Many youngsters want to appear on TV talent shows
The absence of a religious ethos in schools is being filled by a shallow "X Factor celebrity culture", a leading independent school head teacher warns.
Schools were now embarrassed to talk about God, said Rev Tim Hastie-Smith, chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC).
Mr Hastie-Smith said the spiritual void had led to the breakdown of "any shared value system".
And he attacked TV talent shows for portraying success as an instant thing.
"The retreat of God from education has left a moral and spiritual vacuum and the breakdown of any shared value system," Mr Hastie-Smith told delegates at the HMC annual conference in London.
"In our schools we have the freedom, if we choose, to fight that malaise. Not by retreating from society but engaging with the big questions in a mature and reasoned way, offering possible answers and challenge rather than the passing fads of an X Factor culture."
Mr Hastie-Smith also called for less government interference in school management.
"The development of the academies programme and the recent proposals for "co-operative" community schools all point to one unavoidable conclusion - the battle for the independent management of education has been won," he said.
"The philosophical argument for centralised education, driven and controlled by a centrist government, is beginning to be seen as bankrupt.
"Big government is out. It is time to give power back to the professionals and for governments to stop interfering.
"The independent management and leadership of schools as the way forward is now openly acknowledged by all parties."
Mr Hastie-Smith, who currently head of Dean Close School in Cheltenham, announced earlier this month that he would move in to the state sector next year to run one of the new Academies.
The 46-year-old is expected to take over a school in Kettering, Northants, next September.
Schools Minister Lord Adonis said : "I welcome the HMC's support for the academies programme, which is establishing 400 independent state schools nationwide.
"This is a progressive way to bridge the historic divide between the state and private sectors in education, creating more good state schools with strong ethos, ambition and leadership.
"All state schools have been given more freedom to manage their affairs since 1997, including bigger budgets under the direct control of the head teacher and governors."