CAIN Web Service
Values in Education in Northern Ireland,
by Alan Smith and Alison Montgomery
Text: Alan Smith and Alison Montgomery ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
Material is added to this site on a regular basis - information on this page may change
Values and the formal curriculum
Prior to the commencement of this project there has not been a
formal study of 'Values in Education' in Northern Ireland. A review
of current educational projects and programmes does suggest however,
that there are many activities and approaches which are in essence,
value-oriented. These include activities of the kind referred
to in the previous chapter, as well as others located in the different
dimensions of school life, for example through whole-school issues,
pastoral policy statements and individual school practice. Further
examples will be explored in this chapter.
The statutory basis for the Northern Ireland Curriculum places
an explicit emphasis on physical, moral, spiritual and cultural
development - areas which are widely recognised as dominant characteristics
of values education. There is however no obligation on schools
to timetable any kind of values or moral education or to explore
the conceptual dimensions of morals or values. The quality of
teaching and learning in the values domain remains largely dependent
on the teacher and school in question. A preliminary survey of
the curriculum locates the values-related dimensions in ethos
or climate; the notion of whole child development; welfare systems;
some extra-curricular activities; and curriculum areas such as
Religious Education (RE), Health Education (HE), Personal and
Social Education (PSE) and aspects of cross curricular themes
such as Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU).
Reference has already been made to the inclusion of values statements
in statutory guidance and policies. DENT and CCEA both acknowledge
the importance and significance of a values dimension in pupils'
learning experiences and personal development. Indeed DENT has
recently identified values and personal development as a key priority
in teachers' presentation and pupils' comprehension of the Northern
Ireland Curriculum (DENT 1995).
Initial reactions to the research
Because of the pervasive nature of values, very many aspects of
the curriculum and school life were touched upon throughout the
research. Discussions with respondents alone uncovered many issues,
culminating in a plethora of data. Responses from the majority
of individuals intimated a natural interest and concern in this
whole area and many welcomed the opportunity to discuss values
and related issues, as the opportunity had not previously presented
Initial reactions from respondents were varied. Some teachers
were rather confused as they attempted to locate values in the
context of their experiences of teaching and the curriculum. Others
were quite uncomfortable with the use of values-type language,
expressing concern over its potential impact on curriculum interpretation
and issues of teacher accountability. There was a tangible reluctance
by a small number to even consider that they might bear any responsibility
for the interpretation or communication of values through their
teaching. While they agreed that values were inherent in education,
they expressed feelings of discomfort, confusion and self-doubt,
in dealing with values-related issues in any explicit sense. The
majority of respondents took a little time to contemplate the
concept of values in education and to "adjust their way
of thinking about the curriculum" before reflecting on
their perceptions and experiences in this area.
Teachers suggested the term was rather nebulous and difficult
to "pin down" in the context of the curriculum.
The whole area of values was described as "immense"
and "complex", and individuals expressed some
difficulty supplying a suitable definition. A few observed that
there was an inadequate pool of vocabulary on which to draw when
they came to articulating views and opinions. As indicated in
the Introduction, respondents did substitute other terms, using
them interchangeably throughout discussions, so reflecting the
perceived ambiguity of the area. Despite these difficulties, there
was widespread agreement that values permeated teaching and learning
experiences and that it was not possible to divorce values from
daily activities occurring within the education system.
Identifying a structure
In order to provide a more focused context in which to discuss
values in education, and to identify a structure which would indicate
the implications of values in education in more concrete terms,
values were considered within three frameworks.
These were defined as follows:
1. The Curricular Framework
includes the Formal, Informal and Hidden curricula. This provided
a broad and accessible framework in which to review the current
provision for and perceptions of values in education. The three
curricula represent three major areas of school life, though there
is some variation in the definition and application of the three
- the Formal Curriculum is essentially the 'taught' curriculum.
It encompasses the Areas of Study (and individual subjects), represented
in the Northern Ireland Curriculum. In this report it pertains
to the delivery and interpretation of subjects and cross-curricular
themes in the identification and communication of values;
- the Informal Curriculum refers to areas and aspects
of school life outside of the classroom - extra-curricular activities
such as sports, music, drama and school trips, discipline and
pastoral care policies. It also includes issues and activities
relating to the playground and the school's physical environment;
- the Hidden Curriculum has a rather imprecise meaning
and has been described by writers as "highly ambiguous"
(Meighan 1981:52). While the Formal Curriculum and Informal Curriculum
refer to quite definitive areas of the school, the hidden curriculum
may cover aspects of both, while also relating to separate issues.
For the purposes of this research the term is employed to indicate
decisions, behaviours, and activities which may go unnoticed or
unrecognised, but which may have considerable effect on the school
2. The Developmental Framework
is based on the developmental dimensions of the Northern Ireland
Curriculum, that is, values as they are associated with physical,
intellectual, moral, cultural, spiritual and additionally emotional
and social development. During the interviews there were some
occasions when it was quite difficult to differentiate between
value 'types' or to confidently class a value as, for example
spiritual or emotional. It may be that the reader disagrees at
times with the 'category' to which a value has been assigned.
Teachers did deliberate at times over this dilemma, but for the
purposes of the research, it seemed more important to ascertain
respondents' acknowledgement and recognition of values, than to
quibble over the category to which a value should be assigned.
Therefore there may be some overlaps in perceived values and a
small degree of inconsistency in the identification of values.
3. The Context-Dependent Framework
refers to sets of values which arise from the distinctive character
or location of the school. Factors may include the ages, ability,
culture or social background of pupils and may be influenced or
determined by views and expectations of parents, staff, pupils
and members of the wider community.
The Developmental and Context-Dependent frameworks will be used
to give greater definition and detail to values and in particular,
to illustrate how they emerge within the settings of the classroom
The Formal Curriculum
To undertake a systematic review of values in the formal curriculum,
interviews focused on the Areas of Study within the Northern Ireland
Curriculum, that is:
Science and Technology
Creative and Expressive Studies
Environment and Society, and
Religious Education (RE) and Personal and Social Education (PSE)
were also included. Cross-curricular themes featured throughout
the discussions, although these have been presented separately
following a review of the areas of study. Values were approached
in the first instance through the Areas of study, by asking teachers
about the values that could be identified and communicated through
their teaching of individual subjects. Questions also addressed
the permeation of the cross-curricular themes and associated values
through the areas of study.
Although values in the formal curriculum were raised in interviews
within the broader context of the areas of study, teachers' main
point of reference (in the post-primary context) was invariably
the subject which they taught. This is perhaps unsurprising, however
it was interesting to observe at times, how vague any links with
other subjects in an area of study appeared to be. Some teachers
seemed clearly constrained by what are apparently definitive subject
boundaries. Primary teachers did not communicate the same compartmentalised
view of the primary curriculum and the lines of demarcation between
subjects appeared to be less distinct and discernible.
Teachers' responses to the prevalence of values and value-related
issues in their subjects, and their understanding, interpretation
and communication of such issues are documented under each of
the areas of study. Also the review of values in each area of
study is not intended as an exhaustive analysis of every possible
value connotation or reference, but rather as a reflective overview
as presented by the respondent.
The majority of respondents are currently Education and Library
Board Officers, occupying an advisory and support role. However,
because they based their responses on their own teaching experiences,
as well as the teachers they support all respondents in the main,
are referred to as teachers. The use of italics in the
main body of the text in this chapter indicates comments made
English has been perceived as "an instrument of personal
growth" (Bullock Report 1975:4) and as a means of equipping
pupils with skills and abilities that will "stand them
in good stead right across and up through the curriculum."
Teachers were able to discuss values in relation to the English
programmes of study with considerable insight and understanding.
The values dimension seemed to be clarified further as discussions
took place and teachers often spoke of "making the connection"
once they had been given time to think.
Many respondents tended to look at English under the two headings
of Language and Literature and from this perspective they were
able to elicit examples of physical, intellectual, social, emotional,
spiritual moral and cultural values.
- The ability to use language effectively at all stages of development
was seen to encourage pupils to express themselves eloquently,
to function independently and to increase their understanding,
empathy and confidence.
- Some teachers referred to the physical, social and emotional
value of creativity in language and the opportunities which were
presented for pupils to deal with their thoughts and emotions,
to improve their powers of expression and to develop their self-esteem.
Teachers did admit however, that they were often "itching
to get their hands on children's work", in order to make
corrections, revisions or changes. It was suggested that teachers
sometimes needed to accept children's creativity as their own
and not to interfere. Creative writing was also identified as
a means of encouraging and developing a pupil's sense of autonomy,
responsibility and self-control. Teachers also defined the approach
to creative writing as a "drafting" approach
where pupils are engaged in a revising and redrafting process
until they produced an acceptable version.
- Primary teachers reported the "sheer delight and enthusiasm"
shown by pupils at Key Stages 1 and 2 when reading aloud to
the class or telling a story. They underlined the social and intellectual
value of this activity, as well as its enjoyment and developmental
value. Many individuals remarked on the "onslaught of
inhibition" and the changing attitudes to reading aloud
and personal expression as children progressed through the education
system. Teachers spoke of some pupils' reluctance to read poetry
or express an opinion, "they just clam up" and
"they get embarrassed". Opportunities for talking
and listening were perceived as a valuable social and emotional
aspect of English, encouraging children to empathise, share and
respect others' perspectives.
- Some respondents referred to the disruption in pupils' development
during the transfer between primary and post-primary schools and
how teachers sometimes assume "they are dealing with blank
slates" in Year 8. Post-primary teaching makes little
reference to primary learning and therefore gives little in the
way of acknowledgement to the value of primary experiences. English
teachers talked of a "creativity gap "between
primary and post-primary and a change in pupil's perceptions of
and responses to the various components of English.
- Reference was made to a continuing emphasis on literature
in the curriculum and the consequent detrimental effects on language
and in particular grammar development. Despite the oral component
at GCSE, and the need for preparation in this area, teachers frequently
observed that "greater value is perceived in reading and
the critical analysis of literature". In the post-primary
context, more time was therefore given to examining texts and
some teachers commented that a discussion or critique of a text
was often undertaken on paper and not entered into through any
kind of class discussion. This perception of a neglect of oral
skills was mentioned by many teachers across all subject areas.
