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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
Values and the Hidden Curriculum
The hidden curriculum is generally perceived to be a rather nebulous
concept. Meighan (1981) defines it as "all the other things
that are learnt during schooling in addition to the official curriculum"
(p.52). Bottery (1990) suggests that it has a range of applications,
and describes it in a variety of ways. He suggests the hidden
curriculum may be covert as; the manipulative curriculum, which
is used to "manipulate the unwary"; or the informal
curriculum, as that which "goes on in schools...and is seen
as the manner in which the formal curriculum is conducted;"
or it may also be unintended as the forgotten curriculum which
consists of activities and policies which are "practiced
in an unthinking way"; and the unrecognised curriculum as
"activities whose effect...was never recognised in the first
place" (p.97). For the purposes of this research teachers were not
provided with these explicit definitions, but their responses often referred to
various aspects of school life which involved "hidden agendas", covert actions"
and "unspoken arrangements and policies".
Questions relating to school ethos or climate were presented to teachers as a
means of focusing discussions about values underpinning the hidden curriculum.
The term 'ethos' was widely recognised
and used by many teachers. Some recognised it as an "in word"
or "buzz word", and this was reflected in the
many references which were made to its inclusion in school policies.
An effective working definition of ethos is provided by the SCCC (as part of a
conference on School Climate and Ethos), is the "outward
expression of the norms, beliefs and values reflecting consensus
and conflict" in schools (SCCC 1994:1).
Teachers were asked to comment on the many factors which influenced
and affected ethos, and as might be expected discussions covered
a very wide range of issues and activities. These included the
organisation and delivery of the curriculum, timetabling, management
styles, decision-making processes, opportunities for staff development,
discipline and classroom management. (Some of these areas have
already been addressed through the formal and informal curriculae).
It emerged quite strongly from interviews, that at the heart of
any school ethos lies a complex web of inter-personal relationships
between teachers, pupils and parents.
This chapter will briefly outline the main observations made by teachers. To begin,
the first section examines general perceptions and definitions
of ethos. Following this is a review of various structures and
policies instituted by schools, and the 'hidden' values which
were seen to underpin these. Teachers' perceptions of the tri-partite relationship between
teachers, pupils and parents is then explored, followed
by a brief study of the school's relationship with the wider community.
Teachers agreed that ethos is a relatively
difficult concept to describe or define accurately.
There was a strong feeling that each school would evolve its own
unique definition, appropriate to its own particular circumstances.
Some individuals referred to ethos as "the development
of community" or a "community feeling".
Others talked about "whole school loyalty",
"the identity and pursuit of common goals," "morale"
and "positive relationships." The concept of
community and a sense of belonging were common themes in many
responses. Teachers identified positive effects on pupils (and
themselves) of feeling part of a school community. It was made
evident by teachers that truly "belonging", meant participating
fully in the school community, and being accepted, respected and
valued by the other members. One teacher described ethos as
"the sum of all the
parts, " but emphasised how this was more that just a collection of individuals;
that the nature of interaction
and relationships existing between the parts culminated in the formation
of "an underlying culture." Some teachers gave a general description of the
ethos in their schools through a variety of comments,
Ours is fairly much academic and ambition-oriented
It was notable that head teachers and senior management gave the most positive responses
whilst many teachers concentrated on more negative aspects of ethos.
The school has cultivated a caring and accepting atmosphere
Ours is positive, industrious and friendly
I would say there's a big emphasis on achievement and
Focusing staff and pupils, and looking beyond the
academic side to consider recreation, values and general knowledge.
Many teachers also made references to a "Christian ethos,"
and in maintained schools, teachers spoke of a "Catholic
ethos". The latter was formally defined as "...an atmosphere
enlivened by the Gospel values of freedom and charity" (Gravissimum
Educationis 198:8). Head teachers referred to school ethos being
"Christ-centred" and "created by making
explicit in school what is implicit in the Gospel." In
practical terms, this was articulated through policies of equality
and respect for all pupils, irrespective of their abilities, the
pursuit of excellence and the achievement of potential for each
pupil. There was also a strong emphasis on pastoral care and the spiritual
growth of all pupils. However, it became easier to discern the values underlying school ethos when
teachers described the structural arrangements and relationships within their own schools.
