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What weighting should we give ‘Truth’?

31 Dec

Educational law requires that every school/academy promotes the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of all pupils.  In the spiritual component, faith schools and academies will ensure that the children learn about their distinctive religions.  Non-denominational schools/academies will, teach the pupils about faiths generally and encourage tolerance of all religions and none.   Good institutions, through the cross-curriculum strategy, ensure that children have access to social and cultural development as they do with moral education.

However, there is one aspect of the moral strand that vexes many. That is about telling the truth.  From an early age, responsible parents and institutions encourage children to speak the truth, even if that means getting themselves into trouble.  That is as it should be, especially in an age when we have a surfeit of fake news spouted on the internet by social media and leaders of some countries.

At election time, as we have seen recently, politicians seeking people’s votes blast out whatever it takes to get them first past the post and into parliament.  At their best, they are economical with the truth – withholding information that could be unpalatable to the electorate.

In good schools/academies, teachers warn pupils about not believing all they read and everything they are told, to be wary of people who are attractive, articulate and offering them gifts, in short, to be critical of what they see and hear.   In 2018, the Commission on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills run by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Literacy and the National Literacy Trust, reported that only 2% of children and young people could judge correctly whether a news story was real or fake.  Over 50% of teachers did not feel that the national curriculum was developing the literacy skills of pupils critical enough to judge whether something was true or false.

According to Ann Mroz, Editor of The Times Educational Supplement, there is “lots of examination of prepositions but less of propositions; plenty of nouns but sadly not enough nous”.

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Government nudges schools and academies to give more prominence to character education

31 Dec

On 5 November 2019, the government published a new set of benchmarks for schools and academies to rate how well they are doing to promote character education.  The guidance urges governors and headteachers develop, promote and assess pupils’ character within their normal curriculum.  They are also asked to encourage pupils to volunteer.   This mirrors the benchmarks that the former Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, set out for careers education Gatsby Foundation.  However, character education (unlike careers) is not statutory.

Ian Bauckham, chief executive of the Tenax School Trust, led an advisory group, which included representatives from other schools and academies, the unions and the voluntary sector, in the spring and summer of 2019 to create the benchmarks.

In the halcyon days, we would have described character education as the key component of the hidden curriculum, which is now being given a more prominent thrust.   In developing character education, a school/academy needs to reflect on six overarching aspects, which are as follows.

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How free should free speech be?

31 Dec

In the run-up to the Christmas of 2017, a flaming row broke out at Oxford University when 58 academics criticised a professor for arguing that Britain’s imperial history was not entirely shameful.    Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford University, was slated by his colleagues and students after writing an article in The Times calling for a more nuanced appraisal of colonial times.

Oxford University defended the professor, denounced by students and the academics as “bigoted” because he wrote that if people believe in “strident anti-colonialist” it could lead to a feeling of guilt that makes the public “vulnerable to wilful manipulation”.

Common Ground, a race rights group based in Oxford, described the article as “racist” and accused Professor Biggar of “whitewashing” the British Empire. A letter on the group’s website said: “We stand in solidarity” with those who have criticised Professor Biggar following his article headlined “Our colonial history and guilt over empire”. The academic “implies that colonised societies had no political order prior to colonisation, invoking a racist, hackneyed and fictional trope about the nature of pre-colonial societies”.

Professor Biggar’s column was prompted by criticism of an article by Bruce Gilley, a political scientist at Portland State University, who argued that it was time to question the orthodox view that western colonialism “has a bad name”. Professor Biggar concluded: “Bruce Gilley’s case for colonialism calls for us British to moderate our post-imperial guilt.”

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Valuing Values in Education

18 Aug

We live on three plains – the physical, intellectual and spiritual – ‘spiritual’ in a non-religious sense.

On the physical plain, we engage in a zero-sum game. What one person gains another loses and vice versa.  For instance, if you and I have a pound, we each have a pound and together we have two pounds.  If you give me your pound, I have two and you have nothing.  The reverse is true too.  If we exchange other the pounds with each other, we will still have a pound each and together we will have two.

The next level to which we can rise is the intellectual one.   If you have an idea and I have an idea, each of us has one idea and together we have two.   If I gave you my idea, you will have two but I will still have one.  I do not lose the idea that I have because I give it to you.   The same will apply to you.  If we gave our ideas to each other, each will have two ideas, but in total we will still have two.

We live on a spiritual plain too where values flourish.  Nolan set them out clearly and they are the seven principles of public life, i.e.

  1. Selflessness
  2. Integrity
  3. Objectivity
  4. Accountability
  5. Openness
  6. Honesty
  7. Leadership

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