Respondents spoke of a "chalk and talk" pedagogy
associated with many subjects areas which eroded opportunities
for pupil participation. This point is also made in the Northern
Ireland Cohort Study where teachers commented that "pupils
[do] too much written work" to the detriment of the "development
of thought, self-expression, and communication with others".
(Harland et al, 1996:44)
- At Key Stages 3 and 4, the study of characters in novels was
perceived as giving pupils the opportunity to explore feelings
of empathy, sympathy and tolerance as well as "to get
in touch with themselves ". Many texts were cited as
examples to illustrate opportunities where teachers felt they
could explore moral, social, emotional, spiritual and cultural
issues. Interestingly, teachers who had studied these texts often
had not considered their use in explicit "value-terms
- The choice of text for study at any stage in English was considered
a moral and social values statement. Several teachers suggested
that the "choice of examination texts reflects values
that are prevalent in society - avoiding direct language,
uncomfortable incidents and other cultures ". This point
was reflected in some teachers' reactions to holding class discussions
and dealing with controversial issues. They admitted they would
find this "too difficult and confrontational ".
Other teachers concluded that it was important to deal with cultural
and moral values if it was relevant and appropriate to do so.
- Value was attached to the "recursive nature of English"
where the nature of learning is essentially the same at every
stage. Teachers commented that the same skills are applied and
the same processes are at work.
- Teachers felt that this enables pupils of all abilities to
contribute in class and to experience some sense of achievement.
One teacher commented, "I find that no matter what level
the child is at, they always have something to offer".
One teacher commented that "you can never measure the
impression a poem or text has made on a child - the value
of the experience may only emerge years later". All teachers
of English interviewed as part of the research concluded that
values are scattered widely throughout the programmes of study
and there are numerous opportunities to explore values through
language, literature, creative writing and class discussions.
Several drew particular attention to teachers' propensity to focus
on cultural and moral issues as these were the "most obvious
places to find values ".
Values and Mathematics were clearly not perceived to be close
relations by many teachers. Initially, several declared Mathematics
to be value-free and others suggested that any connections were
artificial and contrived. Through discussions however, it became
clear that there were actually some very interesting "connections".
Wilson (1981) lists over 200 references of studies examining
the interaction between Mathematics and its cultural content.
Many of these address the value systems implicit in those contents.
(Tomlinson and Quinton 1986).
Mathematics and intellectual values
- Mathematics is universally regarded as an important subject
which bestows a high intellectual value on it. Schools and parents
attribute a high priority to Mathematics and this is widely recognised
by pupils, many of whom feel under some considerable pressure
to perform well and attain good examination results. Teachers
frequently commentedon this pressure and the fear which many children
have of Mathematics. One teacher, whose school had undertaken
a survey of pupils' perceptions of subjects, reported that Maths
is "the most hated and feared of all ". Because
of the high status of the subject many children are afraid "of
being left behind" and of "suffering embarrassment
by having to go back to basics".
Teachers also pointed to "harmful competitive elements"
which surround pupils and how these could seriously damage
their self-confidence and progress in the subject. They concluded
that this approach to Mathematics projected a strong set of intellectual,
moral and cultural values which could have profound effects on
pupils' learning and self-confidence.
Mathematics and methodology
- The methodology used in teaching Mathematics was identified
as indicative of the values associated with the subject. Teachers
commented that it was easier to instil enthusiasm and a positive
attitude in pupils at primary school as they used many more practical
and innovative teaching methods. One post-primary teacher commented
"it's all book work when you get to secondary so if you
aren't interested in Maths in P7, you definitely won be when you
come here ".
Teachers did agree in the main, that their approach to teaching
the subject could communicate certain values. One teacher admitted,
"Iknow if I talk and direct all the time, I feel I take
all the responsibility for the pupils' progress, so I try to have
some pair or group work... to let them use their judgement and
have some control over their progress and development".
Examples used in mathematics
- Teachers were asked to consider the content of Mathematics,
in particular the choice of examples and problems featured in
textbooks and exam papers. They then discussed and identified
the sorts of moral, social and even political values which they
felt were conveyed through these examples. Some teachers referred
to Key Stage 3 and 4 materials which included graphs and charts
presenting profit margins, production output and stock market
figures. One teacher commented "You know, I hadn't really
thought about the nature of the data before, but .. .. it
does clearly applaud capitalism and the struggle for wealth ".
Research into the connection between Mathematics and the development
of materials with alternative values is currently underway in
England. These materials focus on data generated from other sources,
reflecting a wider range of statistics related to social concerns,
such as charity donations, road safety and environmental campaigns.
The relevance of Mathematics
- Teachers in post-primary schools frequently spoke of their
attempts to communicate the relevance of Mathematics to society
in general. They referred to the intellectual and social values
of the subject which not only allowed pupils to solve mathematical-related
problems, but also equip them with analytical, problem-solving
and decision-making skills and curious and creative minds. A teacher
observed, "Maybe if pupils could see some value in Maths
beyond knowing how to count and multiply and pass exams, they
would enjoy it better".
Mathematics and 'perserverance', 'truth' and 'autonomy'
- Several primary teachers drew attention to the "perseverance
dimension" of Mathematics, pointing to a perception that
the subject required more persistence and application than others.
Although many less able pupils found Mathematics difficult, they
commented that any progress was considered to be an even greater
achievement and "cause for celebration ". Perseverance
was identified as a valuable personal quality which contributes
greatly towards a pupil's character development. Similar points
were raised in relation to girls' perceptions of and performance
in Mathematics. The male-dominated image of Maths was also debated
in relation to cultural and social values which teachers felt
could influence commonly held attitudes towards the expectations
of boys' and girls' performances in the subject.
- Some teachers felt that mathematics demonstrated certain inherent
truths and that the subject had potential to promote this moral
value in pupils' work and behaviour.
- One teacher also suggested that Mathematics could help pupils
discover their autonomy, "My GCSE pupils know that Maths
is either right or wrong and that they can eventually find out
for themselves ... they don't always need me".
Teachers concluded that it was easier to inspire pupils and to
realise value-related aims and objectives for learning at primary
school. They talked of post-primary pupils identifying "negative
values" in Mathematics and of having already decided
that they disliked or performed badly in the subject by the time
they reach Year 8. It is interesting that many secondary school
teachers echoed the view that, "a lot of the first years
tell me either explicitlyorby their attitudes that they have already
written Maths off. Some never give it a chance ".
Most Mathematics teachers were interested in the concept of values
and Mathematics, though some felt there was a danger in overplaying
an affective values-link and making inappropriate connections.
Science and Technology
Initial reactions to a review of values underlying Science met
with a diversity of responses from primary and post-primary teachers:
Science is neutral - it doesn't have any values.
Teachers commented on many aspects of Science in the curriculum
including the changes in curriculum structure and content; the
challenges and difficulties of catering for all pupils; and the
primary teacher's perception of Science. Clearly, teachers were
much more in tune with the cognitive aspects of science (the knowledge
and understanding of scientific laws; the attainment of skills
for designing and undertaking investigative experiments) than
with the affective or value-related dimensions.
Science is about things not people.
Teachers pay lip service to the proposition that science is
value-laden. The fact is there isn't time to explore peripheral
From the interviews, individuals intimated that teacher training
emphasised cognitive development and knowledge-based teaching
at the expense of the human dimension (though this is an observation
which is not exclusive to Science). Teachers demonstrated some
difficulty in identifying examples of values within the Science
and Technology curriculum. Technology teachers made similar remarks,
but also mentioned the need for more emphasis on moral values,
environmental issues and their implications for pupils to be considered
at teacher training level.
Science and physical development
- In Science, primary teachers referred to the physical values
which underpin studies of physical and psychological development.
They illustrated these values by outlining some of the areas dealt
with at Key Stages 1 and 2. Issues such as how the body works;
how we move; the effects of exercise; how our bodies change; what
we eat and wear, were all shown to promote pupils' understanding
of their bodies and the importance of looking after themselves.
Indeed physical values continued to pervade the Science curriculum
right up to GCSE, with topics such as sex education, drug abuse
When sex education was raised in interviews, all the respondents
except one commented that science teachers adopted a purely scientific
approach and that the social, emotional and moral values which
were associated with this topic were dealt with elsewhere.
I only deal with the plumbing. Other aspects are dealt with
in PSE or HE.
I'm not really qualified to deal with all that bit.
The RE teacher is really good at discussing those sorts of
There is a sort of party line. Science teachers leave those
elements to the experts, the RE, HE and PSE teachers.
However alongside these comments, Science teachers acknowledged
that they saw changes in their role, admitting that they had other
issues to deal with aside from delivering the curriculum,
I think we are dealing with the social work aspects of teaching
on a daily basis. Sometimes you've got to deal with the social
aspects before you can progress to the knowledge and content.
Science and social and technological advancement
Physical and moral values were also raised in the context of scientific
and technological advances which are seen to be affecting humans,
animals and the environment on a local, national or global scale.
A teacher pointed to a fundamental effect which technology has
had on human life through the use of medical and bio-technological
We are now redefining common terms like birth, parenthood and
death. Technological advances are changing our perceptions and
expectations regarding conception, suffering and death.
The moral, social and physical implications of various actions
were discussed in relation to how they were introduced in the
curriculum. Teachers referred to issues which they dealt with
at various Key Stages which considered moral, physical and social
values (animal extinction, wastage disposal, pollution, drug addiction,
genetic engineering, medical advances, and nuclear technology).
One teacher mentioned having discussed the concepts of risk and
safety in decision-making concerning these issues. He pointed
to the moral values implicit in the decision-making process. Cotgrove
highlights this point when he states that, "Risk is not just
a statistical calculation. It is also a moral judgement about
defensible conduct" (Cotgrove 1981 :ppl24-5).
In addressing pupils' earliest experiences of Science and Technology,
teachers noted the importance of anchoring these subjects in the
reality of pupils' everyday experiences. Primary teachers referred
to activities which encourage children to examine the simplest
pieces of technology they come into contact with. At Key Stage
1 pupils are also introduced to the effects of science and technology
on society through such topics as 'transport' and 'the home' and
through their introduction to computers.