For the majority of respondents, ethos became more tangible and
"concrete" when they began to consider various aspects
of school life. Schools' and teachers' values were therefore more
easily discerned as they engaged in a review of different structures
and relationships existing in schools.
The Organisation of Learning
A number of structural arrangements for the organisation of learning were identified as
reflecting values underpinning school life. Some of these have alreadey been mentioned
in the earlier chapters on the formal curriculum and informal curriculum.
Emphases within the Curriculum
Teachers frequently commented on the particular emphases which their school placed
on different aspects of the curriculum. Most concluded that Science and Technology subjects
receive greater attention, and are promoted as more "valuable
subjects." Teachers felt that this was fairly obvious
to pupils, not least, because of the amount of time allocated
to these subjects in the timetable. In the Northern Ireland Curriculum
Cohort Study, the appropriacy and relevance of subjects as perceived
by pupils was seen to be influenced "by the values inherent
in the school timetable" and as one teacher commented this included
the amount of time given to a subject (Harland 1996:180).
teachers commented that the compartmentalised structure of the curriculum gave
pupils the impression of a "disjointed and segmented learning
process." It was argued that this might encourage pupils to become selective
by only engaging with parts of the curriculum which were perceived to be valuable and
ignoring the remainder. Some teachers felt that subject disciplines should be promoted "only
as a vehicle for learning" and that they should not "blind
pupils to the greater picture" of a broad and rich learning
An aspect of the education system in Northern Ireland which was
raised in conversations with conspicuous regularity, was the Transfer
Procedure (commonly referred to as the "Eleven
Plus."). Primary teachers (and some post-primary teachers),
were most animated in their discourse, detailing various school
procedures and narrating anecdotal experiences of the selection
process. The approach adopted to this examination was perceived
by teachers as a "good indicator of the education system's
values" or a "tell-tale sign of a school's values."
The majority of teachers mentioned some change in
the curriculum which was delivered to pupils in P5 and P6 attributed to the transfer of tests,
Youfind the creative and expressive subjects dropping out.
Teachers stressed the pressure placed upon
teachers and pupils in the year approaching
the "Eleven plus" and the accompanying shift in the
content and teaching strategies in many schools. Several respondents
referred to primary schools where "streaming"
occurred as early as P3;
Well, there isn't much time for Geography - you're too busy
getting their Science up to scratch" and "...some
areas disappear altogether.
Streaming is not done formally, but
teachers know at that stage who to concentrate on and who really
hasn't a chance.
When this phenomenon was was queried with other teachers, they demonstrated
little surprise, usually going on to recount other similar situations.
Teachers also spoke of the pressure on pupils to perform well
and to gain a grammar school place. They referred to the extra
work, special tuition and Saturday morning classes offered by
schools, and often demanded by parents, along with the beta-blockers,
and promises of rewards from parents,
It's not unusual
for the parents to make promises of holidays on the continent,
or some big present if they pass
spoke with considerable concern, of the pressures experienced
by children, commenting that in some cases children were "just
put through too much" and that parents often "resort
to bribery when they realise their expectations are too high."
a reward is standard procedure you know, a bike at "Eleven
plus" and a car at 'A' level.
Respondents also spoke of the pressure exerted by head teachers
and parents on the P6 and P7 teachers "to get as many through as possible"
with high grades. A number of teachers commented that their head teachers had
approached them and indicated that he "expected the same
excellent results as last year". This expectation, according
to teachers was proffered without any consideration of the present
P7's abilities , "I'm expected
to perform miracles up here."
Many of the teachers interviewed
acknowledged an unreasonable amount of pressure,"hype"
and panic surrounding the Transfer Procedure, and commented
that they were strongly opposed to the intensive preparation undertaken
in many schools and even to the procedure itself. However they
also expressed a sense of being "trapped" and
caught up in the system, and commented that there was little they
could do, except provide as much support as possible for their
pupils. One teacher in an integrated primary admitted that the
atmosphere and ethos of the integrated situation "went
by the way a bit" when it came to the Transfer Procedure.
In primary schools (mostly in rural areas) where most children
had opted out of the transfer procedure, Board advisors referred
to the "striking contrast" in the curriculum
followed, and the climate pervading the upper school.
