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Spirituality and behaviour in schools

“What shapes our actions is our spirituality. In that sense it is directly related to our values and to our ethical behaviour.” Anthony HR Chittenden Research Fellow, University of Surrey, Roehampton (2002)

Spirituality is a hard concept to be objective about. It is widely accepted that a person’s spirituality is their own affair, and that to approach it in an overt way, in the tradition of “Religious Instruction” for example, is not appropriate in a non faith-oriented school. However it has been the role of religion, and philosophy to a lesser extent, to build the framework for an effective society. It is said that a society is ‘underpinned’ by the values of Christianity, (or Islam, or of the Hindu or other great faiths) in the way that a house is supported by its foundations. It might be argued that the intellectual advances of the 19th and 20th centuries in particular have reassessed the ground on which that house is built and found it to be unsafe. The act of surveying that ground has perhaps been responsible for opening up the cracks and chipping away at the bedrock until, unless serious structural measures are taken, the whole house might come crashing down.

Though it would be fascinating to delve into the question of how safe those foundations were in the first place the greater need, in terms of supporting and preserving all that is good about a society, is to find an effective way of impeding the decay of the structure and possibly rebuilding and renovating what is there to the benefit of all who live within it.

I would argue that many small and moderate behavioural issues arise from a lack of spiritual direction arising from a population for whom the majority of parents, and perhaps also teachers, do not adhere to or follow a religious or spiritual practice; a population in which there has often been a deep mistrust of organised religion, and where it has become fashionable to deride or negate those who have firm convictions. Whether as a result of scientific investigation exploding ‘myths’ of creation, such as the impact of Darwinian Evolution, or as a result of a perception, such as that of Karl Marx, of a cynical manipulation of the populace by those in power using the established church as a control mechanism, the fabric of religion is under attack and possibly crumbling. In rejecting the organised institutions that were seen to encapsulate spirituality, society finds itself in danger of losing the spiritual connectedness that assists the building of good relationships and mutually supportive behaviours.

However most people would agree that at the core of all religions are certain truths and concepts that are much less controversial. Notions of good and evil, the ‘Golden Rule’, the commitment to peace, the concept of forgiveness, the sanctity of life, suffering and healing and the ideal of love run as themes through many of the great faiths. Is it the case, in our haste to avoid being openly religious, to avoid the accusations of indoctrination or brainwashing associated with cult religions, to avoid being seen to preach or appear judgemental; that we fail our pupils by neatly avoiding the core issues of what it is to be part of a civilised human society with a value system capable of sustaining a peaceful and fulfilling life for all? Without engaging with these issues the motivation for being well behaved, constructive pupils is undermined. You cannot be ‘considerate’ if you don’t ‘consider’. The majority of low level behavioural problems are possibly not premeditated, just thoughtless.

An internet search on the subject of spirituality would suggest that it is now widely agreed that a sense of the spiritual does not rely on the religious. The notion of ‘sacred’ is one that even the hardened atheist could relate to. However the development of an appreciation of the sacred, and a sense of ‘spiritual literacy’ can be very effectively nourished through acts of worship. It was through the act of worship that congregations were, and in many cases still are, able to uphold and celebrate what is seen by the group to be ‘worthwhile’ (hence ‘worth-ship’) and for individuals within those congregations to compare and measure their personal priorities and values against the collective views and values of their church, and of their peers within the community in which they lived.

Moore (1994) speaks about the nature of ‘spiritual literacy’

It is about reading the sacred in everyday life - in nature, at home, in the classroom, at work, at leisure, in relationships...

Spiritual literacy is not a religious practice for the initiated few. It is a basic literacy for all people that enables the reading and use of the deeper meaning and connection in all aspects of life. Spiritual literacy is widely practised among indigenous cultures who can read and use the 'signs' of the sacred world around them.

Being spiritually illiterate means that we do not see the web which connects us with other people and the natural world. Being spiritually illiterate means that we do not have access to open doors of information and inspiration that lead to more fulfilling lives. Like other illiteracies we would live in a shallower world with less opportunities, limited meaning and a reduced capacity to create preferred futures.

Some might go further to say that being spiritually illiterate can lead to increased feelings of purposelessness, disconnection, isolation and loneliness in the world. (Moore , 1994)

Spiritual illiteracy is perhaps as disabling to a pupil as both academic and emotional illiteracy. A combination of these will do much to undermine self esteem and so affect both the learning process and the ability to relate to others in the learning community. Spiritual literacy involves developing the ability to connect both with the values and priorities of those around us, and perhaps more vitally, with the feelings we have and subconscious judgements that we make that shape our self concept and personal value system. It involves an appreciation of beauty in the natural world, and an awareness of where we are placed in the ecosystem in which we exist.

In an age where the act of worship in schools is being squeezed out of an overcrowded curriculum and where tutorial time, in which issues of citizenship, moral and social education are addressed, is often left to non specialist teachers with enough to plan for and organise for their own department or subject, the incidence of low level behavioural problems arising from relationship problems and lack of social skills is at least anecdotally seen to be rising. Could it be that renewed focus on the spiritual, whether or not it is overtly religious, might go some way towards developing a greater sense of responsibility to community and affect in a positive way the holistic experience which is school based education?

SMSC (the social, moral, spiritual and cultural dimension of the curriculum) has been an important strand of education policy at least since the 1988 education act. Before this in the 1944 act the concept of spirituality may well have been seen as too controversial for constructive legislation.