Older pupils may consider "how science shapes our lives"
and the limitations of science and technology to solve cultural
problems. Science advisors referred to primary teachers as the
"unsung heroes" in teaching Science. It was suggested
that without any specialist training many teachers had come to
terms with the requirements of the primary science curriculum,
although considerable numbers still lacked confidence.
Technology teachers referred to opportunities for pupils to be
creative and co-operative in processes which develop their sensitivities
to other people's needs and cultures. A few respondents commented
on the effectiveness of an historical approach which highlights
how changes in cultural, moral and social values have been affected
by science and technology.
Science and female pupils
- A value-related aspect of discussions concerning Science and
Technology included the relationship between these subjects and
female pupils. One teacher was forthright in summarising his opinion
of girls' performances in Science,
Girls and Science are just not compatible. Feelings and sensitivity
are not needed for Science. Perhaps I shouldn't say it, but some
girls would be better off in Home Economics.
Other teachers commented that Science continued to be regarded
as a "male dynasty" and that some teachers were
"still concerned about gender issues ". The majority
of teachers remarked that the perception that girls tended to
perform less well in Science was not always true and that the
attitude and approach of the individual teacher could have a profound
effect on girls' confidence and progress.
Distinctions between grammar and secondary schools
- One grammar school teacher indicated his position regarding
Science and less able pupils,
I think it's a waste of time having those children attempt
Science. Those single, double, triple award courses are no good
if the kids want to do 'A' level. They haven't had anywhere near
In response to this comment, a secondary teacher suggested that
some grammar teachers felt the changes in the curriculum had left
Science very "diluted and weak."
- A few grammar school teachers identified pressures which they
felt from senior management and parents to achieve good GCSE and
'A' level results. They commented that sometimes it was "like
processing kids on to the next stage with as much in their heads
as possible ". Another stated, "It's like stuffing
cushions - in the hope that as much information as possible
will stay there ". Finally, one teacher confided, "I
do all the difficult stuff from September to Halloween so I sift
out the ones who can 't keep up ". He maintained he was
not the only teacher to do this.
- Other teachers commented that quite a few pupils were just
managing to keep abreast of what was happening in class. "In
Science there is the odd high-flier. Most children are just keeping
up ". These comments exposed strongly-held attitudes
and values on the part of teachers and it would be interesting
to ascertain if these values are apparent in the classroom and
to what extent pupils may be aware of them.
In most cases teachers were willing to acknowledge and identify
values implicit in Science. Most also felt they had dealt with
values in some way through their teaching, though some admitted
they do not normally frame their teaching in terms of values,
"You never stop to think, you just do ". Others
acknowledged the importance of "doing values", but
concluded, "If the re was more time, I think more teachers
would deal with these additional areas ".
Home Economics (HE) was clearly perceived by other teachers to
be "awash" with opportunities in the programmes
of study to confront and explore values. For this reason it seemed
more appropriate to deal with HE as a distinct area of interest.
HE was identified as one of the pre-dominant value dimensions
in the formal curriculum (along with PSE and RE) and so many elements
of the programmes of study seemed entirely value-laden.
Home economics and the family
- HE teachers themselves agreed that the two strands of 'Family
Life' and 'Home and Family Issues' consisted of many examples
of moral, cultural, social, emotional and physical values. A third
strand, 'Diet and Health' offers endless opportunities to examine
physical and mental development, addressing for example, self-image,
food preparation and diet-related health disorders.
- The changes and challenges facing the family in the 1990's
moving towards the year 2000, was an issue raised by every teacher
interviewed. Numerous sub-issues, including divorce, single parents,
abortion, elderly parents and disability were identified during
the course of interviews. There are further opportunities for
the discussion of values through the study of family structures
and units, employment, care, relationships and responsibilities.
Teachers commented on the sensitivity and relevance of these issues
for many pupils at a personal level and suggested the need for
caution and diplomacy,
It is sometimes difficult to identify a context in which to
broach these sorts of issues. You have to be so careful.
The good teacher is in tune with every pupil's learning and
experiences. She is perceptive and sensitive.
The majority of teachers seemed to have responded well to curriculum
changes, which as described by one individual, "represented
a tremendous shift in emphasis and change in content". There
were some suggestions that this shift had improved the image of
the subject, and more senior managers were giving it greater priority
in the timetable.
Home economics and emotive issues
- Many of the issues related to family and relationships give
rise to concerns about the management of feelings and emotional
responses. For example, the HE programme states that pupils should
have opportunities to consider stress and conflict and to identify
strategies to cope with conflict. Examples of situations given
include parent/child disagreements; family expectations; and the
impact of traditional attitudes and beliefs on relationships.
Teachers again emphasised the need to get to know the class well,
in order to communicate confidently and to deal with issues effectively.
They also referred to the importance of establishing a process
for pupils to think about issues; demonstrating how to assemble
and use information; analyse viewpoints; adopt and share their
own personal viewpoints; and then make decisions about appropriate
action. Teachers noted that by developing this knowledge pupils
could apply it to many life situations and experiences into adulthood.
Teachers identified the values dimension as a major strength of
Home Economics. As well as the knowledge and skills which are
readily applicable to all aspects of life, they observed that
pupils were given opportunities to develop their own personal
values and attitudes; to identify personal strengths and weaknesses;
and to identify goals and expectations for their futures.
The language teachers interviewed as part of the project taught
a combination of French, German, Spanish and Irish. The advisors
were also able to comment on Italian, Russian and Japanese because
of their contact with other teachers. When it came to examining
values however the individual characteristics of a language were
not a major consideration. It became clear that the teaching and
learning processes of language development were remarkably similar.
The initial responses from most teachers concerned examples of
the exploration of cultural values which takes place as part of
the teaching of foreign languages. Teachers also provided thoughtful
insights into values involved in the processes of language teaching
Language and culture
- The programmes of study at Key Stage 3 and 4 state that pupils
should have opportunities to develop an "understanding and
appreciation of culture of the country or community of the target
language. By identifying similarities and differences between
cultures, they may learn to examine their own more objectively".
Teachers frequently drew attention to this statement and indicated
different types of classroom activity which they undertook to
fulfill these aims. Several teachers commented on the close relationship
which exists between language and culture noting that, "language
and culture go hand in hand." They indicated that it
is virtually impossible to learn another language and not have
"some grasp of what the culture is about". Teachers
pointed out that in learning about other cultures, pupils also
learn about their own. It was claimed that this sort of experience
promotes tolerance in that, "it gives a different perspective
on Northern Ireland" and "it helps open their
Languages and social development
Languages and moral issues
- Opportunities to introduce and explore moral values were perceived
to be more limited. Teachers reported that issues with moral undercurrents
did arise from time to time, though the nature of the materials
in use in schools often did not place a great deal of emphasis
on this aspect of development. With increased access to videos,
magazines and newspapers, pupils were coming into contact with
"undiluted moral material ". However it was stated
that pupils often did not have sufficient knowledge and understanding
of the language to read or discuss such issues and for this reason
teachers do not always consider such material appropriate. Pupils
at 'A' level may be presented with more opportunities to address
the moral aspects of language through set texts and news materials.
Languages and strategies for less able pupils
- Language teachers made several comments concerning their approach
with pupils who experience difficulties with language studies.
Some outlined strategies and tasks which acknowledged and rewarded
a pupil's achievements. Reference was frequently made to the "creative
teacher" who was able to develop and implement motivating
activities. One teacher also referred to the difficulties of pitching
language lessons at an appropriate level for the whole class,
The challenge is to target lessons at the top end to promote
development and at the bottom end to give encouragement. Too often
lessons tend to hit around the middle.
Interviews with special needs teachers revealed a debate concerning
the value of language studies for pupils with moderate learning
difficulties. Some felt it gave children an opportunity to experience
part of the statutory curriculum and to revisit the grammar and
components of English, while others thought it was not particularly
relevant or should be an "optional extra".
Another challenge identified in language teaching was to enthuse
the disinterested, disenchanted pupil. Teachers referred to the
importance of choosing a good selection of resources and using
a wide variety of methods.
An over-riding concern of language teachers was to capitalise
on opportunities to consider social and moral issues where they
arise naturally within the context of language teaching, rather
than in an contrived way.
Advisors also reported different approaches to language studies
in secondary and grammar schools. They suggested that pupils in
secondary schools tended to be encouraged to enjoy and appreciate
a language while grammar school choices of a language were often
based on strategic choice as an examination subject selection
or the prospects of a successful grade at GCSE.
Creative And Expressive Studies
According to teachers engaged in the area of Creative and Expressive
studies many aspects of the subjects included under this umbrella
term are the "epitome" of physical, cultural,
spiritual, moral, social and emotional values. Teachers frequently
identified the salient features of Art and Design, Drama, Media
Studies, Music and Physical Education (PE) in affective, attitudinal
and value-related terms.
Perceptions of Creative and Expressive Studies
- Teachers observed that it was precisely because of the irrefutable
"value characteristics" that Creative and Expressive
studies occupied a "subordinate" and "inferior"
position within the curriculum. Teachers remarked on a bias
within the curriculum on cognitive development resulting inter
alia in a neglect of the affective and creative side. Several
respondents alluded to the potentially negative consequences of
this type of curriculum on children's futures in the adult world,
Eminent educationalists and business people like Sir John Harvey-Jones
are pointing out that it is no longer just enough to be good at
the knowledge-based subjects or the skill-oriented subjects. The
demand is now for people to be innovative and creative, therefore
the particular skills developed in the creative and expressive
area are all important. Society is now looking for people who think, not just say and do.
Yes it is important to have skills but you must also be able to address problems, know how
to deal with them and then solve them.
Creativity and physical development
- All the Creative and Expressive subjects yielded evidence
of implicit and explicit values associated with the physical development
of young people. In the context of physical development PE presented
many opportunities for the promotion of co-ordination and movement
skills, body awareness, physical and verbal interaction, physical
expression and the development of personal qualities and attitudes.
Primary teachers identified PE as a very appropriate vehicle for
highlighting the value of exercise, hygiene and healthy eating.