Many secondary teachers were critical of the effects of the Transfer
Procedure, commenting that they had to cope with the short-term
and long-term effects of failure on children and "to try
to undo the damage". Others accused the transfer system
of "setting children up to lose", suggesting
that prior to the tests, most teachers could judge quite accurately
how well different pupils would perform and "identify those likely to fail".
Primary school teachers also pointed out that as well as making the potentially traumatic
transition from primary to post-primary school, pupils discovered
that only negligible references are made to their primary studies
or experiences. One teacher commented that "there is little
sense of continuity, and it's just like starting from scratch".
Another said "it seems that when you start the "big
school", you should forget all about primary - it's for babies."
This seemed to suggest, that once children reached grammar or
secondary school, what had gone before in primary school was to
a large extent forgotten, and not perceived as "valuable",
at least not in any explicit manner.
The practice of "streaming" pupils according to their
abilities was discussed with many post-primary teachers. They
broached a range of issues relating to teachers' attitudes to
lower stream pupils, and the covertly restricted access for them
to some aspects of the curriculum. While teachers were reluctant
to criticise their colleagues, they did indicate that it was not
unusual for lower ability pupils to be seated at the back of the
classroom, for teachers to "skip over more difficult bits",
and "not to chase up" their homework. The "cabbage
classes" as one teacher said they were known in some
schools "slip to the bottom of the heap and pupils find
they are all but ignored."
problems were frequently associated with lower ability pupils, several teachers said that
these children are often ostracised by the system. The system,
as one teacher argued contains a well-defined, but covert set of values
where pupils are expected
well-behaved all of the time, to speak only when spoken to in
class, fit every attainment target, and to originate from a good
middle-class background with parents who only come to school on
Teachers who had worked with pupils
with learning and behaviour difficulties were sometimes encouraged by senior
management with comments such as;
"as long as they're
not harming the furniture or themselves, you're doing a good job."
It was suggested by a few teachers that the removal of pupils
from the form class to a "remedial class" was considered to be
legitimate even when the problem was one of behavioural rather than learning.
It was also suggested that pastoral
care policies did not always provide a framework for responding to learning difficulties
and it was acceptable for teachers to strongly impose their own
expectations and values on pupils.
The School as "a Business"
Teachers highlighted the strength of the image of the "school as a business".
Respondents referred to the "depersonalising"
effect of concepts drawn from the business world, concepts concerned with marketability,
accountability, the management of budgets, and input
and output judged by GCSE, 'A' level results and the percentage of
References were also made to the hierarchical system in schools
and to the prominence of a vertical structure. Teachers commented
how "everything moves up" in the school system,
pupils progress "up through the school," and
teachers move up the salary scale, or promotion ladder. Teachers also
spoke of teaching strategies which are based on "top down"
approach, pitching lessons initially at more able pupils, and
considering those on the lower rungs of the ability ladder afterwards.
In this type of structure, there is less opportunity for adopting
a horizontal perspective of the Curriculum or promoting development
across the Curriculum. Teachers felt that this made it much more
difficult to gauge pupils' experiences of the Curriculum or to
"keep a check on what is going in" at any one
time. The value of a holistic learning experience for a pupil
at any one stage in their school career was therefore, according
to teachers something of "an unknown quantity."
The Teacher-Pupil Relationship
The nature of the exchange between teachers and
pupils was perceived to be one of the main interactions through which values are
defined and communicated.
Respondents were asked to consider the principles and attitudes which they adopted in the
process of teaching and learning. Many teachers asserted that there are clear lines of demarcation
between the two processes with the implication of a one-way process where teachers teach and pupils
learn. A few teachers did feel that the processes were actually one and that teachers and
pupils were "on the same road", however this was a minority view. One teacher commented,
You've got to let them know that you're in charge. I don't think you can drop that for a second.
Therefore when I teach, I'm in control. If I say I'm a learner, who's in control then?
Defining the 'good' teacher
Most teachers recognised the notion of the 'good' teacher but
found this difficult to define with any accuracy. Teachers commented
that the production of good exam results was one important indicator,
though it was still difficult to ascertain exactly how well pupils
had been taught. Several teachers pointed out that a 'good' teacher
might well have been "teaching practically the same syllabus
the same way for the last 19 or 20 years" with no variation
in technique, resources or classroom management. They also talked
referred to the inspirational teacher, "who has something
startling and memorable to say, and...could illuminate ...an aspect
of life" (Lynch 1995:72). Several teachers felt that the
pressures imposed by the curriculum and by senior staff in schools
had eradicated "the light and spark that makes some teachers
different". Teachers were unanimous in their agreement
that it is not possible to teach without "giving something
of themselves", although it was somewhat difficult to
discern what exactly this meant in practice.