In terms of modern education policy, the word 'spiritual' crops up in the 1944 Education Act apparently as some kind of anodyne compromise:

The churches were in such a state at the time that we thought if we used the word spiritual they might agree to that because they didn't know what it was. (in Hay and Nye 1998)

The National Curriculum Council’s directions for OfStEd in 1993 gave more insight into the ideals of the SMSC strand of the curriculum.

From 1993 OfSTED will be inspecting and evaluating schools' provision for spiritual and moral development and pupils' response to this provision…. [OfSTED's] discussions and observations should indicate whether the school….. promotes an ethos which values imagination, inspiration, contemplation and a clear understanding of right and wrong …. opportunities for reflective and aesthetic experience and the discussion of questions about meaning and purpose. (NCC , 1993)

The ambiguity or fuzziness of meaning of the notion of ‘spirituality’ remained a problem and
Kevin McCarthy (2000) noted from the NCC advice:

On the subject of spiritual development, there is an attempt - yet another - at a definition or characterisation of what is meant

The term needs to be seen as applying to something fundamental in the human condition which is not necessarily experienced through the physical senses and/or expressed through everyday language. It has to do with relationships with other people and, for believers, with God. It has to do with the universal search for individual identity - with our responses to challenging experiences such as death, suffering, beauty and encounters with good and evil. It is to do with the search for meaning and purpose in life and for values by which to live. (NCC 1993)

Thus the SMSC strands are inextricably linked and the withdrawal of any one of those aspects, social, moral, spiritual and cultural, will have and arguably has had a profound effect on the balance of education. The behaviour we see in schools is reliant on the level of moral development to which pupils aspire, which is in itself reliant on the social, cultural and spiritual experiences to which they are exposed.

Religions, and in particular the great faiths, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, represent not just a spiritual dimension, but a way of life that encompassed all of the SMSC strands in a coherent way.

Even with all their potential for corruption or trivialisation, they [the religious institutions] carry thousands of years of reflection on the moral and political implications of spiritual insight. Somehow we need to learn how not to waste this stock wisdom, whilst at the same time taking a broad view of the nature of spirituality, so as to incorporate its insights whenever they emerge. (Hay and Nye 1998)

Given the negative reaction of many teachers and parents to overt religion within state schools it may be said that despite the 1944 provision for an act of daily broadly Christian worship the climate in schools has become increasingly secular. But in emptying the religious bathwater we are in danger of losing the SMSC baby, which arguably has repercussions in terms of the moral and social development of pupils and their ability to become responsible members of the learning community. Is there then a possibility of retaining the wisdom of the religious experience, without alienating or compromising the personal beliefs of those who work within the system?

Given that a child’s behaviour is to some extent influenced by his level of moral development it is interesting to note the work of Kohlberg, who postulates six levels of moral development. Two ‘pre-conventional’ stages acknowledge a motivation for behaviour based on punishment avoidance and vested interest. Then come the ‘conventional’ stages involving a search for approval from those around them and a sense of duty to the letter of the law or the rules. Following this the final stages, known as post-conventional, see the basis of morality in the spirit of the law and notions of justice, developing a sense of universal ethical principle. Kohlberg suggested that each stage had to be passed through to reach the next. Although there have been significant challenges to the methods by which Kohlberg reached his conclusions, not least from a feminist perspective, his belief that to pass up the hierarchy required challenges and dilemmas is thought provoking.

Thus, according to Kohlberg, it was important to present them with moral dilemmas for discussion which would help them to see the reasonableness of a "higher stage" morality and encourage their development in that direction. The last comment refers to Kohlberg's moral discussion approach. He saw this as one of the ways in which moral development can be promoted through formal education. Note that Kohlberg believed, as did Piaget, that most moral development occurs through social interaction. The discussion approach is based on the insight that individuals develop as a result of cognitive conflicts at their current stage. (Barger 2000)

Although not referring specifically to ‘spiritual’ development it can be argued that a ‘spiritually literate’ community provides a fertile arena for the quality of social interaction and possibly a place of safety for ‘cognitive conflicts’ needed for social, emotional and moral growth. The notion of development through dilemma is also seen in Erikson’s Psycho-social dilemmas, in which the psychological development of an individual depends on how personal and emotional issues are resolved, including gaining a sense of identity within the social and emotional environment in which they exist.

If according to Kohlberg, a pupil’s level of moral development is affected by interaction with individuals at the next level it follows that the SMSC strands of the curriculum can be very powerful in raising debate and issues that can effect a progression in that development. The teachings of religion, and indeed of the classics of Greek Philosophy, provide a rich framework in which to challenge and progress pupil’s moral development when seen in this light. It must also be admitted that we can all exhibit levels of moral judgement that originate in the lower hierarchy of Kohlberg’s six levels. Although capable of higher level moral choices we do not always apply that capability.

As previously stated there are many principles common to all major religions which can be a resource for such challenge. St Paul in Galatians 5.22 lists what he calls the fruits of the spirit as ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self control’. Compare this with Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, in which he lists moral virtues as, ‘courage, temperance, liberality, magnificence, magnanimity, proper ambition, patience, truthfulness, wittiness, friendliness, modesty and righteousness’. Or compare with Buddhism’s eightfold path of ‘right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration’. The School of Education in Cortland, New York lists ten essential virtues, being, ‘wisdom, justice, fortitude, self control, love, positive attitude, hard work, integrity, gratitude and humility’. All these provide rich resource for the challenging of moral development without appearing to support conflict or contradiction between advocates of the different faith backgrounds.