One teacher commented, "it is generally setting children
on the road to a healthy lifestyle". Other teachers referred
to the far-reaching effects such education might have,
You hope that they might remember some of the things you tell
them about food and exercise and that they might take it home
I often tell them why we do PE I think teachers sometimes have
to spell this out for them. Sometimes they don't hear it anywhere
Music, in particular the use of musical instruments and singing,
was perceived to enhance a child's co-ordination and ability to
control fine movements. This was an observation frequently made
by special school teachers who commented on the tremendous opportunities
it offered children with moderate and severe physical disabilities
and learning difficulties to gain control of their bodies and
to interact with instruments, space and each other.
Various activities in Art and Design were identified as having
similar value - clay modelling, painting, drawing, creative tasks
using textiles, and printing. In addition, many aspects of these
subjects were seen to encourage co-operation, trust and perseverance.
Cultural influences in Creative and Expressive Studies
- Teachers in primary and post-primary schools are being encouraged
to introduce dance and creative movement in order to explore the
more creative and expressive aspects of PE Dance and movement,
like Drama are seen to develop children's awareness of their bodies,
their powers of expression and their ability to explore feelings
and emotions. A few teachers who had undertaken dance with their
pupils thought that it was a refreshing change from games and
sports activities. One teacher also said that, "creative
movement is where you might just find the non-academic child sparkling
". Most teachers felt that dance was a bit too specialised
and complex for the untrained while some post-primary male teachers
thought it was "out of the question really".
The interviews uncovered a fairly widespread feeling amongst primary
teachers concerning a lack of confidence and knowledge about PE.
They frequently complained of a lack of training in PE and the
small amount of time allocated to the subject in many schools.
This point has been mentioned at a National level with comments
about the "government's ostrich-like.., attitude to the standard
of PE in primary schools where more than 90% of teaching is carried
out by non-specialists". The gravity of this situation has
been set alongside evidence suggesting that,
the 7 to 11 age range establishes the attitudes, enthusiasm and
basic capabilities in physical activity. By the age of 11 most
children have sorted out their feelings about physical education
and sport. (Lee in TES October 1995:17)
Exploring identity as part of Creative and Expressive Studies
- Several primary teachers drew attention to the inclusion of
traditional street games such as hopscotch and circle singing
games in their PE programme. They explained the games were linked
to geography or history topics on traditions and culture which
were being studied concurrently. In music, teachers referred to
background studies and pupils' experiences of music from other
countries and cultures, such as North American Indians and 'the
blues'. They also highlighted cultural elements in studies of
the construction and composition of indigenous music and analyses
of traditional and world music. One teacher commenting on culture
and music said,
You find as you get to know the curriculum more that there
are lots of opportunities to think about culture and it is better
when you just find the connection, instead of forcing it.
Areas for considering cultural and traditional values in Art and
Design were highlighted by several post-primary teachers. They
commented on the cultural, political and social values underpinning
art masterpieces which were studied by pupils and the "cultural
baggage" which pupils carry in "designing their
own masterpieces ".
- Within Media studies teachers reported that an exploration
of identity was often at the heart of their work and provided
a basis for classroom discussions about gender, stereotyping,
nationality and religious identity. Drama was also perceived to
provide pupils with effective tools to explore identity in a safe
and supportive environment. Teachers mentioned various techniques
such as role play, character shadowing and improvisation. Drama
and media studies teachers endorsed the processes and structures
available through drama for effective and productive studies of
sensitive moral and controversial issues.
It allows pupils to express themselves without the constraints
of language and it encourages kids to ask questions, challenge
commonly-held views, and analyse messages in the media and modern
Emotional development through Creative and Expressive studies
Spiritual development through Creative and Expressive Studies
- Teachers strongly agreed that spiritual values underpinned
many areas of the Creative and Expressive area of study, however
they experienced some difficulties in articulating tangible examples.
Many teachers felt that spiritual experiences and development
are, by their very nature, ethereal and immeasurable. Such experiences
were also considered to be intensely personal and individual and
therefore it was not possible to recognise every spiritual element
or encounter within the subjects. Responses from PE teachers tended
to focus on dance as an expressive process. In Media Studies and
Art, teachers indicated how words, graphics and images were employed
as stimuli to provoke pupils into reflecting, analysing and questioning
what they feel and believe. Music teachers used terms such as
'reflection', 'inspiration' and 'motivation' to describe the kinds
of spiritual experience which might be evoked through different
musical encounters. Art was identified as a powerful means to
self-discovery by many teachers in both "passive and active
ways". Others referred to the subjects' "aesthetic
powers" and the "...opportunities for identifying
and appreciating beauty, peace and joy ". Drama was also
seen to "equip pupils with confidence and knowledge to
undertake investigations into their beliefs, faith and principles
Creative and Expressive studies and special needs
- Special school teachers clearly attached great value to the
activities available to children through Creative and Expressive
studies. Much emphasis was placed upon self-exploration and self-expression
and encouraging children to participate with others in drawing,
singing, movement and drama. Every special school visited during
the project was making plans for, or engaged in rehearsals for
a concert, play or musical show. All the schools had extensive
displays of the children's art work in the reception areas, corridors
and classrooms. Teachers indicated many positive effects on the
children of their involvement in creative and expressive activities
in developing qualities such as self-confidence, self-esteem,
self-knowledge, self-control, responsibility, creativity and team
spirit. Opportunities to express and explore their own personal
problems or disabilities were also indicated. The advent of drama,
art and music therapies have given greater emphasis to the healing
powers in the arts, and provided opportunities in many special
schools for the exploration of physical, emotional and spiritual
Assessment and Creative and Expressive Studies
- A number of teachers referred to assessment and the criteria
they used in evaluating pupils' work for Art and Design and Music.
The assessment of musical compositions was a particular example
of teachers identifying the difficulties in assigning a value
to pupils' work. While many respondents approved of guidelines
which were issued for assessing composition, there were some teachers
who acknowledged the validity of placing an intrinsic value in
pupils' work (the notion of attributing subjective values to a
piece of artwork or musical composition). A few teachers also
referred to the sensitivity involved in offering any criticisms
of pupils' creativity which was essentially a very personal matter.
The status of Creative and Expressive Studies
- A common issue raised by almost all the teachers interviewed
was the approach adopted in schools for timetabling Creative and
Expressive subjects. Teachers complained that these subjects were,
"slotted in wherever possible" or "left until
the end with RE". Music teachers almost invariably commented
that music was only "important "worried about",
or "a priority" when a school musical event was approaching.
The rest of the time it was "second rate", a "lesser
subject" or "bottom of the heap".
- Media Studies, according to many teachers, is poorly valued,
particularly within grammar schools. Some secondary teachers concluded
that "grammar schools think it's a Mickey Mouse subject",
or "grammars don't think its a valid area for study".
Media studies teachers in both secondary and grammar schools also
reported some of their colleagues perceptions as,
I suppose it's good for kids who won't do well anywhere else;
It's alright for the less-academic ones; and
Sure it only encourages them to watch more TV and do even less
Such perspectives left many Media Studies teachers feeling that
their subject was at times "fighting for its corner"
and some teachers had attempted to raise the status of their subject
by initiating cross-curricular projects with English, Drama and
History. This point is confirmed by the Northern Ireland Curriculum
Cohort Study which suggests that,
teachers' concerns about the comparatively low status of the creative
and expressive arts in the Northern Ireland Curriculum are forcefully
corroborated by pupils' prima facie responses. (Harland et al,
- Drama teachers repeatedly drew attention to their subject
as a potential vehicle for children to explore sensitive and controversial
issues across the different areas of the curriculum. They indicated
how, by using different drama techniques a teacher in almost any
subject could develop children's abilities to understand and empathise
with other positions and experiences. However, the responses from
teachers of others subjects were somewhat less enthusiastic. They
spoke of their inexperience, lack of skills and lack of confidence
in the whole area typified by the comment, "Maybe if I
had some training I'd think about using drama from time to time
- Comments were frequently made regarding the role of the Music,
PE and Drama, and to a lesser degree Art and Design, as important
elements in a school Public Relations (PR) strategies. These observations
are addressed in greater detail under the Informal Curriculum.
Creative and Expressive subjects seemed to present teachers with
many real and unique opportunities to highlight and explore different
values. In doing so, some teachers acknowledged the potential
for the establishment of more open and effective relationships
between themselves and their pupils. Whilst others acknowledged
this possibility, most also voiced strong concerns about maintaining
"appropriately distanced relationships" and professional
Environment and Society
A comment from one primary school teacher seemed to summarise
the perspectives of many teachers of this area,
Environment and Society is all about life and perhaps more
accurately, living. I suppose when you talk about values, then
it's looking at the values that brought us to where we are and
the values that will take us forward its also about how we exist
and interact with our many environments and neighbours.
When asked to consider the current provision for values in History,
Geograph and Business Studies respondents immediately reflected
on the opportunities to address cultural and moral values, particularly
in History and Geography. Other values took a little longer to
"tease" out, however the majority teachers' responses
did suggest that Environment and Society does embrace a wide range
of physical, social, emotional, intellectual, moral and cultural
Values related to intellectual development
- Teachers valued 'intellectual development' in Environmental
and Social Studies through the acquisition of knowledge and skills
in this area. This encompassed the recognition and assimilation
of new terminology such as treaty, politics, society, domestic
and foreign policy, and conceptual knowledge relating to chronology,
change, progression, and consequences in History. In Geography,
teachers listed tenns such as settlement, environment, pollution,
economic development, population, latitude and longitude. In Business
Studies they referred to pupils identifying the roles of citizens,
consumers and employees.
Personal development through environmental and social studies
Social development through environmental and social studies
In the context of the primary school, teachers identified many
examples of opportunities to promote pupils' social development.
They referred to lessons which focused on care of the environment
and pets, learning about other people and relationships and cultivating
respect for and understanding of different lifestyles. Pupils
were using a variety of strategies to explore these areas, including
pair and group work, active learning sessions, oral presentations
and class exposition. A few post-primary teachers gave some concrete
examples of undertaking a study of a plantation family in Ulster,
in order to explore lifestyles and society at this time, while
another illustrated a lesson studying slogans and the effect that
these could have on communities, government policies and conflicts.