Primary teachers, in particular spoke of the value of delegating
minor responsibilities to pupils in their class. A class monitor
or helper system was perceived as an important means of involving
pupils and sharing the responsibility for the tidiness and organisation
of the classroom and for supporting the teacher by distributing
books or running errands. Special school teachers drew attention
to this role, commenting on the positive effects it had on children's
self-confidence and sense of responsibilty. These teachers also
adopted a much more explicit approach to the affirmation of pupils
and spoke of encouraging collective praise from other class members.
Pupils were made to 'feel good and feel valued" in
their contributions, no matter how small. They were also made
more aware of each others' strengths and areas of need and encouraged
to develop a greater sense of empathy, understanding and community.
Several teachers commented that a 'good' teacher might be recognised
by the ability to meet the needs of all pupils, especially those
who were perceived as "less able." One aspect of teaching
which cropped up frequently in interviews, was the teaching methods
adopted in teaching lower ability pupils. Several respondents
revealed that schools dissuaded the "low achiever" from
choosing some options in the curriculum, if they felt it would
interfere with the progress of the "more able pupils".
One teacher also intimated that,
There are times when teachers can't be bothered with the hassle
and extra work with a less able kid. They just get them to choose
Teachers regularly complained about the dearth of suitable materials
for their lower ability students. The Northern Ireland Curriculum
Cohort study also highlighted this point, commenting that,
teachers often had to compile extra resources of their own
and were unable to give less able pupils the extra attention they
needed. (Harland et al, 1996:179)
Some teachers, mostly in the secondary context commented on the
"crucial differences" that appropriate learning
and teaching strategies could make to pupils' progress. They referred
to the rewards of "child-centred learning" and "pupil-oriented
learning", both of which focus on the individual needs and
abilities of pupils. Such an approach, noted teachers, clearly
communicated the value of the individual pupil and enhanced their
self-esteem and self-confidence. Several respondents felt that
teaching in secondary schools required more creativity and imagination
on the part of the teacher, in order to facilitate greater access
to the curriculum for lower ability pupils. A number of teachers
did not perceive the learning processes inherent in the Northern
Ireland Curriculum as entirely appropriate for all pupils and
referred quite often to the didactic or "chalk and talk"
approach prominent in many schools which, according to one teacher
"clearly doesn't capture every pupil's imagination ".
One teacher discussing the relationship of teachers and pupils,
pointed to what she thought might be a fundamental requirement
for entering the teaching profession - a liking for children.
it's frightening you know, but there are a significant number
of teachers who don't like children. I can't help but wonder what
effects this has on their teaching, not to mention the children's
Relationships between Teachers
Throughout the interviews, it became clear that teachers experienced
very different relationships with their colleagues. This was dependent
on the size of school, the nature of the departments within schools,
whether it was a primary, special, integrated or post-primary
school and also the culture of the staffroom.
As well as considering the opportunities for formal liaison,
teachers also reflected on the nature of informal, everyday relationships
in their schools. From the sample of teachers interviewed, primary
school teachers seemed to experience much more contact with other
members of staff on both a formal and social basis. Many spoke
of "freely walking in and out of each others' rooms",
"pooling resources" and socialising together outside
school. Some post-primary teachers echoed these comments, however
others intimated that they rarely left their rooms or that they
could teach a whole day and have only limited superficial contact
with a few teachers. Respondents frequently spoke of a "seige
mentality", suggesting that teachers felt imprisoned
and under threat from "just about everyone and everything".
One teacher commented that often a teacher's first actions
on moving into a new classroom was to cover up any windows or
glass in the door in order to "make sure nobody can see
what's going on".
The style of leadership adopted by the head teacher was perceived
as having an influential effect on staff morale and the "collegiate
atmosphere" in a school. Teachers referred to different "types"
of head teacher and the effects they had on staff cohesion,
staff communication and individual staff teaching. Several teachers
described their principals as living in "ivory towers"
or "splendid isolation," set apart from other
staff members and "caught up in his own concerns ".
