CAIN: Issues - Education. Values in Education in Northern Ireland by Alan Smith and Alison Montgomery, 1997 (Chapter 1)

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Values in Education in Northern Ireland,
by Alan Smith and Alison Montgomery

[Key_Events] Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]

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


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 to:

  • research existing approaches to values in education;
  • generate specific 'profiles' of values initiatives in education; and
  • evaluate the current provision for values in education in the Northern Ireland Curriculum.
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.

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 education).

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 moral dimensions.

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:

  • Values and the Formal Curriculum
  • Values and the Informal Curriculum
  • Values and the Hidden Curriculum
Chapter 7 is a summary and presents some recommendations for the further development of Values in Education in Northern Ireland.

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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