No “Right and Wrong” in English Classrooms

by Paul F. Taylor on August 15, 2006

When I became a schoolteacher in the early 1980s, the school at which I taught had a “hidden curriculum.”

When I became a schoolteacher in the early 1980s, the school at which I taught had a “hidden curriculum.” Their handbook declared, “The school has a hidden curriculum, which is the background to everything we teach. This hidden curriculum consists of the teachers' standards and principles, in line with the ethos of the school.” The concept of a hidden curriculum is a recognition that pupils learn far more from their teachers than knowledge, understanding and skills. Behavior modeled to pupils is bound to have an influence in some way. This hidden curriculum includes the concepts of right and wrong, which, for generations, have been considered to be a natural part of what the teacher does.

This completely rational approach to education is now apparently being undermined, by new regulations being suggested in the National Curriculum of England.1 According to a news report from the BBC, “Pupils will no longer have to be taught the difference between 'right and wrong' under draft plans put forward by England's exams regulator.”2

In 1995, the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) of England published a booklet entitled “Spiritual and Moral Development.” The booklet contained the statement: “Morally educated school leavers should be able to distinguish between right and wrong.”3

The successor authority to the SCAA-the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA)-sees things differently. Its preamble to the new generation of National Curriculum documents no longer contains a reference to moral or spiritual development, nor to the concepts of “right and wrong.” Instead, the new draft guidelines suggest that “We want the curriculum to enable all young people to become successful learners, confident individuals and active and responsible citizens.” On the same page, one of the definitions of a “confident individual” is someone who has “secure values and beliefs.”

How secure can values and beliefs be if they do not rest on a solid foundation? In Genesis 2, God gave Adam a commandment-just one commandment. The commandment was that “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). God gave Adam a clear-cut statement of what he was to do in order to obey, the concept of right and wrong choices, and what the consequences would be of a disobedient choice. This foundation of biblical truth, the concept of right and wrong and an awareness of the consequences of wrong choices has formed the bedrock of British educational practices for centuries. Yet in the last twenty years, the language has changed.

I still remember being startled to learn, in the late 1980s, that we were no longer to tell the children that their behavior was naughty, lest this damage their self-esteem. Rather, we were to tell them that their behavior was inappropriate. If we are telling little Johnny that his behavior is inappropriate while he is pulling Lucy's hair and making her cry, does this imply that in a different place and different circumstances his actions might indeed be appropriate? Why is it bad for Johnny's self-esteem to be told that his actions are wrong?

It is surely the duty of a good teacher to explain to a child when his or her actions are wrong. It is caring for that teacher to do so, and it is also caring for that teacher, after suitable punishment, to restore that child to a forgiven relationship. In this way, the teacher-traditionally seen in British schools as fulfilling the role of in loco parentis-models something of the nature of God. This is the sort of hidden curriculum to which our schools should aspire, rather than the godless, relativistic future envisaged by educational agencies such as the QCA.


  1. Please note that the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) have different education systems. The remarks in this article apply only to the National Curriculum of England. Readers are reminded that the term England should not be used to imply the whole United Kingdom.
  2. 'Right and wrong' lessons to end, BBC NEWS, July 31, 2006.
  3. Spiritual and Moral Development, SCAA 1995, page S.
  4. See, for example, draft Geography curriculum, p. 8.


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