I wonder if the pressure to conform to content based curriculum, in which achievement in the core subjects of Maths, English and Science are seen as the main indicators of success, has been instrumental in sidelining the SMSC principles in some schools and so failing to provide the moral challenges our pupils require for this progression. This in turn may explain some of the deterioration in behaviour patterns which may suggest a failure to progress beyond the pre-conventional levels of morality mentioned above. By building our behaviour codes or attempting to raise self esteem on the basis of reward and punishment we may well be perpetuating those structures that restrict pupils to these pre-conventional levels. This is argued by Bodine and Crawford (1999) in the context of emotional development. Unfortunately rewards turn out to be no more effective than punishments in helping children to become caring, responsible people or lifelong, self directed learners. Punishments and rewards are both ‘low leverage’ solutions; they are not opposite sides of the coin, but rather two faces of the same side. In the long term, they … are counterproductive in helping children become ethical, compassionate, critical thinkers and decision makers.

Quoting the work of Kohn (1996) they go on to suggest; ‘Ethical sophistication consists of some blend of principles and caring, of knowing how one ought to act and being concerned about others.’ This seems a precise and succinct definition of the underlying values of a truly spiritual community.

Currently the SMSC strands are served through a number of different curriculum initiatives. In the main this includes PSME, Citizenship, R.E. and through acts of worship. In addition all subject areas are asked to indicate how their schemes of work contribute to citizenship and SMSC dimensions. Within schools the time allocated for this work will vary from formal RE and a registration based tutorial programme, to discrete citizenship and circle time in addition to these. There is an extent to which the various subject areas do have valuable insights into SMSC issues and it would be wrong to ignore or diminish their importance, but we are in my opinion in danger of presenting a fragmented experience of ethics and morality which leaves pupils confused and bewildered, or simply disengaged from the process, an opinion backed up by Chittenden (2002)

It was evident that some schools place more emphasis than others on spiritual development and in many ways the spiritual dimensions are more than likely to be coincidental rather than deliberate.

The spiritual experience is a search for identity, resonating with Erikson’s adolescent dilemma between identity and role confusion, and identity, and in particular spiritual identity, is based on relationship and making connections with the natural world and the community in which we exist. The sense of belonging to a community and the degree to which a pupil feels comfortable to be part of that community will have implications for the quality of learning achieved and the level of moral development attained.

In today’s educational environment, schools that maintain the provision of effective personal, spiritual, moral, social, and cultural education is not as important as academic and technical excellence do so at their peril. (Chittenden 2002)

In 2001 a group of American educators met at Portsmouth, Rhode Island, to discuss this balance between academic education and provision for the development of character.

The American founders considered the twin goals of education to be "the diffusion of knowledge" and "the cultivation of virtue." ... One emphasizes rich "content" or knowledge in the curriculum, and another emphasizes character education, or the promotion of virtue. As educators and scholars who have supported both those goals, we recognize that now the two must be as one - inseparable and indivisible. (Brach et al. 2001)

The result was a statement called the Portsmouth Declaration in which a return to a balance between these two aims was advocated. In an age of test results and league tables it is sometimes easy to lose sight of this balance, which few would argue is not central to sound educational ethos throughout the world. However, in a time where the pressure to show results in the form of academic achievements and value added is immense, the challenge to education professionals is to remain spiritually strong themselves. The importance of the measurable can be overplayed to the extent that only the measurable is seen to be important. It is in these conditions that a loss of spiritual perspective can be experienced, damaging morale among staff, and undermining the supportive ethos of a school.

Interestingly when looking at the qualities of high performing headteachers the Hay McBer researchers note that what it calls ‘personal convictions’ are a significant characteristic of excellence for headteachers.

These [personal convictions] are rooted in unshakeable values about the importance of education, which may be broadly humanistic, deeply spiritual, or driven out of a desire to serve pupils, parents and the community. (Hay Group 2000)

In addition to the overcrowded curriculum, with its emphasis on the measurable, judging a school by its SAT’s results for example, it is likely that there is also resistance to the idea of overt spiritual education as a result of its history of involvement with the religions themselves. A religious consensus amongst teachers is as unlikely and frankly undesirable as in the rest of the population. Meehan (2002) advises caution to schools in tackling the subject of spiritual development.

Do they intend to develop ‘the spiritual’, which has been used to describe those dimensions of human persons concerned with human sensibility, feelings and the search for truth, meaning and purpose? Or do they intend to nurture the specific beliefs, behaviours and practices of a particular religion? … Ambiguity of intent can lead to allegations of inappropriate confessionalism or indoctrination. Confusion results from failing to distinguish between the ‘spiritual’ and ‘spirituality’. Making the distinction between ‘spiritual development’ (educational in intent and relevant for all students) and ‘developing spirituality’ (catechetical in intent) promotes clearer thinking in this contentious area.

In a review of writings about spirituality he comments on the work of Bradford (1995). Bradford identified three strands of ‘spirituality’, the human, the devotional and the practical.

