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Rod MacKinnon, the head of Bexley Grammar School, south-east London, said schools were being forced to shun traditional lessons as ministers manipulated the education system for the purposes of "social engineering".
He said schools "cannot solve all of society's ills" and should be left to teach.
His comments came just days after ministers published new guidance requiring schools to monitor obesity rates, drug taking and teenage pregnancy as part of a new duty to promote pupil "wellbeing".
According to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Bexley Grammar is the most sought-after school in England. Last year, 1,927 parents named it as their first choice – for just 192 spare places. It means the school rejected nine pupils for every one it admitted.
It emerged that four of the 10 most popular schools were grammars and two were faith-based schools, indicating that a strong emphasis on academic rigour and traditional values were highly rated by families.
Mr MacKinnon said the school had a firm uniform and behaviour policy, offered Latin, Japanese and Russian, and placed a strong emphasis on traditional subjects. It offers the International Baccalaureate as an alternative to A-levels and last month it announced that it wanted to be become the first state school in England to offer the more rigorous International GCSE.
But writing in The Daily Telegraph today, he insisted that ministers maintained "unrealistic expectations" of what schools could achieve – pushing children towards educational "failure".
"There are those who wish to use children and schools as social engineers with a view to creating a different society but we should not even be trying to do such things," he said. "Children need to be nurtured, educated and cared for, not thrown into the frontline of social reform. Muddled thinking is guaranteeing failure for the noble aspirations we all commonly hold for the education of the young."
Mr MacKinnon, who becomes head of fee-paying Bristol Grammar School in September, said there was a "disturbing lack of clarity" about the education system as ministers presided over a "muddle" of different aims. He insisted that good schools had to focus on "learning, achievement and values", but were increasingly being asked to do parents' jobs.
"Teachers simply do not have the contact time to 'create' behaviours and attitudes within children," he said. "They are not – and cannot be – social engineers and social workers and surrogate parents, as well as subject teachers, all rolled into one."
It follows claims this week from Bernice McCabe, the headmistress of the independent North London Collegiate School, that the education system was leading to the "cultural and intellectual impoverishment" of a generation of children as ministers focus on "woolly" goals.