Values related to cultural identity and tradition
- Values related to cultural identity arose in many areas of
the History programmes. At Key Stages 1 and 2 storytelling, myths
and songs were recognised as a means of communicating the traditions
which make up a society. Through Geography children learn, "how
to see themselves in relation to other children, other places
and then other traditions".
Teachers recognised how historical studies reflect many aspects
of culture through studies at primary level of the home, play,
school, transport and shopping. At post-primary level topics mentioned
included politics, war, economics, social and educational policies.
In undertaking a study of Northern Ireland culture by examining
historical and political events one teacher commented,
I try to encourage the kids to see that there is more to this
country than what you see in the media, hear from politicians
or catch scribbled on a gable wall.
His point highlighted the role of History in raising sensitive
and controversial issues using a variety of methods which encourage
young people to examine and understand the values and beliefs
of themselves and others.
- Teachers of History commented on the controversial nature
of many aspects of their programme of study the strong feelings,
even uncontrolled outbursts, which arose especially in relation
to Northern Ireland. One teacher suggested that,
History has a strange power to provoke a mixture of emotions
in the classroom. Teachers have to quite resolutely put theirfeelings
to the side and try to concentrate on presenting a clearly balanced
Other teachers pointed out how difficult this could be. Every
teacher alluded to the sensitivities in teaching about Northern
Ireland and to the fact that many children still lived in what
are essentially divided communities.
Values and development education
- Examples provided by Geography teachers highlighted opportunities
to explore the impact of decisions and actions on people and the
environment. These included studies of homelessness, air and sea
pollution, famine, land development programmes and profit markets.
A common feature of such studies is that they draw attention to
the value systems of others and pupils' personal beliefs and values
in relation to the issues concerned.
Teachers demonstrated how by looking at environmental change,
conflicts over resources or environmental management pupils are
afforded opportunities to identify and analyse personal and corporate
values and attitudes and to determine how these could influence
subsequent judgements, consequences and actions. One particular
topic which was frequently raised concerned perceptions of developing
countries and how they are perceived. Teachers discussed the negative
implications of ethnocentricity and the degree to which opinions
and beliefs could be determined or altered by media images.
- Several teachers were working towards promoting positive images
of children in countries characterised by famine, war, disease
The TV images are not the whole story. We want to present the
truth about these cultures. Yes, there are terrible scenes, but
there are also other scenes, which children might even be able
to identify with. The children in our pictures are wearing clothes,
playing and eating dinner - not so different from our own
Their aim was to temper television images with equally real, but
happier, healthier images of children in developing countries
and to encourage pupils to develop a critical awareness of media
Values and Business Studies
- Business Studies presents pupils with an insight into business
culture, providing opportunities to examine the structure and
processes of business deals, contracts and interaction. Teachers
commented on how pupils are also confronted, through different
topics and assignments with various definitions of society's values
such as enterprise, work, ambition, profit, and rewards. Recognition
was given to teachers' responsibility to present such values,
as one teacher said, "in the broader context of things,
alongside greater achievements like honesty, justice and respect".
Other issues included the introduction of maternity and paternity
leave, flexitime, and the rising number of female managers. Other
aspects of gender issues in the workplace also featured in discussions
Morality and environmental and social studies
The interviews with teachers involved in environmental and social
studies highlighted the extent to which this Area of Study can
lead to an exploration of the morality of certain practices as
well as a less subjective consideration of the values involved.
Personal beliefs and attitudes
- A number of teachers referred to the capacity of their subject
to challenge pupils' attitudes, beliefs, motives and values. For
example, the study of various conflicts in History gives rise
to moral complexities of cause and consequence and the positive
and negative effects of change. Political and civil unrest in
Northern Ireland was also a focus of study at Key Stage 4. Teachers
communicated a range of perceptions regarding the difficulties
of confronting and teaching these issues. Their experiences depended
to a some degree on the location of their school and the background
(and in some cases sex) of their pupils. One teacher remarked,
Dealing with these issues is like walking on a minefield. You
have to try so hard to get the pupils to think about other people's
feelings and opinions and not just their own. Human life, truth,
and respect -for some of these kids, moral values like these just
don't come into it.
Teachers, especially at the post-primary level acknowledged the
moral dimension of many issues they mentioned, though the challenge
to focus on them more explicitly for some, was just too difficult
Most teachers in the area of Environment and Society, referred
to the "power" which resides with teachers to
choose which topics to study. Some commented on the extent to
which a teacher could distort situations and events. Most agreed
that while very few teachers set out to deliberately indoctrinate
pupils or promote propaganda in their teaching, teachers should
be aware of the extent to which their teaching methods or selection
of resources may introduce an issue from a particular perspective
or bias. According to some it is difficult not to do this. The
overriding message however was the need for teachers to be ever
conscious of how they present information and what they perceive
their pupils to understand by it.
Religious Education (RE) was indisputably the most commonly identified
"values dimension" of the curriculum. Almost
every teacher made some reference to this subject at some stage
throughout the interviews. Some respondents also referred to the
RE teacher as the "values man" or the "moral
expert", suggesting morals and values were "his
speciality". Teachers expressed a variety of opinions
about RE. Some thought it provided pupils with a beneficial departure
from the pressures of the scientific and cognitive-based curriculum,
"giving their brains a rest". Others felt it
was a valuable opportunity for pupils to gain further accreditation
suggesting, "it's more useful now that pupils are doing
it at GCSE".
The RE syllabus places a significant emphasis on values, attitudes,
beliefs and morals, particularly through the third part of the
core syllabus entitled 'Morality'. The main aim of this course
is stated as a preface to each Key Stage,
pupils should develop their ability to think and judge about morality,
to relate Christian moral principles to personal and social life
and to identify values and attitudes that influence behaviour.
A review of the examples given in the programmes of study for
each of the attainment target clearly outlines the permeation
of physical, moral, cultural, emotional, social and spiritual
values throughout the subject. These examples include a recognition
and acceptance of self, a concern about the environment, management
of relationships, decision-making and a respect for love and life.
Because the programmes of study embrace such a rich, eclectic
range of value-related material, it seemed rather unnecessary
to ask RE teachers to restate these during interviews. Instead,
teachers were encouraged to focus on general perceptions and experiences
of the RE programme, teaching methodologies and strategies and
debates surrounding value-related issues within the subject. Additionally,
because RE was widely perceived as the main context for the exploration
and discussion of values, it was considered that a review of its
status within the curriculum would be appropriate and enlightening.
RE as 'emotional cement'
- Many of the teachers interviewed, drew attention to the valuable
opportunities RE affords pupils to explore and discuss many issues
which have direct relevance for their own lives. Some teachers
stated that RE was helpful in supporting "sensitive"
aspects of their own subjects. Examples were given of the
moral, social and emotional aspects of sex education which are
often not addressed in Science and explorations of identity and
tradition which support work in History and English. One RE teacher
commented that RE was sometimes perceived as 'filling in gaps
left by other subjects" and another suggested that in
addressing difficult or sensitive issues she was going where "other
teachers fear to tread".
The low status of RE
- Although the valuable contribution of RE to the curriculum
was endorsed by many teachers and senior managers, RE teachers
were concerned with the low status of the subject. They felt that
this was due in part to the emphasis on knowledge and skills within
the curriculum which is then embodied in the approach adopted
by many schools. They indicated that while the content and teaching
of RE was often applauded by head teachers and senior staff, it
was often the last subject to be timetabled and the first to be
changed or reduced in terms of the time allocated. Teachers spoke
of RE being "slotted in" or "tagged on"
the school timetable after every other subject.
Many also mentioned that a considerable proportion of RE teachers
were non-specialists and that in many schools RE teaching was
shared between several teachers, sometimes up to as many as eight.
Many schools did not have an RE specialist. According to one RE
teacher, "other staff think there's nothing to it. It
's just a matter of rattling through the facts". This
issue has been raised in England and Wales with an OFSTED review
"identifying a lack of specialist staff and a lack of commitment
to the subject by school managers" (Pyke, TES 1995).
Several teachers also observed that despite the introduction of
statutory requirements for Religious Education, parents and pupils
perceived little value in studying the subject, if the school
did not also offer some academic accreditation,
They've told me they think it's a waste oftime unless they
can get some sort of certificate. It's a terrible shame that this
seems to be the only contribution RE can make.
RE, personal beliefs and commitment
- The personal beliefs of RE teachers were also mentioned by
teachers in terms of their perception and delivery of the subject.
In 1994, SCAA established several working groups to identify the
content of model RE syllabi. The conclusion reached by these groups
led SCAA to state that RE "can only be understood and
learnt from within" and also that "religion can
only be taught from within - that is with a religious commitment"
(Wilson, TES 1995). RE teachers who were interviewed, considered
whether RE teaching was approached any differently or if there
was anything "lacking" if the teacher was not
an "actively committed Christian". The variety
of responses included the following:
While the non-Christian teacher may be very thorough, honest
and interested, there are some things that will not be conveyed.
The Christian teacher will communicate the real meaning and
experience of prayer. The non-Christian will not.
Many of the values in RE are common to society - honesty,
fairness, tolerance and kindness - a teacher doesn't need
a religious commitment to teach these.
A good background knowledge and enthusiasm for RE is enough.
Respondents frequently referred to the RE teacher who displayed
strong, unshakeable convictions and the temptation to use RE lessons
as an opportunity to proselytise. There was a unanimous rejection
of any teacher forcing their views on pupils or teaching from
"a high moral ground". A good RE teacher was
characterised as caring, tolerant, interested and empathic, with
an enthusiasm for the subject and a good working knowledge of
the course contents.
RE, values education and moral education
- The notion of 'values education' arose quite naturally in
some conversations and several teachers went so far as to suggest
that RE involves a broadly similar approach when dealing with
complex and emotional issues. The distinguishing characteristic
of RE was that the morality it promotes stems from a strong spiritual
basis and a definitive biblical influence. A number of teachers
expressed reservations about the term 'morality' because of its
negative associations with rules, prohibitions and judgment. In
general, teachers felt the salient point was how morality was
approached and explored in class and to what extent pupils found
it interesting, relevant and challenging. One respondent commented
that, "it is important to acknowledge the value differences
across generations," while another concluded that, "there
are basic values that don't go out of fashion ".
- Many individuals commented on morality and debated its definition.