Bradford (1995) also calls for ‘a broad perspective on spirituality’. Bradford maintains that the concept ‘spirituality’ is tripartite—human, devotional and practical. ‘Human spirituality’ is concerned with the essential needs of individuals, namely to be loved, affirmed, feel secure and ‘respond in wonder’ to his or her own environment; it is fundamentally related to personal and social development. ‘Devotional spirituality’ refers to the practised affiliation to a particular religion. ‘Practical spirituality’ describes the signs of the integration of human and devotional spirituality in everyday living, indicated by the capacity individuals show for affection, friendship, resilience, endeavour, enquiry, reverence, reflection and a sense of interpersonal and social responsibility.

According to Bradford, schools ought to provide for all three components of spirituality. He holds that schools should assist ‘drawing out a pupil’s faith potential and to value their insights and religious experiences rather than ‘underplaying them’ (p. 62). Schools should also accept their ‘corporate responsibility’ to foster and respect ‘devotional spirituality’ (p. 63). Bradford expects collective worship to ‘primarily express devotional spirituality’ (p. 57). (Meehan 2002)

Meehan argues that whilst the issues of ‘human’ and ‘practical’ spirituality are not in themselves controversial, the appropriateness of ‘devotional’ spirituality is less clear and is equated with those who follow a particular religion.

‘Spiritual development’ covers those aspects in human existence to do with sensitivity, wonder, reflection, integration and so on (Bradford’s ‘human’ and ‘practical spirituality’) whilst ‘developing spirituality’ allows for religious nurture (Bradford’s ‘devotional spirituality’) for those for whom it is appropriate. (Meehan 2002)

To me this is the main flaw in current spiritual thinking in schools. Unless there is a degree of the devotional, that is a commitment to the spiritual journey, a recognition of the importance of spiritual concepts and how they affect society and relationships, and therefore how they shape our identity and value system, then acts of worship are in danger of becoming little more than sources of interesting trivia. ‘Devotion’ is the commitment to take the lessons of spiritual experiences and spiritual encounters and engage with them to develop our own value systems and spiritual identity. It is a commitment to a spiritual journey, which may or may not follow a religious path, which requires an open mind and a willingness to reflect on and assimilate the lessons learned through spiritual experience.

It has been noted that there are already in place structures in which the development of the SMSC can be given centre stage; being PSME, Citizenship, Religious education itself, and the act of worship. Art, music and the humanities also provide a rich context for appreciation of the spiritual, and as has been recognised in curriculum planning, it would be hard to find a curriculum area that didn’t! Spiritual development, and the closely related moral development, is however best served through social interaction, where pupils are challenged by the spiritual or moral reactions of peers, teachers and role models and use the opportunity to reappraise assumptions and move on. The practise of circle time in PSME provides a powerful framework in which this can happen. However the quality of experience will be dependent on a number of factors. Not least of these will be the ‘spiritual connectedness’ of the teacher. Chittenden (2002) in a study of spirituality in UK and Australian Schools reviews the work of Gleeson.

Gleeson (2002: 13) in addressing connectedness in schools’ pastoral care programs suggests that teachers will not tend to provide spiritual connectedness for their students unless they themselves are connected people in their own inner worlds. He goes on to imply that there is a reluctance to use the word spiritual or spirituality and believes this reluctance is due in part to its connotation with religion (Gleeson, 2002:13). Perhaps the apparent lack of faith in the Christian ethos that seems to exist in our schools has been responsible for the glaring absence of the spiritual dimension.(in Chittenden 2002)

The parting comment in this quotation further illustrates the problems of an overtly religious interpretation of ‘spiritual’. I would argue that a good teacher, religious or otherwise, cannot fail to have a ‘spiritual connectedness’ with pupils in their class, but it would manifest itself in the reciprocal trust found in relationships between pupils and such teachers. Halsted (2000) draws attention to the work of Elicker and Fortner-Wood (1995) on ‘the importance of warm, positive and secure relationships between young children and adults’.

[Elicker and Fortner-Wood] also show that a secure attachment with a teacher can partially compensate for an insecure attachment with a parent. It is through relationships that children learn the importance of qualities such as honesty, respect and sensitivity to others.( Halstead 2000)

John Bowlby(1953) highlights the importance of a secure relationship of a very young child with its mother, based on a need for love and reciprocal regard. It is widely agreed that a breakdown in this relationship, known as attachment, will have implications for the child’s mental health, and hence behaviour towards others and its environment. The nature of this relationship can be seen to encompass all aspects of Bradford’s human, practical and devotional spirituality.

The quality of a child’s self esteem has been generally recognised as a vital component in determining the success it will achieve. The breakdown of maternal bonding, undermining what Bowlbydescribed as a secure base from which to explore and learn can be in part explained by the increased pursuit of material benefits, causing the premature separation of primary carer and child in order to provide an income. This is further compounded by the breakdown in relationships experienced and reflected in soaring divorce and separation statistics. Whilst it is not inevitable that single parents are not able to provide a secure base, many are extremely effective, the conditions for doing so are not favourable. It has also to be said that some relationships within marriage may not automatically be conducive to providing that secure base. It is perhaps a result of a lack of spiritual literacy amongst the parental generation that contributes to this fragmentation in what can be described as our ‘connectedness’, which is itself a spiritual concept. Where no secure base exists self esteem is undermined.

