession and should return to it the freedoms that have been eroded over recent decades. The greatest of these freedoms would be to give schools the opportunity to design a curriculum that was driven by the needs of individuals rather than solely by the diktat of a government committee or minister.

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