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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
The Values in Education project was commissioned by the
Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and
Assessment (NICCEA) to be undertaken over a twelve month period
from February 1995 to January 1996. The aims of the project were
This report documents the findings from the research undertaken
into values in education within the Northern Ireland Curriculum
and in the wider educational context of the UK and Europe. The
report also presents some recommendations for further development
in this area.
- research existing approaches to values in education;
- generate specific 'profiles' of values initiatives in education;
- evaluate the current provision for values in education in
the Northern Ireland Curriculum.
It should be stated from the outset, that the original remit for
the project included two further objectives relating to "the
development of a mechanism to help schools review current provision
for values in education", and the "development of guidance
material on promoting values in education" for schools. For
many teachers the project represented their first encounter with
an explicit reference to values in the context of the curriculum
and as a way of looking at their own subject area. It became clear
that a significant amount of groundwork would need to be undertaken
within schools before any further instrument to help schools audit
provision could be developed. Any attempt to design such an instrument
at this time seemed rather premature.
It also became apparent at an early stage in the project that
the generation of guidance materials at this time would be inappropriate.
Such a move was perceived to be detrimental to securing teachers'
support for and commitment to the advancement and dissemination
of the values dimension within the education system. The reasons
for this will hopefully become clear from the feedback from teachers
presented later in this report. An over-riding factor however
were persistent feelings amongst many teachers of overload, pressure
and confusion as a result of "coming to terms with the requirements
of the Northern Ireland Curriculum".
Values and education - attempts at definition
The field of values and education has been the focus of study
by educationalists and researchers for some considerable time.
Much of this work has been located in Canada and the USA, though
during the last decade a significant amount of literature has
emerged in Europe (a selection of this literature is included
in the bibliography to this report). An investigation of values
and education covers a wide range of issues and this research
uncovered a comprehensive and diverse list of topics and materials.
In the international context, a European questionnaire survey
concerning values and education revealed some considerable breadth
and complexity in the many definitions of the term (Taylor 1993).
Responses to the questionnaire from different countries located
values within education using a number of descriptive terms. A
'values orientation' (which might refer to ethos and whole school
approaches) also referred to moral, religious, cultural, aesthetic,
democratic, national, personal, social and pastoral dimensions
as well as implications for teaching and learning processes.
Within the UK, researchers and educationists have identified similar
topics and issues, as well as curriculum subjects and cross-curricular
themes. However, with the exception of Scotland, 'Values in Education'
and 'Values Education' are not terms in common usage, but they
are generally understood to refer to a comparatively broad, generic
domain. This is reflected in the wide variety of research and
development projects and publications which make explicit reference
to values and values education or employ language synonymous with
this area, while also focusing on content-related areas of the
curriculum. The word 'values' is commonly considered a rather
ambiguous term, and educational writers and researchers have therefore
substituted other terms such as attitudes, beliefs, ideals
and principles. Indeed these terms are often used interchangeably
and this was corroborated by the language used by teachers and
educationists in interviews. Individuals frequently expressed
some discomfort using 'values' type words, and discussions often
took place with perhaps little or no specific reference to these
terms, although the subject matter was clearly value-laden. Similarly,
some writers have been reluctant to categorise their work under
a "values" heading (McPhail 1972; Taylor 1994), and
others have identified possible advantages of using non-explicit
'values' type words.
Further discussion and debate has centred on the use of 'the preposition'
in that some distinction has been made between 'Values Education'
and 'Values in Education' (Barr 1995; Pickard 1995; SCCC
1991). Values Education is generally understood as an individual
element of school life or the curriculum, involving the examination
and communication of an explicit set of values. Some educationists
have expressed concern that values are perceived as a separate
domain, as "another subject" to be included in the curriculum
or simply as moral education. 'Values in Education' comprises
a more comprehensive set of issues and activities, located throughout
the whole school and wider education system. Every aspect of school
life may be addressed through this definition; relationships,
school ethos, discipline and behaviour. Most literature and curriculum
materials generated in the values field tend not to dwell on the
debate over the preposition, attending instead to the definition
and perceptions of values within concrete educational settings.