In helping pupils with low self esteem we cannot alter home backgrounds or reverse individual experience. We are relatively powerless to affect problems which are largely separate from the school environment. We may, however, improve our own performance in terms of providing a secure base from which to learn, complementing the supportive home background and giving respite from more damaging circumstances. The development of secure reciprocal relationships with peers, educators and others in the school environment can be seen as a logical progression and a helpful way forward for an older child who is beginning to be able to build on more abstract notions of belonging and attachment.

At the secondary level the experience of most pupils is to move from lesson to lesson, and from teacher to teacher, with a wide range of pupil teacher relationships and varying degrees of ‘connectedness’. Some subjects lend themselves well to teaching methods involving social interaction whilst others require more individual responses and expression. In addition to pupil teacher relationships the pupil pupil relationship is also a vital factor in the quality of the experience and its potential for spiritual and moral development. As mentioned earlier from the work of Kohlberg it is suggested that in order to progress to conventional and post conventional levels of moral development it is necessary to interact with those on a higher level.

Often the groups in which behaviour reflects a pre-conventional level are those in which pupils of low ability, or underachievers are grouped together for ease of teaching, for example, lower level concepts in mathematics. Very often, for no other reason than for issues of timetabling, these pupils may not come into contact with peers operating at a higher level for the majority of their curriculum time. Their experience of disrupted lesson time and insecure relationships can do little to hold them in a place of safety or encourage a healthy attachment with the learning community in which they must operate. By grouping these pupils in this way are we perhaps further impeding their capacity for further development? In a review of the literature of streaming, setting and grouping by ability Sukhnandan and Lee (1998) conclude that

Research suggests that streaming and setting, compared with mixed ability teaching, have a detrimental effect on the attitudes and self esteem of average and low ability pupils. Research suggests that poor attitudes and low self esteem can lead to a decrease in achievement which can create a vicious circle from which it is difficult for lower ability pupils to escape. However, within class grouping, compared with other forms of ability grouping, appears to have a positive effect on the attitudes and self esteem of all pupils regardless of their ability level. (p42)

They point out that grouping by ability often deprives the low ability pupils of peer support and positive role models, discourages their involvement in school activities and lowers their expectations, and that pupils in these groups experience more disciplinary problems and have higher levels of absenteeism.

Minority subject teachers, such as those that take music and ICT may only see such pupils for an hour a week, or in some schools two hours a fortnight which is not quite the same thing. Although in many instances relationships between pupil and teacher may be excellent the contact time limits the opportunity for building trusting relationships with individuals who, approaching or experiencing adolescence, are more concerned with the relationship they have with their peers. On top of this the pressure to cover learning outcomes in increasingly prescriptive schemes of work and make informed assessments of practical skills means that time for consideration of the spiritual elements of the curriculum is minimal.

The act of daily collective worship is, in my opinion, a vital mechanism for the sharing of spiritual themes and reflecting on them. It provides an arena in which a whole school can be challenged and to some extent given time to reflect on the relevance to them of issues raised and the values that underlie them. It is my belief that the quality of the daily worship will have a great bearing on the ethos of the school and the pupils regard for each other, the sense of community identity and so the sense of identity within the community. Worship is often most effective when aligned with a religion, as in some faith oriented schools, but need not be exclusively religious. As mentioned above it involves a celebration or appraisal of the ‘worth-ship’ of an issue, a value, an event, a point of view. Where most effective it will provide a germ of an idea that may remain with a pupil for hours, days and even perhaps years during which time that pupil may have taken first one viewpoint then another. It becomes a powerful vehicle for what Halsted refers to as ‘Educating the human spirit’

The notion of educating the human spirit implies education which is directed towards the development of fundamental human characteristics and capacities such as love, peace, wonder, joy, imagination, hope, forgiveness, integrity, sensitivity, creativity, aspiration, idealism, the search for meaning, values and commitments and the capacity to respond to the challenges of change, hardship, danger, suffering and despair. ( Halstead 1996 in Halstead 2000)

This might be described as the identification and consideration of the sacred, the opportunity for pupils to explore and develop a sense of what is sacred to them by reflecting for example on Halstead ’s characteristics and capacities, and how they are related to issues and experiences. With the importance and vast scope of such education how can we cover it in an hour a week, perhaps two, or allow it to be wholly addressed by chance as part of the ‘hidden curriculum’? I would argue that daily worship with time for reflection built in, followed up in circle time or other interactive discussion media in dedicated curriculum time would go a long way to building a positive and constructive school ethos in which low level behavioural problems may significantly diminish.

This argument is largely supported by comments made in the available OfStEd reports of the top ten, and bottom ten performing schools according to the league tables of 2003. Whilst the writer feels league table positions are not an accurate reflection of a school’s capability and are dependant on many conflicting factors, not least the issues of social deprivation, resources, staff morale, leadership and management, nevertheless for the benefit of argument an assumption is made that a high performing school will contain a higher proportion of positively motivated pupils, able to access good teaching, whilst the pupils of the lowest performing schools may not show such engagement with the learning process. I wince at the generalisations but present the findings anyway!

Of the top ten performing schools eight out of the ten were judged to have a spiritual provision in the range of good to excellent, whilst in the bottom performing schools the ratio was seven out of ten in the range of either satisfactory, unsatisfactory or in many cases underdeveloped. One problem in comparing schools was the varying format of reports. Also some reports were written up to four years before the 2003 league tables, and so an allowance for change has to be made.