Some principals were considered unapproachable and in these schools
teachers explained that problems or concerns were either not voiced
or other members of senior management were approached instead.
The converse of this situation was described by another teacher,
Our head's door is always open. I don't remember ever being
turned away. What I find so good is that she remembers what it
was like to teach.
This point was reiterated by other teachers who concluded that
once a head teacher became a manager he or she "becomes
locked into a different agenda".
The practice of holding regular staff meetings was generally regarded
as positive and beneficial, however teachers did feel that the
benefit of meetings was conditional on the level of communication,
the extent to which teachers had a voice and the degree to which
principals and senior management would actively listen. Teachers
commented on the importance of daily staff meetings for providing
information on whole school issues, pupil absences and where appropriate,
individual pupils' problems or situations. This encouraged the
staff to work collectively in dealing with pupils and to share
However teachers had mixed views in their assessment of whether
meetings and formal discussions actually promoted a sense of community.
Many admitted that often the most open and invaluable exchanges
occurred when "teachers get together over a cup of coffee
without any senior teachers ".
Several principals acknowledged that,
The staff room is for the teachers. I tend to avoid it at lunchtimes
because the staff like to talk without my spectre looming over
Giving staff space to exchange views and opinions was perceived
as an integral element of effective management, though teachers
and principals were concerned that opportunities for dialogue
were used effectively and constructively. According to a large
number of respondents, too many times staffroom dialogues degenerated
into a "series of moans and winges", "a diatribe
of abuse directed at one pupil" or "general griping
sessions ". A few teachers intimated that their school
policies had addressed this situation and attempted to heighten
teachers' awareness of the negative repercussions such discussions
could have on staff morale.
Teachers were asked to comment on how staff interact with one
other, for example how they greeted each other in the corridors.
Teachers gave a variety of responses. In most cases, they addressed
each other using their Christian names, but referred to senior
management and the principal using their title and surname. In
a minority of schools everyone was addressed using their surname.
Some teachers, (in large post-primary schools) admitted that it
was quite usual for teachers to ignore each other in the corridor
and indeed quite unusual for the principal to address staff. A
few teachers did observe, that despite the inclusion of an objective
in their school policies (at the request of the Principal) for
the promotion of polite and cordial exchange, the principal himself
tended to either grunt or ignore staff and pupils when they met
in the school.
The values communicated by senior management in the formulation
of school policies and timetables, and the nature of relationships
were readily identified by most teachers. From their responses,
the attitudes and goals of senior management impacted to varying
degrees on their perspectives of pupils and their teaching practice.
One teacher reflected,
I used to hold sort of tutorials for my weaker pupils, but
the VP told me I was wasting my time... and you know, you lose
heart... I mean, what's it all about anyway?
Many teachers commented on differences between the culture of
maintained and controlled schools, and grammar and secondary schools.
The "traditional" perception of controlled schools
was of a greater emphasis on industry, academic achievement and
exams. Maintained schools were regarded as being more concerned
with pastoral care, ethos and changing the "state of things".
Several respondents suggested however that a number of maintained
grammar schools were shifting their ethos, adopting the culture
of industry associated with grammar schools. The perceived contrast
between grammar and secondary school culture was not entirely
different to the controlled/maintained distinction, though there
was a perception that considerably more energy and imagination
was involved in building pupils' confidence and promoting a sense
of worth and value in secondary schools. In general teachers expressed
a need for,
more time to reflect on school values and priorities and working
through the implications of these in practice.
The Parent - Teacher Relationship
It seemed clear that primary school teachers had much more contact
with parents and in some schools, parents actually helped as classroom
assistants with lower primary classes. This arrangement worked
well where parents undertook a complementary role, providing teachers
with support and affording them opportunities to provide more
one-to-one teaching. Only a few teachers had encountered problems
with "over enthusiastic" or "particularly
domineering mothers ". This co-operative strategy also
gave teachers an opportunity to gain some insight into their pupils'
According to teachers, such experience in the classroom brought
parents "more up to date" with what was going
on in school, and for some, removed the "fear" of
the teacher and the education system. Teachers remarked that as
pupils progressed to the post-primary stage many parents became
increasingly reluctant to visit schools or to contact teachers
regarding their children's work or progress. This was attributed
in some cases to the fact that parents could not identify with
just one teacher and in others to parents themselves having had
negative experiences of second-level education.