There was a concern that the issues involved should not be defined
too narrowly. "Its not just sexuality, you know"
was one response and another teacher stated emphatically that
the "stereotypical moral issues - sex, abortion
and suicide are only part of the story". These statements
corroborated others' views that the term had a much broader meaning.
Teachers commented that morality dealt with, "the big
issues - life, death, relationships, fears, feelings",
with "love, justice and life" and "guiding
pupils to understand, to make choices and to stand up for what
the)' believe ". On no occasion did teachers echo a perceived
motivation behind the RE syllabus in England and Wales, "the
belief that young people must be taught how to be good" (Wilson,
TES 1995). Indeed many teachers expressed some concern that to
adopt a deterministic approach, concentrating explicitly on definitions
of 'right' and 'wrong' would be damaging to the whole spiritual
and emotional content of RE. They were anxious that,
RE would then be subsumed under moral education and we would
be reduced to teaching what is right and wrong.
Clearly, teachers regarded the morality dimension of RE from
a much broader, more inclusive perspective, placing a strong emphasis
on the value of each individual, their understanding and opinion,
and their participation in contemporary society. It was also evident
that teachers valued the developmental aspect of RE, commenting
on the crucial opportunities which the programme of study offered
young people to reflect on, and shape their views and opinions.
One teacher remarked,
While pupils will never have to deal with many issues in their
subjects again, the issues in RE will continue to crop up again
Teaching methods and strategies in RE
- RE teachers frequently reiterated how the choice of appropriate
and imaginative teaching methods and strategies, and the development
of an "open, honest and accepting relationship with pupils
", are crucial for effective teaching. Several commented
that an essential part of discussion work is the opportunity for
pupils to give their own perspective and to examine where their
own values had originated.
RE in controlled and maintained schools
- Teachers in maintained post-primary schools mentioned the
benefits of retreats for Years 11 and 12, where pupils are given
the opportunity to spend time together away from the classroom
to discuss a wide range of issues, "usually' including
relationships and sexuality". One teacher felt that "taking
children out of the timetabled routine and exam-oriented atmosphere"
gives pupils the opportunity to "think more freely
and speak more openly about real life issues ". A few
teachers commented how the maintained school approach to RE was
less 'formalised' than in controlled schools and that the teaching
made greater reference to marginalised groups such as travellers,
alcoholics and the poor. Another teacher suggested there was less
concern for "outcasts" in the controlled schools
- In terms of the values underpinning the approach to RE in
the controlled and maintained sectors almost every individual
interviewed suggested there is a difference between the two, though
they often experienced some difficulty in articulating the distinctions.
Many teachers suggested that because Catholic liturgy and ideals
pervaded much of the daily life of maintained schools, RE was
a more "natural" and integral part of pupils'
education. (The concept of a Catholic School ethos is referred
to in Chapter six). In addition where schools had strong links
with a local Catholic parish and clergy this was perceived to
raise the profile of RE within the school. In controlled schools
pupils are drawn from a range of denominations and none and this
is reflected in a broader based 'non-confessional' approach to
RE. One respondent suggested that teachers and pupils in controlled
schools experience RE through "words and understanding",
but often displayed a "lack of heart". In
maintained schools, on the other hand, teachers and pupils "have
meaningful experiences ", but are "often unable
to articulate their theology".
RE and integrated schools
- Integrated schools have designed RE programmes to meet the
needs of Catholic and Protestant pupils within their enrolment.
In most cases this has meant identifying a common programme augmented
by provision for specific denominational needs. In drafting and
implementing an RE programme in integrated schools, teachers spoke
of "starting from a point of contact and sharing experience,
while still using the core syllabus ". An integrated
primary school teacher commented that, "the staff didn't
realise how much they had in common until the)' started thinking
about basic values and beliefs ". Several teachers in
the integrated sector said that they felt more motivated about
RE than some of their counterparts in mainstream schools,
Its so much more exciting and pupils greet each others differences
with interest and acceptance.
An important point emerging from discussions with teachers was
that in the integrated sector RE is based on the premise that
children need to feel sure of their own tradition before they
can share this tradition with others. For some teachers this added
an additional impetus for integrated schools to ensure that each
child is well-acquainted with their own religious background and
The extent to which RE may contribute to pupil development and
the wider curriculum was perceived to be largely dependent on
the respect and support accorded the subject by the senior management
in individual schools. Many RE teachers felt that the subject
had more to offer but two or three periods a week was limiting,
"Given respect, there are many areas of the curriculum
which the RE teacher can broach and deal with quite effectively".
Some teachers acknowledged a definite improvement in the status
of the subject. They suggested that this may be because schools
are discovering that more and more "outside issues"
are creeping into the classroom and teachers are increasingly
pressed to repond to these. One teacher concluded, "RE
is the Cinderella subject, but it seems it's now perhaps getting
read)' for the ball".
Personal and Social Education
Personal and Social Education (PSE) was widely recognised as strongly
values-oriented. Teachers in many areas of study described the
content of PSE as "heavily value-based", commenting
on the contribution it could potentially make towards the affective
and behavioural development of pupils. The notion of 'development'
was prominent in many discussions, as teachers commented on opportunities
for "moral development", "emotional development"
and "personal and social" development. When pressed
to offer a more detailed analysis of these terms some teachers
acknowledged that they would have difficulty since they often
used the terms interchangeably. Whilst such descriptors are used
widely it appears that teachers have had limited opportunity to
unravel or discuss the distinctions and nuances of the terms.
Values and attitudes involved in PSE
- Teachers indicated that many facets of PSE addressed values, such
as personal attitudes and beliefs, self-knowledge, interpersonal
relationships and decision-making. PSE, according to teachers
gives pupils the opportunity to leave the usual knowledge-based,
intellectual dimension of the curriculum to one side and to concentrate
on their "social, personal, moral, sexual and emotional
selves ". Teachers pointed out that in this sense PSE
is unique, allowing pupils of all abilities to develop and achieve.
They also drew attention to opportunities to examine cultural
values, giving examples of where teachers could consider the concepts
of identity and tradition which encourages pupils to develop an
empathic understanding of other views and beliefs.
Learning in partnership
- The controversial and sensitive nature of many of the issues
encountered in PSE had prompted many teachers to adopt teaching
approaches which facilitate collaboration and joint-participation
of teachers and pupils. Several teachers spoke of aiming to achieve
"a sense of equal status between teacher and class"
so that pupils might develop a strong sense of ownership and partnership
about their own learning. For this approach to be successful teachers
recognised that they had to be prepared to "share, perhaps
even expose a part of their inner selves" and to "trust
and invest some faith in the class".
PSE as 'education for life'
- Teachers commented that in common with RE, PSE is a form of
"life education ", that is, education which will
potentially inform and guide pupils in their decisions, opinions
and behaviour for the rest of their lives. From this perspective,
PSE was defined as an essentially "pragmatic" subject
- guiding, preparing, training, and equipping pupils to engage
effectively in inter-personal relationships and to "participate
actively in daily living ". Teachers went on to refer
to the many diverse pressures which exist in modern society and
to the concerns that pupils will grow up to function in this society
at an unthinking and perfunctory level. Equipping pupils with
the knowledge and skills to implement thinking and decision-making
processes and encouraging them to form attitudes and identify
their values at this stage of their lives, was perceived by teachers
to be a positive and effective means of ensuring that pupils would
develop into empowered and participating citizens.
Perceptions of PSE
- Teachers' opinions and perceptions of PSE were varied. In
secondary schools where PSE was an integral part of the timetable,
PSE teachers themselves were in most cases enthusiastic and very
positive in their assessment of the subject and the valuable benefits
and opportunities it provided in promoting "non-intellectual"
aspects of pupil development. Most secondary teachers acknowledged
that the subject "doubtlessly does some good" while
a few were less enthusiastic suggesting that it "gives
the less able ones hope of getting at least one GCSE".
- There was an impression conveyed by some grammar school teachers
that PSE was a rather lightweight subject, with little intellectual
value. Within the broader picture of academic achievement and
accreditation the subject was perceived as "not a lot
of use ". One or two treated the subject with some contempt,
commenting that it was "really a two-bit secondary subject".
These views however did not reflect the majority of opinion.
Most teachers (grammar and secondary) commented that while they
knew little about the content of PSE, it made an important contribution
to the school timetable in terms of "whole child development".
- As with RE, teachers saw PSE as covering those "social
", "sensitive ", "difficult",
"additional ", "controversial" aspects
of their subjects which some preferred to "skim over"
or "leave to the side". In this way, PSE
was perceived as also "filling the gaps ". Significantly,
teachers commented on a disparity between recent messages from
the government for a more emphasis on personal, social and moral
education and the reality in most schools that the formal programme
of study for PSE is only afforded one or two periods a week on
PSE teachers expressed a concern that PSE was not more readily
recognised and accepted by teachers and senior managers in grammar
and secondary schools. While they felt the subject had "gained
some ground" there was still a long way to go. A teacher
summarised her feelings by commenting,
I think it's rather sad and shortsighted that education in
our society seems to be confined to the development of a fairly
narrow knowledge base. We need to reconsider what our pupils really
need once they leave the security and familiarity of the school.
The Cross Curricular Themes
Throughout interviews, respondents were asked to consider where
and how values featured through the Cross-Curricular Themes (CCTs),
and where appropriate, to identify how these impinged upon the
various subjects which make up the Formal Curriculum. From teachers'
responses, it became evident that several of the cross-curricular
Themes were more prominent in their minds than others. Education
for Mutual Understanding (EMU) was the most commonly mentioned
CCT, followed by Cultural Heritage and Information Technology,
(though the latter was mentioned much less frequently). While
most teachers were confident providing evidence of how the themes
permeated through the programmes of study, fewer teachers were
able to frame concrete, practical examples of how aspects of the
themes might actually be explored with pupils.
A concern regularly intimated by teachers, was that the introduction
or inclusion of the cross-curricular themes in some areas of the
curriculum and at some stages in teaching was artificial and forced.
Respondents commented that the implementation of the themes then
became nothing more than a "tick box exercise" where
teachers placed a "tick" against a theme each time it
was featured in their teaching These perceptions are corroborated
in the recent cohort study of the Northern Ireland Curriculum
where teachers' dissatisfaction with the cross-curricular themes
was focused very strongly on the "sense of artificiality
which the CCTs were perceived to impose on the 'natural' content
of individual subjects" (Harland 1995:48).