Comments describing spiritual provision in these ‘successful’ schools include:

‘There is a full and varied range of collective worship opportunities, including tutor time, which provides pupils with time for reflection and contribute to the spiritual dimension of the school.’

‘This provision contributes significantly to the promotion of Christian values and the positive community ethos within the school.’

‘There has been a major consideration of the meaning of spirituality and some training for all teachers in this area.’

‘The majority of assemblies offer suitable opportunities for reflection and a consideration of God’s presence.’

‘The creation of a peace garden for personal, quiet reflection is a notable provision for spiritual development’

‘Students are introduced to a wide range of religious beliefs and practices, get chances to discuss the impact of belief on behaviour and are given opportunities to experience more formal ways of exploring the inner self through meditation exercises such as ‘stilling’.’

‘Spiritual development is now seen as central to personal development and the thought for the day is a valued way of fulfilling statutory requirements.’

‘While the school does not fully meet legal requirements for a daily act of worship, assemblies are well organised and provide good opportunities for reflection on moral and social issues. They are well used to celebrate student’s achievements and they occasionally include an act of worship.’

‘Provision for the spiritual development of pupils is good. Pupils attend a school assembly on three days each week and a house assembly on one day. These collective acts of worship have an impressive sense of occasion, are of a high standard, and carefully reflect the weekly theme.’

Although most comments were favourable the correlation between good behaviour and league table position was not as strong as might be assumed. There was a minority of schools in this top segment that were criticised for a lack of multicultural perspective.

Compare this with comments from the schools at the other end of the table:

‘Missed opportunities for the spiritual development of pupils throughout the curriculum and the lack of preparation of pupils to live in a multicultural society.’

‘The spiritual dimension remains underdeveloped, as it was at the time of the previous inspection, but provision for moral and social development are relative strengths.’

‘Provision for spiritual development is unsatisfactory. ...there are missed opportunities to set a more contemplative atmosphere with, for instance, appropriate music and there is insufficient reflective time given to pupils’

‘Planning for the spiritual development of students is insufficient.’

‘Students attend one assembly weekly. …. There is no expectation on non assembly days of worship or a spiritual dimension during tutor times.’

‘Some tutors grasp the opportunity to provide an act of worship and a time of reflection whilst others routinely follow the rubric.’

‘Of the four assemblies visited only one contained an act of worship. Likewise the delivery of the ‘thought for the day’ in tutor times varied. Whilst some teachers did make the most of the material offered, a significant number did not.’

‘The provision for pupil’s spiritual development is unsatisfactory. There is only a weekly assembly for each year group, but several of those observed were of high quality.’

'Provision for pupil’s spiritual development is unsatisfactory, largely because it is unplanned, and the school has not properly considered how it can effectively harness the unique opportunities available.’

‘The provision for social and moral development is good, but the provision for spiritual development is unsatisfactory.’

‘Whilst there was a spiritual element in some of them [assemblies] it was missing in others, with no time being given for reflection. In some tutor groups the daily tutor time is used effectively but in others opportunities for spiritual development are missed. This picture is repeated in subject areas.’

Reading the different reports a number of recurring themes presented themselves. The opportunity for reflection, seen as a strong tool in spiritual development, and the inconsistency of approach to spiritual development in tutor time was a theme in these later reports. In some of these cases the school’s provision for social and moral education was seen as good whilst the spiritual dimension was under developed or unsatisfactory.

It was noticeable reading through the reports that whilst in the top ten schools references to the spiritual were found liberally scattered throughout the individual subject sections, in most cases within the lower ranking schools there was little mention of the spiritual among the curriculum areas with the usual exception of R.E., but even here in one case it was pointed out that ‘There are few contributions from Religious Education.’ The reports suggest that in all schools referred to there was evidence of individual teacher and staff members making effective contributions to spirituality, but at both ends of the table there was also some evidence of staff who did not want to be drawn into the spiritual provision.

One school in the top ten where spiritual development was not always satisfactory also exhibited problems with behaviour. It was noticeable that the report itself did not seem to value the separate identity of the spiritual, linking it always with the social, moral and cultural strands.

‘The spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils is satisfactorily promoted in many subjects, but not all, so that the experiences of individual groups of pupils vary.’

When this is linked with a comment on behaviour in the same report the correlation is at least circumstantially supported.

‘Whilst learning is satisfactory overall, in some lessons the poor behaviour of a minority of pupils and the reluctance of others to get down to work hampers learning.’

Likewise a school in the lower ranking positions recorded a good level of spiritual provision also showed that behaviour was not a problem. Extracts from the report support this.

‘The pupil’s behaviour in lessons is good, as it is around the site. Good behaviour is sustained throughout the day. For instance pupils are particularly well behaved in assemblies which occur daily at the end of lessons.’

‘Provision for spiritual development is good. The quality and content of assemblies are very good. The whole school meets at the end of each day for a true corporate gathering, led normally by the headteacher or, once a week, by a visiting clergyman. …The planned programme ….offers suitable opportunities for reflection.’

Whilst it cannot be said that the correlation between spiritual provision and behaviour was always upheld, the general trends and large majority of cases supported the argument that pupils whose spiritual development is seen to be good also show good behaviour. It must of course be acknowledged that other factors, such as the ability to select pupils on ability or faith orientation, will have a great effect on results. There is also a chicken and egg conundrum. Do children behave well because they can achieve and stay focussed on the lesson objectives, or do they achieve because they behave well and so access the learning experience more effectively?