The concept of an "open door" culture appeared to be
an important one for parents. Teachers alluded to the school's
relationship with parents on many occasions, commenting on the
school policy regarding parental access. Some schools, notably
smaller schools and primary schools, appeared to welcome parents
at almost any time. Others opted for an appointment procedure.
Some teachers were suspicious of parents and some described a
minority of parents as disruptive ", "interfering"
and "mischievous ". Teachers also expressed
disappointment, concern and at times anger over what they perceived
in some instances as inadequate parenting or a lack of parental
concern. Several agreed that school was a "safe haven"
for many children, and provided perhaps a rare element of
stability and security in their lives. They admitted that the
habit of labelling children according to their home background
exists in many schools. Despite some concerns over parental care,
they agreed that the majority of parents, regardless of their
backgrounds, demonstrated a natural concern for their children's
Ambiguity and uncertainty about the teacher's role was widely
recognised as not only challenging to the individual teacher's
position, but also to the whole nature of the school as an autonomous
institution. Teachers mentioned on many occasions the expectations
of parents and the wider society for them to adopt something of
a quasi-parental role. Teachers questioned how far they could
adopt this role. In particular, they were concerned as to what
extent they could be regarded as "maintainers of law",
"social skills tutors" and "moral arbiters."
The majority of teachers readily accepted some responsibility
for the social development of their pupils. Indeed many identified
this as an inherent requirement of their teaching role. However,
quite a number were more reluctant to identify their task in moral
terms. Responsibility for teaching rules and regulations or a
prescribed moral code was considered by most teachers to be "beyond
the call of duty" and "not an entirely appropriate
task". Teachers often felt this was essentially a parental
duty and something which they were not confident with or qualified
The practice of devolving responsibility to teachers for pupils'
moral, disciplinary and social upbringing was further complicated
by the accompanying pressures of accountability. Teachers commented
on the publication of league tables, the introduction of parental
choice and a perceived strengthening of parents' role in governing
bodies. This, they felt, allowed parents a deeper insight into
schools and could lead in some respondents' minds at least, to
"potentially dangerous interference" and "damaging
repercussions". Many respondents, speaking as parents
themselves, acknowledged the importance of all parents being informed
about their children's progress and development, as well as the
teaching methods and resources employed by teachers. They also
acknowledged the need for parents to have a voice. Alongside this
however, were feelings of irritation and anger, and a sense that
teachers' "professional expertise" was being
questioned and increasingly challenged.
The relationship between parent and teacher was commonly characterised
as one which is chequered with misunderstanding, misconceptions
and differences of opinion. Teachers frequently drew attention
to the difficulties of a dichotomy between parents' desire to
have a say in their children' s education and teachers' desires
to cherish and protect their own expertise. The increasing difficulties
in this relationship, according to many teachers, had their origins
in the "changing nature of society" and a perceived
shift in family and institutional values and attitudes. Many teachers
did feel that they were cast in an "impossible role"
which expected them to "fill in all the social, emotional
and moral gaps" and be "all things to all pupils".
The Relationship between School and Community
The term 'community' is imprecise although it was common in this
study for respondents to use it to refer to clergy, local
parishes, parents of pupils, School Governors, Parent Teachers
Associations (PTAs) and members of local residential and business
communities. In a broader sense, community also referred to the
rather more generic concept of 'society'. Throughout the interviews,
teachers were asked to examine the nature of the relationship
which exists between their school and the community and to reflect
on the values which framed and underlined these relationships.
Many teachers created the impression of a very close and active
relationship between their school and the community in which it
was located. Schools had established varying degrees of contact
with local people through invitations from the school to share
in events, such as open nights, concerts and fund-raising activities.
Many examples were also provided of how scientific, social, historical,
geographical and environmental aspects of the local area around
schools had been integrated into pupils' studies through the curriculum.
Pupils had visited local dolmens and ruins, undertaken various
studies of local traffic and businesses and met with local poets,
storytellers and community figures. A few teachers remarked that
studies of the local environment also offered opportunities for
the consideration of various moral, religious and ethical themes
and EMU was mentioned on many occasions as a vehicle for promoting
a greater awareness of community, both locally and further afield.
