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'Values in Education in Northern Ireland' by Alison Montgomery and Alan Smith - Summary

[Key_Events] Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]

Text: Alan Smith and Alison Montgomery ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna



Alison Montgomery and Alan Smith

Summary of a report published by the
Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum,
Examinations and Assessment.

ISBN 1 85678 869 5

This report was commissioned by the Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) to identify current initiatives and approaches to values education; to investigate teachers' perceptions of values within the Northern Ireland Curriculum; and to suggest possible ways in which the development of a values dimension might inform the next review of the Northern Ireland Curriculum in the year 2001. The report is summarised below under three main headings:

Current values initiatives

This element of the report provides:

  • a description of different education initiatives concerning values and education in Europe, the UK and Northern Ireland (pages 13-32);

  • a comprehensive list of organisations involved in values education or concerned with values in education (appendix 3, pages 127-142);

  • an extensive bibliography of relevant literature (pages 145-162).

The main points arising from this part of the investigation are:

i.The emphasis on values in education in the UK has been effected mainly by a range of voluntary agencies which have sought to influence statutory education bodies. Many of these organisations have come together under the umbrella of a recently-established Values Education Council.
ii. Scotland is an exception in that the Scottish Consultative Council for the Curriculum (SCCC) has given this area considerable prominence in its mission statement and publications. The Gordon Cook Foundation (also based in Scotland) has played a significant role in funding the work of voluntary, statutory and academic agencies in this area.
iii. Recent political debate in England has raised questions about the role of education in relation to a perceived moral decline within society and greater attention is currently being given to this area by statutory bodies. The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) produced a discussion paper on the spiritual and moral development of young people in July 1996 and set up the National Forum for Values in Education and the Community to consult widely on the degree of consensus concerning the values which schools might promote. Statements from the Secretary of State for Education suggest that some consideration is being given to the introduction of specific programmes for Citizenship and/or Social and Moral Education to the statutory curriculum.
iv. The review of current initiatives as part of this study revealed a variety of approaches including philosophical studies, curriculum guidance and resources, publications directed towards teachers many with examples of 'good practice', training materials and numerous research and development projects, reports and articles. Overall these represent a substantial, but largely disparate body of knowledge and experience.
v. The main frustration for those working within this area appears to be how this body of knowledge and practice can be drawn together in a coherent way and made available to pupils. This raises questions about the lack of integration between the approaches developed by individual projects and the framework for the Northern Ireland Curriculum; and about the capacity of teachers to integrate such approaches into their teaching in a routine and practical way.
vi. Progress in this area is complicated by an ideological rift. It is characterised by a distinction between the use of the term Values Education which many take to mean a form of Moral Education that advocates the teaching of a prescribed or explicit moral code, and Values in Education which may be associated with moral enquiry but also refers to a broader set of concerns such as school ethos, discipline and relationships within the school.

Teacher perspectives on values within the NI Curriculum

These sections of the report are based on a series of interviews involving more than 60 teachers, Principals and education Advisers and provide a detailed account of their perceptions of values under the following headings:

  • the formal curriculum in terms of Areas of Study (pages 33-72) and Cross Curricular Themes (pages 72-80);

  • the informal curriculum in terms of aspects of school life such as extra-curricular activities, school assemblies, school policies and pastoral care (pages 85-98);

  • the hidden curriculum in terms of school ethos, the organisation of learning and various relationships within the school (pages 99-114).

The main points to emerge were as follows:

i. The research confirmed that most teachers recognise that values are inherent in the formal, informal and hidden curriculum, however, few teachers could identify how an explicit consideration of values informs their daily preparation for teaching.
ii. The majority of teachers were concerned that any attempts to give greater prominence to values in education should be done through the existing curriculum framework and not become an added imposition.
iii. The research identified teachers' concerns about an over-emphasis on cognitive dimensions of the curriculum and a recognition that the social and emotional development of young people are important elements of the education process which merit more considered attention.
iv. The research identified a suspicion on the part of some teachers that the development of values in education might mean that they are asked to promote a prescribed code of moral behaviour. There is deep resistance to such an approach amongst many teachers. It will therefore be important to provide clear guidance which distinguishes between moral education and broader approaches involving values clarification and enquiry.

