Wednesday, February 03, 2010

An Outbreak of Peace?

When the Church of England and the British Humanist Association are found singing from the same hymn sheet, we are likely to sit up and take notice. And when we find their joint anthem has further education as its subject, we might be forgiven for asking: what?

The answer is represented by the initials SMSC, which stand for “spiritual, moral, cultural and social” - normally found with the word “teaching” or “support” attached. You might as well get used to them now as SMSC is showing all the signs of being the next “big thing” in Further Education.

so begins this article in the Times Educational Supplement. So far, SMSC, or PSHE (physical, social, health and emotional I think it stood for) or anything which was aimed at children as whole people, rather than just repositories for knowledge and skills, has been confined to under-16s.

Here's the comments of a CofE educationalist:
“It is about knowledge over ignorance,” he said. “It is not about religion. We are coming up with inclusive guidance. Colleges are secular, which is fine, but this has defaulted to mean that we will do the training but not offer some morality or humanistic education.”

Dr Breadon said that educationalists often felt uncomfortable offering moral or spiritual guidance.

“There has been a slippage where people do not put forward their views on morality or spirituality for fear that they may be seen to be forcing these views on young people,” he said.

“But this is really about having intergenerational conversations.

“Staff in FE need to be Jacks of so many trades. Much is demanded of them in terms of teaching and nurturing young people post-16.

“Out of the blue, a tutor in construction or health and beauty may be asked about climate change, sexual ethics, terrorism, or depression. Without a strong sense of their own identity and morality these questions might be ducked rather than dealt with.”

Our local FE college has things like Holocaust memorial day, and stuff dealing with moral issues, but most of it is extra curricular, and more and more seems to fall to the chaplaincy to organise. That can mean it gets pigeon holed, which isn't helpful. It does seem bizarre that, according to the current curriculum, individuals officially stop being 'spiritual' when they hit 16.

At the same time, if people are learning workplace skills in further education, but not a moral and ethical code suitable for the workplace, then it's no surprise to find unethical working practices bringing the country to its knees. Workplace ethics is, alongside foreign policy, the big issue for the UK of the last 2 years.
The loss of confidence is also a big issue: I remember our rabidly left wing head of 6th form in Sheffield having no problems using General Studies lessons 25 years ago to educate us in the faults of the USA, and the role of the CIA in destabilising governments around the world. How many of todays teachers/lecturers would feel comfortable being so open about their ideology and convictions? This is where the current litigious atmosphere doesn't help: there are already too many stories of people getting into trouble for 'imposing' their beliefs on others, and that makes people nervous. One new parent recently asked our local school whether they were still 'allowed' to do Nativity services. There's a bit of unhealthy paranoia over faith, values and so-called tolerance (= 'don't you dare say anything to me that I disagree with or I'll do you for harassment').

The guidelines are being developed together with a government quango, so I'm not sure what legal force they've got, but it seems to be a step in the right direction. And it's great that both secular and religious groups are behind it. Perhaps we can find ways to cope with each others existence after all.....

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