Education Quandary: Should schools really teach children moral values, as a new report has said? Or is this a job for their parents?

By Hilary Wilce
Thursday 19 February 2009 01:00

Hilary’s advice

Of course parents should teach children good values. But plenty don’t, so the recent “A Good Childhood” report says schools must lead the way in fostering respect and helping children manage their emotions. The report, the result of a two-year inquiry into children’s lives in Britain, makes many suggestions about how children’s lives could be improved, but central to them all is the assertion that society has become too self-centred and needs to change.

I agree that our values are out of kilter – who doesn’t, these days? – but have grown increasingly worried that many of the personal education resources being used in schools actually promote the very self-centredness that appears to lead to problems. Children are taught to navel-gaze about their own emotions and happiness, without being encouraged to look up and out to other people.

A very different approach is the “We All Do Good Things” programme, piloted recently by the charity People United, whose aim is to promote kindness in daily life. For a year, primary schools were helped to celebrate and encourage all the good things people do, and to uncover stories of kindness and generosity in their local communities. Everyone was involved, from the dinner ladies to the head. The University of Kent researchers found that the project had a real impact on children’s willingness to care, and on their feelings towards others. One head said it “quite transformed” her school. For more details, see my website or go |to

Readers’ advice

In principle, the role of a school must be to educate while a parent provides the moral compass. But the reality is that, with so many parents no longer providing this, the future society your children will live in needs to have these values upheld somehow. When your children have lessons on morality in school, use it as an opportunity to discuss values with them, building on the basic framework the school provides. In this way it can supplement, not replace, a parent’s role.

Ian Shaw by email

I work as a teaching assistant and, while I agree with this reader that it should be a parent’s job to provide their children with guidance, I know from bitter experience that the only guidance many parents give their children is things like “if anyone tells you off, tell them I’ll come up to school and sort them out”. We teach our pupils to respect themselves and others, but it doesn’t go very far if their lives at home go against this.

Marie O’Brien, Liverpool

Parents must take responsibility for their children, and be made to if they don’t want to. If schools are told that they should teach children about right and wrong, parents will feel they don’t need to do it themselves. We shouldn’t let parents off the hook and pile more work on to schools if we want to create a responsible society.

Howard Millington, Bournemouth

Next Week's Quandary

Can cricket really be used to raise school standards, as the Education Secretary suggests? Or is this just a gimmicky way to try to revive pupils’ interest in a sport that is dying out? I’m a teacher, we don’t play cricket at my school, and I’m not a cricket fan.

Send your replies, or any quandaries |you would like to |have addressed, to h.wilce@btinternet.|com. Please include your postal address on your correspondence. Readers whose replies are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition. Previous quandaries are available to read online at, where they can be searched by topic.

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