Strengthening values within curriculum

Whilst there has not been an explicit or statutory approach to values in education in Northern Ireland, the research identified an awareness amongst teachers of many value-related issues which arise through their teaching of the formal curriculum and cross curricular themes. It also became clear that values have a considerable influence in determining many characteristics of school life including the overall ethos and nature of relationships within the school. A common criticism from teachers is that the process and pace of Education Reform has led to a preoccupation with curriculum content and the cognitive development of pupils to the detriment of concerns for the personal, social, moral and emotional development of young people. It is therefore unsurprising that few teachers could state that they had given considered thought and reflection to the values dimension of their teaching in recent years. Despite this, the vast majority of teachers recognised the critical importance of a broad and balanced education and seemed supportive of the notion that the area of values should receive more attention.

The outcomes of this investigation suggest that, in order to strengthen the values dimension of the curriculum, further developments need to take place in the following areas:

1. Better definition of the field
The area of values and their influence on the education process is conceptually complex. Whilst there is a broad body of practice, teachers will need support to navigate their way around the variety of approaches which are available. In particular, the distinction between moral education and moral enquiry needs careful consideration.
Presently the debate in Britain seems to be leading towards the emergence of a curriculum area concerned with Social and Moral Education with a strong emphasis on Citizenship. In the Republic of Ireland the area is most strongly focused through the recent introduction of Civic, Social and Political Education. Neither seem to define the area precisely in terms of Northern Ireland needs which appear to relate more to areas of 'personal and social development' and specific concerns that there may be a need for some form of 'political education' or 'education for democratic citizenship.
It is clear that more widespread debate and discussion will be necessary over the coming years for the area to become better defined. This will become increasingly important as the system approaches the next curriculum review in 2001.
2. Better integration within the curriculum
One of the most common frustrations for teachers in relation to the values dimension is a perceived lack of integrity with existing curriculum frameworks. For many teachers they simply do not see how or where this work can be incorporated into their teaching. Assuming it will be possible to define the area more precisely a number of strategies for better integration into the curriculum exist:
i. infusion - this approach is based on the idea that the values inherent in the teaching of every subject are given more conscious attention and a consideration of values is brought to the forefront of the teaching process. Such an approach would necessitate a major reconstruction of every subject in the curriculum, but its virtue would be the highest possible degree of integrity between curriculum subjects and a concern for values. An example of this approach is the Nuffield curriculum in Design and Technology.
ii. permeation - this approach seeks to influence the attention given to values across the range of subject areas. It already exists to the extent that the NI Curriculum has six cross curricular themes. Its weakness is that individual teachers do not necessarily identify with a responsibility to promote the area and recent research has questioned the visibility of cross curricular themes at classroom level. Of the current themes, Education for Mutual Understanding and Health Education would seem to be most closely identified with a values dimension, however it may be confusing to concentrate a values dimension through a mechanism that has questionable impact. For the same reason, teachers did not respond positively to the notion of a new cross curricular theme related specifically to values education.
iii. a timetabled programme - this approach would seek to strengthen the values dimension through an already existing subject, such as Religious Education, or develop a separate programme of study which would be introduced into the timetabled curriculum. Many teachers felt that the former approach already existed but was limited by the extent to which it concentrated solely on a particular set of Christian values and also had the disadvantage that it enabled other teachers to absolve themselves from responsibility for the work. The development of a new programme within the school timetable raised anxieties about the space for such work within an already crowded timetable and who would teach the programme. However, it was widely accepted that the main advantage would be the potential impact of recognised space for the work to take place.
3. Raising awareness at whole school level
It is clear that the pervasive nature of values extends beyond the formal curriculum. This study has highlighted aspects of the informal and hidden curriculum which may have significant influence in determining the learning environment. Such aspects include the values communicated through extra-curricular activities, school assemblies, discipline and pastoral policies, the physical environment and the nature of relationships within the school. It is clear that any approach through the formal curriculum needs to be complemented by an awareness of the values communicated by the school by less visible factors. Raising awareness at this level will necessarily involve staff development on issues related to values which affect the whole school.
4. Assessment
Many teachers drew attention to the low status which might be conferred on this area of work because it is not assessed formally. However, opinion on evaluation and assessment seems divided and there are also those who claim that it is inappropriate to assess children's development in this area. An important distinction needs to be made between the actual values which young people hold and any assessment of young people's learning about values. There was a broad consensus that the teacher has a responsibility to raise pupils' awareness about the range of values within society, but this does not confer a moral authority to make judgements about the values held by individual pupils. Some teachers thought it should be possible to assess the quality of pupils' learning, for example through continuous assessment or project work.
5. Personal and professional development of teachers
Of necessity, in recent years, teachers have been preoccupied with Education Reform and the content of new Programmes of Study. This has left little opportunity for reflection upon values and how they are communicated through the education process. Irrespective of how an engagement with values can be strengthened through the curriculum, any strategy will only succeed to the extent that measures are put in place to support teachers' capacity to undertake the work. In practice this means creating more opportunities for teachers to reflect on their own values and the implications for their professional role as a teacher. This needs to be a recurring experience which takes place at succeeding stages throughout a teacher's career. Presently this would mean that specific attention would need to be given to values in professional development programmes for teachers at the following levels:
  • initial teacher training
  • induction during the initial years of teaching
  • early in-service and professional development
  • advanced professional development (including research studies)
  • senior management training.