This theme tended to be raised by teachers of a small range of
subjects, namely HE, PE, PSE and Science. Teachers in primary
and post-primary schools referred to opportunities to highlight
the theme through topics concerned with personal and social development
and the environment. In terms of the values associated with personal
development, aspects of the PE programmes of study at all Key
Stages were perceived to contribute to the development of a positive
self-image and self-confidence in pupils. Teachers indicated how
play in the early years encouraged children to explore and experiment
with movement, and to develop a positive attitude towards physical
activity. Older pupils were focused on increasing their awareness
of their physical capabilities and the physiological and social
value of integrating regular exercise into their daily routines.
Some of the topics featured in the Science, PSE and HE programmes
of study relate directly to health issues, such as nutrition,
hygiene and human development. Respondents reflected again on
the formation of healthy and responsible attitudes in pupils towards
these issues, and on the development of self-confidence and a
Social development was measured through the formation and management
of healthy, social relationships with family, friends and others.
Opportunities were perceived in all the subjects mentioned to
further the development of positive social skills and attitudes.
These were highlighted by the ability of pupils to work effectively
with their peers, to form balanced judgements and to develop an
understanding and acceptance of others.
In recognising their relationships with, and responsibilities
to the environment, pupils are also encouraged to see how issues
and activities in these subject areas relate to the world outside,
and in developing a sense of social responsibility, to consider
what contribution they themselves might make to society.
Information Technology (IT)
The learning outcomes identified for this theme include,
a knowledge and understanding of appropriate uses of IT, with a
corresponding ability to apply it sensibly and with confidence...
and a recognition of the effects which IT can and will have on
themselves, other individuals, organisations and society.(NICC 1992)
Identifying values in this theme posed some problems for most
teachers. Responses tended to focus on the permeation of technology
through most aspects of life and the necessity for pupils to be
familiar and comfortable with various tools of information technology.
The computer was mentioned on many occasions, and respondents
highlighted the opportunities it provided for creative, communicative
and mathematical activities Other perspectives considered the
impact of information technology on individuals and society and
the responsibility which accompanied the widespread employment
of various IT tools.
One concern expressed by teachers was the increasingly technocratic
nature of the curriculum and the perception of a potential shift
away from human values, and the value of the individual. One teacher
commented that as a society, we tend to create what is either
beautiful or useful, and that as human advancement pushes on through
technology and science, we are being given ever clearer indications
of what is considered to be of worth and of value.
Economic Awareness aims
to develop in young people the ability
to participate effectively as confident consumers, producers and
citizens. (NICC 1992)
This theme was mentioned in connection with subjects under the
Environment and Society area of study and on several occasions
Mathematics. Teachers emphasised the value of pupils having a
good working knowledge of this area in order to be able to make
balanced and informed judgements, and to discern what were appropriate
actions in various situations. Teachers also commented on how
pupils might be empowered to use relevant knowledge and to investigate
issues which could have implications for the personal, social
and economic welfare of individuals, communities and the wider
The concept of careers education is based on a belief that
should be enabled to shape and direct the course of their lives
as autonomous and responsible members of society, in order both
to enhance the quality of personal life and contribution to the
common good. (NICC 1992)
Several Careers teachers were interviewed as part of the research,
and they commented quite extensively on the potential benefits
of this cross-curricular theme in pupil development. Careers studies
undertaken in the context of any subject were perceived to promote
and enhance pupils' knowledge and understanding of themselves.
Teachers indicated how, in considering further education or employment,
pupils undertake a valuable "inventory of their characteristics,
skills and strengths". Opportunities are afforded pupils
to identify and catalogue their personal qualities, strengths,
interests, potential, abilities and values - to think essentially
about who they are. Teachers felt that promoting self-awareness
helped pupils to consider the place they occupied in their class
and school, and in their circle of friends, family and society.
As well as gaining essential knowledge and skills though selected
subjects, it was noted that pupils were also investigating appropriate
personal skills and qualities and making important choices and
Teachers felt that self-awareness was promoted through all subjects
to some degree, though English, HE, PSE, and RE appeared to offer
more opportunities to pursue this objective. English teachers
intimated how the use of language, and the development of telephone
and interview techniques also contributed to Careers Education.
RE was perceived to offer opportunities for the development of
self-awareness and to deal with issues related to lifestyle and
ambition. Many teachers felt they complemented the work of the
careers teachers, by offering additional information relating
to subjects, and where it was possible, and appropriate qualifications
and career descriptions.
One issue raised by many teachers, concerned pupils' transition
from school to further education or employment - as they described
it the "wider world." Individuals commented how
the values upheld and transmitted within the school walls often
contrasted markedly with those in further educational establishments,
and in the workplace. Some concern was expressed that schools
rarely acknowledged this, and offered only minimal preparation
for the transition into the "wider world".
"It's a totally different ball game out there.
Sometimes I think teachers and schools forget that they communicate
a set of values which are not always readily applicable or transferable
to the bigger world of work and life.
Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU) and Cultural Heritage
Respondents tended to address these two themes as one (under the
term EMU), either because they recognised the two as being "conjoined",
or because EMU was perceived to have assimilated or "swallowed"
Cultural Heritage. It became evident at an early stage during
interviews, that many teachers perceived EMU as being the quintessential
expression of values within the curriculum. When discussing the
values underpinning school life or specific subjects, respondents
frequently mentioned EMU, and many teachers' understanding of
the concept of values seemed to stem from their knowledge and
practice of this theme.
The objectives of EMU were referred to, either in part or in their
entirety by a considerable number of respondents as they considered
values in the curriculum. In articulating values perceived in
activities and projects, teachers' responses were often informed
by the objective which states that pupils should be enabled to;
learn to respect and value themselves and others; to appreciate
the interdependence of people within society; to know about and
understand what is shared as well as what is different about their
cultural traditions; and to appreciate how conflict may be handled
in non-violent ways. (Smith 1994)
Teachers spoke of such experiences;
helping pupils to gain a greater knowledge of themselves
&developing less polarised views than their parents;
improving teacher and school links with other schools
encouraging children to discover and find out the truth
about cultural traditions;
"helping pupils to discern what is important to them
- what they value and;
When EMU was discussed in the formal curriculum, that is through
the subject areas, teachers tended to focus on the Creative and
Expressive subjects and English, History, HE, PSE and RE. Areas
which were highlighted, included interpersonal contact and associated
issues, studies of personal, social and cultural identity, and
opportunities and positive effects of class discussions and debates.
Several respondents made references to EMU being a focus in RE,providing
a"moral conscience of the school." (In response
to this, many RE teachers said that they had "backed off"
from EMU activities and the "EMU image", anxious
that they would not personify the impact and practice of the theme
within the school). As indicated earlier some teachers were concerned
that the inclusion of EMU in some areas was contrived, and the
links between topics and the theme at times tenuous. Some teachers
also found it difficult to identify tangible links between the
theme and their subject, and a few said they "just consider
EMU if it happens incidentally."
EMU in Practice
Since teachers identified EMU as a discernible values thread,
or as a few suggested, the "present practice of values"
in the curriculum, it may be useful to briefly highlight what
appeared to be the prevailing views and perceptions of the theme.
Firstly, there was some considerable variation in the recognition
and definition of the theme, and a lack of cohesion in implementation
in some schools. Many teachers communicated an understanding of,
and described their approach to EMU, in terms extending beyond
the generation of initial contact between Catholic and Protestant
pupils, (primarily through the Cross-Community Contact Scheme),
though this was referred to by many. There were references made
to European studies and opportunities for pupils to participate
in projects and exchanges with their European counterparts. Several
teachers also described EMU activities which had been undertaken
by arranging visits and outings with elderly people and children
with special needs, though the latter was a less common occurrence
because of insurance issues, parental opinion and the logistics
of arranging visits. It was interesting that some teachers found
a European dimension to a school's EMU programme was often more
easily established and maintained than contact with a nearby school.
A few teachers also communicated a greater enthusiasm about European
activities than those organised with local schools.
A small number of teachers referred to"other colleagues"
who were "doing 30 minutes of EMU a week," or
who had dismissed it altogether, arguing that "there just
isn't time to worry about that as well." Some other teachers
commented on the tendancy for schools to undertake detailed reviews
of the inclusion of EMU throughout the curriculum, in order to
fulfil the requirements of the DENI Inspectorate, and then to
"shove these reports and implementation strategies in
a drawer and forget about them". Teachers also commented
on the crucial influence of senior management on the emphasis
given to EMU and the success of the theme in the school. The personality
and experience of a school's EMU co-ordinator and the level of
support given to her by senior staff was also an important influence
on the impact of EMU across the curriculum and through the school.
One EMU co-ordinator commented,
EMU in our school is
like Chinese Whispers. From the time of training to the drafting
of a school policy to actual practice, EMU is often barely recognisable.
Some teachers commented that its aims and objectives gave EMU a strong identity
and that for some schools this was
"out of kilter". On the
other hand, one teacher commented that since the objectives
so closely resembled the school's objectives, it was easy at times
to "let it all go by default." Others commented
that they still did not feel confident handling the theme, that
they felt they were being encouraged to "sell" something,
or that the requirements of the theme exceeded the remit of the
teacher's role. The fact that EMU had been imposed through statutory
orders still evoked some anger and resentment from a few teachers.
Most teachers expressed some degree of commitment to promoting
and developing EMU in their subject area and school. Some indicated
examples of where they felt teachers had failed to harness the
full potential of EMU or as one teacher commented, "missed
the point." References were made to schools who initiated
contact through the Cross Community Contact scheme and had then
not organised appropriate follow-up activities.
it's just not enough
to load two sets of kids on a bus and let them do their own thing
at the Icebowl. It takes a lot of planning and thinking.
A more detailed examination of teachers' perceptions of EMU and its
introduction to the statutory curriculum in Northern Ireland is provided by
a recent report (Smith and Robinson, 1990).
EMU as a "ready-made" values dimension
Many of the teachers interviewed commented on the "ready-made"
nature of the values underpinning EMU, and what they perceived
as a widespread acceptance of these within the education system.