Of the top ten schools one, and it was the first, had obvious selection issues, being a grammar school, whilst two more, being faith schools, would attract applications from parents outside the catchment looking for the qualities of a faith oriented school. It can be argued in the case of the grammar school, that more academically gifted pupils are bound to achieve a high level of success, and so the results here are not so relevant to this discussion. However I would argue that it is legitimate to include the results of the two faith schools in supporting the argument for spirituality’s relationship with behaviour as the non standard intake pupils are likely to have some spiritual background, or at least come from a home environment where it is valued.

In one school where the commitment to worship is strong its role is acknowledged in establishing and maintaining a positive ethos, and its position in the timetable is justified by a belief:

That the importance of the influence of the whole school worshipping together on the positive ethos of the school outweighs the practical difficulties of gathering together in one place and the possibility of overrunning time. (All Saint’s Weymouth, Worship Policy)

In its guidelines for worship it suggests that; ‘Collective worship makes the most significant contribution to the spiritual development of pupils’. Although this is a faith oriented school it does not follow that it expects all pupils to adhere to that faith. Pointing out that worship in schools is collective and not corporate; there is an understanding that ‘not all members of a school community will want or be able to respond to worship in the same manner’. The definitions of worship felt appropriate in the context of school are listed as:

Whilst in this school it is acknowledged that these are applied within a Christian context there is little to argue with in applying them to other faiths, or humanist perspectives. The danger lies in a perception that, rather than developing a values system as an individual as a result of reflection on spiritual issues, there is an expectation that a set of values should be imposed from outside. This is possibly a trap into which many religions have fallen. In the context of the contribution of religions to spiritual development it is religious education, and not religious instruction that can be effective for promoting spiritual development.

Worship provides a forum for interaction with beliefs, ideals, values and experiences, and a space in which to reflect upon them. From this an individual, staff or student alike, can choose to assimilate or reject what is presented as the process of developing personal values and beliefs continues. Although the charisma of a worship leader can have a great effect on the level at which individuals engage with the theme of an assembly or collective event it is in the everyday relationships within a school that the relevance or otherwise of such ideas to those around us in the community will be tested. In an article about spirituality in a pastoral care context Leona English et al point out the importance of spiritual connectedness in educators.

One of the key areas that educators and pastoral care workers need to examine is the relationship of spirituality to their work. When we think of our work as vocation…we can think of it as a spiritual exercise that grounds our being, is infused with our beliefs and practices, and gives our life meaning. (English et al 2004)

The nature of a vocation, whilst it is a term embraced by secular society in such qualifications as the NVQ, (National Vocational Qualification), is rooted in a spiritual arena, being literally a ‘calling’. However the level at which individual teachers and support staff consider this to be so will vary. There is a natural scepticism amongst many when confronted with INSET focussed on spirituality where they are asked to sit still, breathe deeply and think of ‘love’. Whilst I do not doubt the sincerity of those from both religious and new age spiritual backgrounds who advocate this, it perhaps asks too much of those for whom the pattern of assembly was seen to be ‘a hymn, a prayer and a bollocking’, as a previous colleague was apt to put it.

Nevertheless, if the spiritual environment of the school is vital to the quality of education it provides, to the quality of relationships within that environment and to the positive ethos that promotes good behaviour, and I would suggest that this is self evident, then the challenge of engaging not only all pupils, but also all education professionals in building and evolving that spiritual landscape is one that must be addressed. Current thinking in addressing behaviour problems talks of the school as an ecosystem. A prevalence of particular behaviour problems are seen as a symptom of the failure of that system, rather than the sole responsibility of the offender. If change is to be effected in the offender then the system that has given opportunity for the offence must also be scrutinised.

In examining this ‘system’ we must be aware of the needs of the child in forming and strengthening positive concepts of self. Where traditionally we have been more concerned with the development of the intellect, it is increasingly relevant to consider also the dimensions of emotional and spiritual intelligence. As understanding of the brain’s processes, and its connection with the heart and the emotions, develops we become increasingly aware that a content based curriculum concerned mainly with brain learning is insufficient, and possibly even damaging to our children. The writer and speaker Dr Joseph Chilton Pearce makes the point that only a small percentage of learning is conscious. Pupils learn much more from the way we are than from the lessons we teach. Positive role models are vital if pupils are to develop into constructive and positive citizens with both knowledge and practical application of what is right. The majority of educational change over the last decade or so has addressed the formal curriculum, the knowledge and skills needed, or perceived to be needed, in order to play a full role in society. Although this is very strong on the ‘what?’, and perhaps the ‘how?’, it does little to address the ‘why?’. He argues that in educating the intellect the emphasis has been on answering the question ‘Is it possible?’ without really considering the implications of progress, without asking ‘Is it appropriate?’ Chilton Pearce’s perspective is closely allied to a look at brain research and what he calls the heart-mind connection. The notion of spirituality is, as previously stated, difficult to be objective about, but to me Pearce’s insights into emotional intelligence, and the role of the heart-mind connection in relationships, making the distinction between what he calls ‘intellect’ and the more holistic ‘intelligence’, are themselves of a spiritual nature. The interest and work of others, notably Daniel Goleman in this field, have begun to gain influence in education circles. The correlation between emotional intelligence approaches and what Halstead calls ‘educating the human spirit’ is strong.