A developmental approach

The position of values within the debate about Social and Moral Education and Citizenship is still taking place in Britain. Within the Republic of Ireland a similar debate has been resolved through the introduction of Civic, Social and Political Education into the formal curriculum. Whilst elements from both jurisdictions may inform discussions about values in relation to the curriculum, it is clear that there are concerns distinctive to Northern Ireland. It is therefore recommended that a developmental approach is adopted for this work leading up the next review of the Northern Ireland Curriculum in 2001. In practice this means using the intervening years to address many of the issues mentioned above. In essence it would mean taking a holistic view of what will be required to raise awareness of and provide greater prominence for a consideration of values as an integral part of the curriculum.

In practice it is recommended that a significant period of further development work within the system takes place on three broad fronts:
1.Better curricular definition of the area needs to be undertaken in close consultation with practitioners. An inclusive approach should be adopted. Initiatives to integrate a values dimension within individual subjects should be encouraged; the values dimension to cross-curricular themes should be strengthened; and there should be some exploration of a specific programme which might become incorporated into the curriculum at a future date.
2. Development of pilot programmes should be undertaken so that the work is grounded in practice. The period 1997-98 offers an opportunity for resource development and planning for pilot programmes at each Key Stage which could be tested over three school years (1998-99, 1999-00 and 2000-01). The system would then be better placed to decide where this work sits within the curriculum as part of the Northern Ireland Curriculum Review in 2001.
3. Personal and professional development of teachers. The capacity of teachers to integrate a values dimension into their teaching may prove to be one of the most important factors in determining the impact of incorporating this work into the Northern Ireland Curriculum. It will therefore be essential to influence the prominence and attention which is given to values as part of the education process at all training and professional development levels (including initial teacher training, induction, in-service, advanced professional development studies and senior management training). The possibilities for practical programmes should be discussed with providers at all these levels.

Copies of the complete report (price £10) are available from:

School of Education
University of Ulster
Coleraine BT52 lSA
Northern Ireland
Tel: 01265-324202 Fax: 01265-324918 Email:

Publication Contents

CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.

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