Based on these perceptions of relevance and acceptability, quite
a number of teachers demonstrated moderate to strong support for
a values module or a values cross-curricular theme based on a
range of aims and objectives of EMU. This support was precluded
by several positive and negative observations.
Firstly, it was suggested that by "shaking out the values"
and adapting EMU, a new theme would be free of many of the
negative connotations and suspicion surrounding EMU. It was felt
that the perceived political dimensions would also be erased to
a large extent. Teachers spoke too of a "tiredness"
associated with EMU and several commented on the barrage of intiatives,
government directives, and guidance materials, which had left
them rather weary. Several respondents thought that the introduction
of a values theme would shift teachers' thinking towards more
universal concerns such as citizenship, social justice and human
rights issues, and offer more materials and guidance for exploring
and discussing controversial issues. This would lead to an "opening
up" and broadening out of the conceptual framework of
On the negative side, teachers warned that the introduction of
"something new or different" would not be greeted
enthusiastically by teachers who already felt over-burdened and
under pressure. For this reason, a cross-curricular theme relating
to values seemed more acceptable than a separate module or subject
area. Some respondents felt there was an ambiguity associated
with a theme relating explicitly to values, and that teachers
might face some difficulties attempting to "tie down"
what on the surface would seem a rather nebulous concept.
A few teachers also suggested that it was not entirely necessary
to legislate for value dimensions in the curriculum, as values
were already an integral part of teachers' daily practice, and
they simply did"not have time to look for them".
One individual commented, "the good teacher is already
doing it". Taking this a stage further, there was a concern
that the inclusion and implementation of a values theme would
be difficult to monitor and control, leaving teachers a free rein
in their management and practice. Another comment expressed concern
regarding the articulation of the intended outcomes of a values
theme, and the identification of suitable methods for assessing
its impact and effects on pupils.
One issue which teachers were almost unanimous in their responses
to, was the need for more appropriate pre- and in-service training
for the delivery of EMU and any value-related themes. Many individuals
expressed a desire for more opportunities to engage in personal
development. They also pointed to a need for greater provision
of guidance and materials so that they might be equipped with
the confidence and knowledge to confront and explore affective
and controversial issues.
EMU, as intimated earlier, was perceived by many teachers as a
frame of reference for the values which currently underpin the
curriculum. Many of them felt that the most profitable way to
move forward was to build on the values, and activities already
in place from the permeation and implementation of EMU throughout
the Northern Ireland Curriculum.
The relevance of the cross-curricular themes
The perception, by a number of teachers, that the cross-curricular
themes were in some cases "intrusive", "confusing",
"additional", and "extra", clearly
suggested that they were not a priority or of significant importance
to teachers. These comments were also indicative of a limited
permeation of the themes throughout the curriculum. While many
respondents did consider aspects of the themes important because
"they cover some areas which are outside of the timetabled
subjects," teachers in some subjects did not regard them
as integral or essential components of a pupil's educational experience.
In pursuing further explication of this perspective, teachers
were asked what their aspirations were for each pupil leaving
school, or at a more fundamental level, what they were aiming
Their responses in the first instance tended to centre around
objectives which correlated with individual subjects. For example,
one teacher stated that his objective was to "equip pupils
with scientific knowledge and methodical, investigative skills,"
and an English teacher's response was to "empower
pupils with effective language and communication skills."
Teachers in other subject areas submitted similar knowledge or
skills based objectives. When asked to consider what schools should
be aiming to produce, the majority of responses focused first
and foremost on the intellectual capabilities of pupils. "An
educated person" or "an intelligent, knowledgeable
individual" were two responses. Only a few individuals
commented on the development of personal qualities in pupils.
These perceptions provided further evidence of the apparent imbalance
in the curriculum towards cognitive and knowledge based areas
and dimensions. Teachers did not appear sufficiently convinced
or motivated to spend further time on or give greater emphasis
to the cross-curricular themes, when as they said themselves,
pressure is on other areas of the curriculum. We can't waste time
with the themes - they're not what's important to headmasters,
parents and pupils.
Paralleled with these perspectives however, teachers expressed
a willingness to promote and extend their delivery of the themes
through their subject areas and beyond. This willingness was conditional
however, on a "slackening" in the workload and
a "let-up" in pressure, and on a changing emphasis
in the Formal Curriculum.
A number of general conclusions may be drawn from teachers' perceptions of values in
the Formal curriculum.
A compartmentalised perspective
Throughout the interviews, many teachers' perceptions of the Formal
curriculum were presented from a subject oriented perspective.
This approach was applied not only to their understanding of the
curriculum, but also to perceptions of their own role in the school
and the wider education system. Teachers repeatedly indicated,
implicitly or explicitly, that they existed in a kind of "subject
bubble" and that they engaged in relatively little collaborative
contact with their colleagues, to either identify areas of overlap
or commonality between subjects. Indeed a few individuals' responses
suggested that to attempt any cross-curricular study or interdepartmental
projects would connote the complete antithesis of good teaching
practice. In the Northern Ireland Cohort Study, teachers indicated
that they had "deliberately refrained from integrating material
from other subjects, in order to avoid confusing pupils"
(Harland 1995:60). Some individuals therefore admitted that they
were aware of opportunities for potential overlap, but identified
collaborative work as inappropriate, or expressed a lack of confidence
or expertise in adopting this pedagogical approach. One or two
teachers commented "I have enough problems keeping abreast
of my own subject area". Whitty, Rowe and Aggleton ratify
these findings in their report on subjects and themes in the curriculum,
when they comment,
Most teachers do not have an understanding
of what happens in other subject areas and indeed find it a considerable
challenge to keep up with developments in their own subject.
Findings in the Northern Ireland Curriculum Cohort Study also
corroborate these points, with references made to the "insularity
of certain subject departments" and teachers explaining this
in terms of "[defending] a subject's sense of identity"
Other reasons submitted for the lack of collaboration
include the perceived "stiffness" of a subject's own
curriculum, the "time problem" and the constraints of
"too many topics" in the curriculum (p.53). Research
into pupils' perceptions of the curriculum reinforces the image
of a "compartmentalised curriculum" and also points
to pupils' inability to discern links because it's "not in
the right boxes" (p.55).
From teachers' responses and reviews of the curriculum, it was
obvious that certain areas are prioritised. Teachers commented
that the timetabling and subject options offered to pupils clearly
indicated in most cases, an emphasis on the core subjects of English,
Maths and Science and a bias towards the accumulation of scientific
and technological knowledge and skills. Many teachers identified
without hesitation, areas which they felt were considered "valuable"
by senior management, parents, DENI and the wider society. A large
number of teachers engaged in Environment and Society, and the
Creative and Expressive areas of study complained that the increase
in the proportion of time allocated to Science subjects imposed
more limitations on their time, and in some cases left teachers
"struggling to get through everything." Others
commented on the narrow options which some pupils faced in choosing
subjects, having, at some stage to decide between "intellectual"
and cognitive based subjects and creative, "imaginative"
subjects. It was suggested that such a decision represented essentially
a choice between "academic" subjects and what
were widely judged as "practical", "expressive",
"minority" or "secondary" subjects.
When these perceptions of the curriculum were examined in greater
detail however, it emerged (at times more clearly than others),
that individual schools' thinking and the nature of it's values
strongly influenced what was deemed important and what was prioritised.
On some occasions these differences related to the type of school,
(that is primary, secondary, grammar, integrated, special, controlled
and maintained). At other times a school's own particular ethos
and values appeared to have a strong influence on what was prioritised
in the curriculum. As there were some limitations in gaining access
to schools during the research, it is difficult to comment accurately
or generally on this issue. Some indication of these priorities
may be found however, under the Hidden Curriculum.
Finding the Values Dimension
Teachers did make a connection
between Creative and Expressive subjects, PSE, HE and RE, and
a possible values dimension in the curriculum. The perception
and delivery of these subjects differed quite considerably in
grammar and secondary schools.
Teachers in secondary schools suggested there was a greater emphasis
on creative and expressive subjects and pinpointed examples of
Drama and Art techniques being implemented throughout the curriculum
subjects. They observed that affective-type strategies were "strongly
rejected by many grammar schools", who they felt regarded
such approaches as "secondary and second-rate."
In contrast, secondary teachers regarded Drama in particular,
with considerable enthusiasm, indicating its versatility and the
opportunities it afforded less able and less outgoing pupils to
participate in class.
In a similar vein, PSE and HE were also considered more important
in many secondary schools, and treated with a degree of disdain
by some grammar schools. Again, teachers in secondary schools
identified value in these subjects, providing a "point
of contact for weaker students" while also covering "issues
which are relevant and important to all pupils whatever their
abilities." A few grammar school teachers acknowledged
the value of PSE in a secondary school context, but criticised
the apparently arbitrary structures governing the content and
discussions in PSE and suggested it was "hardly practical
or useful in an academic environment", again reflecting
a distinctive learning and curriculum emphasis. According to most
teachers, RE seemed to have a notably higher status in most grammar
and secondary schools.
Strengthening a values dimension within the formal curriculum
Teachers were generally supportive of the importance of a values dimension
within the formal curriculum and constantly emphasised the importance of
"building into" what already exists in the curriculum. As outlined
earlier, many of the values inherent
in EMU and Cultural Heritage were considered as an appropriate starting point,
and the approaches employed and issues discussed in PSE, HE and RE give some
guidance in ascertaining how a values dimension might be developed in practice.
However teacher support was qualified by concerns that:
- the existing parameters for discourse in PSE, EMU and to a
lesser extent RE were rather loose and indistinct, and that greater
clarity and structure was required for a more widespread permeation
of values and value-related discussions;
- the existing association of PSE and RE with values and moral education
had already identified such issues as peripheral in many teachers' minds;
- lack of assessment or examination structures for the values
dimension would confer in many minds a lower status on the area;
- fuller integration of a values dimension into the formal curriculum
would necessitate a change in or need for additional pedagogical
- addressing values in the curriculum would necessitate some
knowledge of moral education and the philosophical debates surrounding this area,
and this would raise significant questions about the capacity of teacheres to take on the task.
Return to Publication Contents