In order to avoid confusion with other values projects and activities,
this report will refer to this project as Values in Education
(NI), and to the general values area as values and education.
It is worth noting the debate and confusion surrounding the distinction
between values education and moral education. Writers have addressed
this issue in different contexts (Berkowitz 1995; Haldane 1986;
McLaughlin 1995; Wilson 1990). Moral education tends to focus
upon principles of behaviour, relating to the distinction between
right and wrong. Values education embraces morals along with principles,
attitudes and ideals, but does not refer quite so directly to
behaviour, and is not always associated with apparently unequivocal
judgements of right and wrong (a common characteristic of moral
In specific terms, proponents of values education give it a broader
definition than moral education, arguing that it incorporates
an eclectic range of interests, as well as having religious and
Perceptions of values and education
A review of current literature and conversations with teachers
and others engaged in education, revealed a widespread acknowledgement
that all educational activity is value-laden. Many individuals
suggested that every comment, decision or action reflects or communicates
some value or values, and that values permeate or "impregnate"
the educational process (Bottery 1990:2; Taylor 1993:85; Tomlinson
and Quinton 1986:7-8).
A number of bodies with statutory responsibility for education
have demonstrated their agreement with the pervasive nature of
values by referring to the role of values within the school in
the production of discussion and guidance materials.
The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority's (SCAA) discussion
paper on Spiritual and Moral Development contains many
references to values, suggesting that schools draw up their own
values statement outlining what values the school "intends
to promote", and which values it "intends to demonstrate
through all aspects of its life". The document describes
values as "inherent in teaching", "at the heart
of" and "underpinning" important aspects of school
life such as expectations, rules and community (SCAA 1995).
The Scottish Consultative Council for the Curriculum (SCCC) has
published a discussion document entitled Values in Education
which outlines a "sense of the values which it seeks to promote"
(SCCC 1991). The document was then offered to schools for discussion
and action. The SCCC catalogue of educational publications and
materials contains a section entitled Values, Climate and Ethos,
again illustrating the Council's recognition of, and commitment
to stimulating discussion and action in Values in Education.
In Northern Ireland, explicit consideration has been given to
Values in Education by the Department of Education for Northern
Ireland (DENI) in its strategic plan, which outlines the Department's
priorities for education in the years leading up to the end of
the century. One of the strategic aims referred to in the section
entitled 'Learning for Life' is the "[nurturing] of moral
values" and "respect for the worth of all individuals".
The Values in Education (NI) project has been undertaken
as part of NICCEA's remit, to help inform and guide policy and
decision-making on matters related to the curriculum. The five
year period from 1996 - 2001 has been earmarked as a period of
planning and preparation to identify a vision for education in
Northern Ireland for the new millennium. This stage of the project
represents the beginning of a process to provide greater clarification
of the values in and through the Northern Ireland Curriculum.
It also provides the starting point for a further, developmental
phase which investigates how values in education might be given
more prominence within schools in a number of practical ways.
Outline of the report
The remainder of this report represents the outcomes from the
first year of the Values in Education (NI) project.
Chapter 2 provides an outline of the methodology which was used to collate
data and information during 1995. The remaining chapters are organised
in the following way.
Chapter 3 presents a review of initiatives in values and education
within Europe, the UK, and Northern Ireland. Included in this
review are details of organisations, bodies and individuals engaged
in activities which are widely recognised as part of the values
and education field (brief summaries of additional organisations
and projects are also provided in appendix 2).
Chapters 4, 5 and 6 represent a framework for understanding the
research findings from this project. During 1995 more than 60
teachers, principals, educationists and education advisers were
interviewed about a range of topics related to education and values.
Their responses are interpreted and presented under the headings
for these three chapters:
Chapter 7 is a summary and presents some recommendations
for the further development of Values in Education in Northern
- Values and the Formal Curriculum
- Values and the Informal Curriculum
- Values and the Hidden Curriculum
The Bibliography is an extensive list of publications related
to the area of values and education. References include books,
articles, journals, newsletters, curriculum materials and resources
(including videos), guidance materials and discussion papers.
An index to the report is also provided.
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