CAIN: Issues: Education: Statement by Catherine Coxhead at launch of 'Values in Education in Northern Ireland'

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Speech by Catherine Coxhead (CCEA) at Launch of 'Values in Education in Northern Ireland'

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Text: Catherine Coxhead ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
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The following is the text of speech by Catherine Coxhead, Chief Executive Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA), 12 May 1997.

Values in Education in Northern Ireland Launch:

I am very pleased to receive from the authors, Or. Alan Smith and Alison Montgomery, this timely research report which provides us with two sets of very valuable insights:

  • firstly, a comprehensive insight into the wide range of organisations and activities in the field of Values Education in Great Britain and Europe; and

  • secondly, a unique and fascinating insight into the perceptions of teachers and educators about the place and importance of Values Education in Northern Ireland schools.

When we commissioned this research back in 1994 we could not have foreseen that the findings of the research would coincide with:

a time when concern about these important issues has become the subject of debate, not only within education but within society itself;
a time, as we approach the millennium, with a new government in place ,when education, education, education is at the top of the political agenda; and
a time when a moratorium on change to the statutory curriculum provides a breathing space and an opportunity for all of us in education to think about the challenges which will face our young people and society in the 21st century.

It is a time therefore to reflect upon whether the curriculum we have in place is adequate to meet those challenges.

In fact, the research clearly suggests that the curriculum is not measuring up to the challenge of promoting the spiritual, moral, emotional and cultural development of pupils as well as it seems to do in relation to their intellectual and physical development. Teachers are concerned that the present curriculum over-emphasises the cognitive development of pupils to the detriment of the development of attitudes and values and the general personal and social development of young people. The report tells us that, although teachers 'recognise that values are inherent in the work of schools, few could identify how values inform their daily preparation for teaching in an explicit way'. Nevertheless, I take heart in the fact that, despite the many pressures upon them, teachers continue to recognise "that the social and emotional development of young people are equally important elements of the education process and that these merit more considered attention ".

This is one of the reasons why we commissioned this work. We wanted to find out where and how this hugely important area of values education is being addressed within the curriculum and within schools in general and how it might be more fully addressed in the future.

There is no doubt that schools are places where values are transmitted in very many ways: through aspects of the formal curriculum, the informal curriculum and, perhaps most strongly, through the hidden curriculum. We know that many teachers do a great deal to assist the development of young people as rounded and responsible individuals. But there would appear to be a clear need to provide young people with knowledge and the skills to deal with a whole range of personal, social, moral, civic, political and challenges, choices and dilemmas, in a more explicit way, which prepares them more explicitly for the responsibilities of adult life.

In attempting to do so we need to exercise great care that the methodology employed seeks to help young people to clarify the rights and responsibilities which accompany universally accepted values rather than attempting to impose a set of values upon them.

I therefore welcome the sensible recommendations that there is a need to work withpractitioners

to achieve a better curriculum definition of the area;
to consider the stronger integration of values-related issues within subjects and the cross-curricular themes; and
to explore the possibility of a specific programme to address the particular needs of Northern Ireland.

The report also calls for the development of pilot programmes to ground the work in practice and, at this stage, I would also like to add my thanks, alongside those of Dr Alan Smith, to the Gordon Cook Foundation whose funding has facilitated the establishment of an initiative at primary level. We hope, with the possible support of the Citizenship Foundation and perhaps other funders, to initiate some work at secondary level in the near future.

We look with some admiration at the approach taken in the Republic of Ireland to establishing a widespread and supported pilot project in Civic, Social and Political Education as a lead in to any proposed curriculum change and we shall be keeping this model in mind as we offer advice to the Department about possible ways forward for the future.

In launching this report today I wish to signal, therefore, that this is not the end, but the continuation of our strong commitment to the whole area of values in education. Aim 1 of the Council's Corporate Plan is to place the needs of young people at the centre of all CCEA's thinking' with the objective of 'developing and keeping alive a vision of future educational needs'.

The Council intends to host a range of high profile conferences beginning in December 1997 to promote broader thinking about curriculum and assessment needs for the 21st century. The focus of one of these will undoubtedly be on Values in Education, so we hope to see all of you back in this room for a thorough debate about the many issues raised by this report in the near future. We are extremely conscious, however, that given the pressures which schools have experienced in recent years. it will be important to strike an appropriate balance between the need for stability, continuity and reassurance in the education system and the need to plan for the reality of the rapidly changing demands which the future is likely to make upon schools.

I will finish by thanking the authors of this report for the quality of the research undertaken. Alison Montgomery is no stranger to CCEA, having worked for some time with the Council before joining Alan Smith's team at the University of Ulster. I think it is also appropriate to single out the wider work of Alan Smith himself in this field and to thank him for the energy and commitment he has personally invested in working alongside the Council, the Department, the Education and Library Boards and schools to advance work in this area. We look forward to many more years of such fruitful collaboration.

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