Focusing attention on the local community was also recognised
as a way of valuing pupils' own experiences as part of their educational
Several teachers spoke of an "inextricable link"
with the community through religious, political and social
networks. Many teachers in maintained schools were very conscious
of the place of the school within the parish community, where
individuals are linked not only by church membership, but also
by common religious, political and social ideas and beliefs. Teachers
in rural and urban maintained schools referred to the integral
role of the parish priest and church and youth club leaders in
shaping values within their schools. A few teachers intimated
how the political interests and allegiances of the local community
were a strong influence on the daily lessons and activities undertaken
in school. They commented on the importance of a consolidated
staff approach in dealing with political and sectarian issues
and their impact on school life. The conflict in Northern Ireland
has evidently made an impact upon many schools, though only a
small number of teachers made explicit reference to it. Their
schools tended to be located in "politically sensitive"
areas. Some had taken a decision to ignore local politics
or at least to debar them from the school community and others
commented that the ceasefires which existed whilst this research
was undertaken had, "served to dispel some of the difficulties
which teachers have previously had to cope with".
Teachers acknowledged that violence and sectarian divisions in
communities of which their schools were a part, posed serious
problems at times. They emphasised the value of supportive and
cohesive staff relationships, and a public declaration that "No
politics are permitted past the school gate ".
Teachers in some schools talked about the regular contact they
have with social, community and care workers. In areas of high
unemployment and social deprivation, teachers indicated that they
received support from a range of local people. One primary school
teacher illustrated this point by describing an arrangement she
had with a local leisure centre. Several of her pupils were notable,
for a variety of reasons, to obtain swimming costumes for their
weekly PE lesson. Recognising this, the leisure centre staff had
provided the children with swimming costumes (and indeed, some
other items of clothing) from the long-term lost property box.
It's this sort of thoughtfulness and co-operation that reminds
you that the school is part of a bigger, caring community.
Special school teachers concluded that close relationships with
the local community were not just a valuable asset, but an essential
and intrinsic aspect of their pedagogy. Teachers commented that
they communicated with a large number personnel and availed of
a broad range of services. This list included music, art and drama
therapists, dance companies, musicians, clergy, further education
colleges, local employers and various charitable bodies.
The transition for pupils, from school to employment, was an issue
raised by a large number of teachers. They drew attention to the
principles of industry and the emphasis placed on these by teachers
in their classrooms. Respondents referred to the "age-old
carrot dangled before pupils" promising that "if
they work hard, they will do well ". One teacher suggested
that this carrot was "beginning to rot" and another
asserted that, "teachers have been preaching this for
years, but in today's society, it just doesn't hold water anymore".
Preparation for employment (or strategies for dealing with unemployment)
were felt to be inadequate and even non-existent in some schools.
Teachers thought that there was insufficient contact between schools
and employers and that pupils did not learn enough about the "culture
As well as the positive aspects of community relationships, teachers
also spoke of the pressures they experienced from the wider society.
Issues relating to accountability arose and teachers were unanimous
in their outrage at what they described as "society's
readiness to blame teachers for all social and moral ills ".
However, teachers also expressed concern about what they described
as their "diminishing role as educators" and
the increasing expectations for them to accept greater responsibility
for more aspects of pupils' development, and to assume an in
loco parentis role.
A study of the hidden curriculum with respondents uncovered a
rich assortment of experiences, relationships and situations underpinned
or strongly influenced by a diversity of values, beliefs and attitudes.
Many teachers had adopted the term "ethos" to describe
or represent what they knowingly or otherwise recognised as the
hidden curriculum in their schools. The values and principles
which teachers (usually senior management) identified in their
policies as "pervading school life" were frequently
recognised as the "school ethos". Comments about the
triangular relationship between teachers, pupils and parents provided
a valuable insight into the type of implicit value-laden messages
transmitted within the school, and between the school, home and
community. What emerged forcibly from these messages was a profound
concern over the changing role of teachers and the ever-increasing
demands which they felt were being placed upon them. This was
coupled with a recognition of the significance of community and
the need to cultivate a sense of collegiality within the school
while also developing close and sustained links with a wide range
of institutions in the local and wider communities.
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