In conclusion I suggest the relationship between spirituality and behaviour is one of motivation. A spiritually literate person is in touch with their sense of connectedness in the society in which they exist. They achieve higher levels of moral development, being aware of the effects of their behaviour on others and the quality of relationships within that society. They are able to reflect on issues, events and beliefs and assimilate insights gained into a personal value system. They are able to see and look for consequences of their actions beyond immediate personal gain to a situation in which the good of the whole community is served, thus improving the emotional environment in which all individuals exist. They will exhibit a positive self esteem as they can judge the ‘worthship’ of their actions and opinions in their own sphere of influence. On the other hand a spiritually illiterate person will not see beyond their immediate situation. Their moral development will be impeded by a reliance on reward and punishment, reacting to individual incidents in defensive or even aggressive ways. They are not able to reflect on the larger picture and will feel powerless to affect the situation in which they exist. The motivation for behaving well is thus undermined.

Promoting and facilitating spiritual development in schools will, if the argument is accepted, have a positive effect on behaviour, and so help create a better learning environment in which teaching and learning is more effectively addressed. Spiritual perspectives can be developed through exposure to religious teachings, particularly those in the form of story or parable, in which, rather than being told what to believe, pupils are able to develop their own belief structure through reflection on the moral and spiritual issues raised. Spiritual perspectives can also be effectively developed through stories and issues raised by non religious experience, giving opportunity to reflect on how our own experiences relate to those of others. It may be that the rejection of overtly religious material, built upon centuries of spiritual experience, in favour of a more secular approach has diluted the opportunity for ‘educating the human spirit’, giving rise to increased incidence of antisocial behaviour.

We are challenged to retrieve the wisdom and insights of religious faith traditions in a manner that does not alienate or offend individuals within the community. The act of collective worship, developing a sense of awe and wonder in creation, whether natural, religious or artistic, and examining ethics and moral issues, can do much to inspire and challenge the individual to develop constructive personal values and perspectives. Spiritual provision is an integral part of the ‘SMSC’ (Social Moral, Spiritual and Cultural) strands identified by the NCC and inspected by OfStEd and can be further enriched through cross curricular themes and opportunities peculiar to individual curriculum areas. However, a situation in which spiritual development depends on a patchwork of coincidental nuggets of a spiritual nature found in diverse corners of a crowded curriculum, cannot be the most effective way to encourage true spiritual connectedness.

In addition to spiritual teachings, the importance of role models in developing personal values cannot be overstressed. The implications for a school not only lie in the examples given by teachers and adults within the community, walking as well as talking the talk, but also in the way pupils are grouped for much of their curriculum time. The young teenager’s natural role models are other teenagers, their peers. If Kohlberg’s insights into moral development are transferable to spiritual development pupils need to spend time with peers at a higher level of development to their own. In particular the effect of streaming to the lower achieving student is to place them in an environment with people who themselves have poor self esteem, compounding the negative influence on them. The constant shuffling of groups with other less secure pupils further disrupts social continuity and deprives them of the positive influence of the more self assured. It is suggested that considered mixed ability teaching within a strong spiritual continuum that nurtures respect for self and others and a sense of belonging, would enable pupils to develop a more positive self image, a more constructive ideal self and so better self esteem.

Of course it must be acknowledged that opportunity for spiritual development is not exclusive to schools. The experience of relationships with other people, with the natural world and opportunities for reflection and development never stop. Thus the family situation, with the attitudes and opinions expressed within it, will have as great, if not a greater impact on a pupil’s spiritual development. In addition the increasing power of the broadcast and published media, the internet, video games and the film and music industries etc, are all in a sense responsible, or arguably irresponsible, for the creation of the spiritual climate in which pupils will exist and grow.

Finally, the writer has attempted to stand apart from his own faith background in presenting this argument. As a Christian, spirituality is linked to the notion of the Holy Spirit, and the underlying values and inspirations are personified as ‘God’. Personification of spiritual elements is a feature of many religions, notably the polytheist religions of the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. As I see it the main implication of belief in the personification of a supernatural deity is the opening of a two way dialogue in the spiritual journey. Not only do we as humans aspire to become connected to the spiritual environment that holds our relationships, our appreciation of beauty, our sense of awe and wonder at the natural world, but we believe that that spiritual environment, in the form of the personified deity, is actively drawing us towards himself, calling us to a higher spiritual state. The power to develop spiritually is available to us from a source that exists within ourselves, in the world around us and in a dimension we cannot yet understand, which we understand to be the ‘grace’ of God. The Christian perspective suggests that an extreme form of this ‘calling’, we have already mentioned the notion of vocation, was the appearance of the deity in human form to communicate directly with mankind, helping us with our spiritual journeys, and establishing what is termed ‘The Kingdom of God’. This notion of kingdom refers to the achieving of an ideal spiritual state where all individuals care for each other, and are therefore cared for, where relationships, and so behaviours, are governed by an unselfish desire for the common good. In common with other great faiths the disciplines of prayer and meditation enable a deeper quality of reflective experience, reinforcing and building on the spiritual connections we evolve and developing with it a sense of conscience that should determine our actions in daily life. Whether we believe that the spiritual energy required to effect change is God given, or must be found in our own resources will have a profound effect on the way we approach spiritual issues as individuals, and the optimism with which we aim to improve our own spiritual environment for the benefit of our pupils.


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