Last updated: May 15, 2014 4:16 pm

UK state schools accused of turning out ‘amoral’ children

A pupil takes part in a maths lesson©Getty

State schools are turning out children who are “amoral” as a result of spending too long on academic studies rather than learning to distinguish right from wrong, a prominent headmaster has said.

Richard Walden, who chairs the Independent Schools Association and is headmaster of Castle House School in Shropshire, told the ISA’s annual conference that teachers in state schools were under so much pressure to get good results that they could not also provide moral training.

“Too many staff are overwhelmed by the pressure to achieve results,” said Mr Walden. “It seems that the only results that matter are those which have created added value in terms of raising a pupil’s statistical level from one stage to the next, and parents are increasingly buying in to this notion.

“Schools are turning out too many amoral children because teachers cannot find the time to teach the difference between right and wrong,” he added. “This focus on league tables and attainment levels distracts teachers and effectively disables them from providing children with a more rounded and enriching education – one that will give them the moral compass they need for life.”

By contrast, the headmaster suggested that privately educated children did well in life not because they were from “elitist or privileged” backgrounds, but because they had received a “value-rich education, provided with love’’.

He also praised the support for extracurricular activities and wide curriculum offered by independent schools.

“The very nature of our schools, with their respect for discipline and academic seriousness, sport and culture, citizenship and community, service, environmental awareness, spiritual life and personal responsibility, sends out into the world young people with emotional intelligence, developed moral understanding and a willingness to make a contribution to society,’’ he said.

The Department for Education said it was giving “all schools more freedom to offer extracurricular activities that will build character”.

“These include sports matches, debating competitions, cadet training and inspirational careers talks from outside visitors. We want more schools to take up these freedoms,” said a spokesperson.

This focus on league tables and attainment levels distracts teachers and effectively disables them from providing children with a more rounded and enriching education – one that will give them the moral compass they need for life

- Richard Walden, Independent Schools Association

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, dismissed the statement as “complete nonsense”, saying “the most inclusive, innovative and inspiring” schools in the UK were state-run.

“Those who choose to teach in the state sector are very clear about the moral and social purpose of education.” she said. “State schools achieve this ethos by a whole-school approach and engaging with their communities to ensure students have the qualities and attributes needed to be happy and fulfilled in society and at home.”

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers said in a statement that it agreed that state schools were “under immense pressure to meet narrow targets”, leaving less time for creative and independent learning.

“But we don’t believe that there is evidence to suggest that this is leading to children lacking a ‘moral compass’ – teachers have always woven discussions of good and bad into curriculum subjects and wider school activities.”

An education department official said planned reform would reduce the number of tests children took and give “teachers the freedom to use their professional judgment” to tailor personal, social and health lessons to meet their needs.

“We are also giving all schools more freedom to offer extracurricular activities that will build character. . . We want more schools to take up these freedoms.”

helen.warrell@ft.com

Twitter: @helenwarrell

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