Alan Cribb and Sharon Gewirtz
In this chapter we explore some of the ways in which fundamental questions about values and schooling are currently 'asked' and 'answered'. We will argue that, in many respects, these questions are marginalized, or even buried, and that there is a widespread and understandable scepticism about them. We will also argue, however, that this scepticism is an important feature of what might be called 'the prevailing values climate' — a climate that has a neutral and common-sense face but that is by no means neutral.
Most of the chapter will be given over to sketching out some of the features of this value climate. The first part of this sketch covers features of the general philosophical and ethical context, particularly the role of value scepticism and value neutrality. The second part of the sketch focuses in on aspects of the current social and political context of English schooling, and the value shifts inherent in the reforms set in train by the Education Act of 1988 and built on by successive governments since then.
Parallel reforms to those made in England in 1988 were introduced in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but in this chapter we are only referring to the situation in England. Such broad coverage as we provide here makes it impossible to cover issues in much depth, or to trace through all the themes or possible links between the features discussed. However, we hope that there are also advantages in working on a broad canvas. In particular, we hope to draw attention to a powerful compound of factors which serve to undermine the critical function of value debate.