30/04/2012 06:48 BST

Children Are Alienated In Materialistic Society, Warns Headteacher Richard Harman

Children risk becoming "alienated" in a society that values material success and achievement above all else, a leading headteacher is warning.

Youngsters must be given a "sense of belonging" before they can be successful, according to Richard Harman, headmaster of Uppingham School and chairman of the Boarding Schools Association (BSA).

He warns that the UK's education system and culture has its priorities "upside down", and that "proper order" must be restored to stop future generations growing up "forever insecure".

In his speech to the BSA's annual conference for headteachers in Bristol tomorrow, Harman will say: "The culture we live in has come to value material success and achievement above belonging and community.

"We can help redress that balance in our schools and I would argue, as 21st Century boarding school leaders, we're called to do so. If we do it well, we'll be doing a great service to the world, for our youngsters will go on to be leaders of the future in one way or another.

"If, on the other hand, we forget this mission, if we allow the next generation to lose its sense of belonging, its ability to live and work together in spite of differences, if we lose those very things that make boarding schools such special places, then we risk unravelling the fabric of society. And I think in many parts of our world this is already happening. We can see the results all around us. The flipside of belonging is alienation."

Harman cites evidence which argues that after the most basic human needs for safety, warmth and shelter have been met, the next most important thing for the human psyche is is a sense of love and belonging.

"In the past few decades we've forgotten that a sense of belonging must be built before we can attain lasting achievement and self-esteem, otherwise the whole structure is in danger of collapse.

"No wonder we have a generation of youngsters who suffer from self-esteem that is either too low or unjustifiably high. The over emphasis on material success and, in education, on valuing attainment only, with too little attention paid to establishing a sense of belonging, has meant that some fundamental values have been inverted.

"Essentially, our education system and our culture have got things upside down. We've told our children that they will reach a sense of belonging by means of achieving material success, instead of the other way round.

"It's like a parent who says to their child, 'You'll earn my love and you'll belong here only once you've achieved certain things', rather than 'I love you, you belong, now go out and risk success'.

He adds: "It's important that the proper order is restored; otherwise we'll go on producing generations of children with a belonging deficit, forever insecure. Boarding schools can make a contribution here."

Harman will also say that education is not just about qualifications.

"Qualifications in Maths, English or Chemistry are a necessary, but not sufficient part of this kind of education.

"Now more than ever, I think it's important to re-affirm that real education is not something that is done to someone but is rather what happens between people in community. This sense of relationship, this sense of belonging is one of the most precious things we foster in our pupils, and it's something that society at large seems to have forgotten."