CAIN: Issues - Education. Values in Education in Northern Ireland by Alan Smith and Alison Montgomery, 1997 (Chapter 4)

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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 Four

Values and the formal curriculum

Prior to the commencement of this project there has not been a formal study of 'Values in Education' in Northern Ireland. A review of current educational projects and programmes does suggest however, that there are many activities and approaches which are in essence, value-oriented. These include activities of the kind referred to in the previous chapter, as well as others located in the different dimensions of school life, for example through whole-school issues, pastoral policy statements and individual school practice. Further examples will be explored in this chapter.

The statutory basis for the Northern Ireland Curriculum places an explicit emphasis on physical, moral, spiritual and cultural development - areas which are widely recognised as dominant characteristics of values education. There is however no obligation on schools to timetable any kind of values or moral education or to explore the conceptual dimensions of morals or values. The quality of teaching and learning in the values domain remains largely dependent on the teacher and school in question. A preliminary survey of the curriculum locates the values-related dimensions in ethos or climate; the notion of whole child development; welfare systems; some extra-curricular activities; and curriculum areas such as Religious Education (RE), Health Education (HE), Personal and Social Education (PSE) and aspects of cross curricular themes such as Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU).

Reference has already been made to the inclusion of values statements in statutory guidance and policies. DENT and CCEA both acknowledge the importance and significance of a values dimension in pupils' learning experiences and personal development. Indeed DENT has recently identified values and personal development as a key priority in teachers' presentation and pupils' comprehension of the Northern Ireland Curriculum (DENT 1995).

Initial reactions to the research

Because of the pervasive nature of values, very many aspects of the curriculum and school life were touched upon throughout the research. Discussions with respondents alone uncovered many issues, culminating in a plethora of data. Responses from the majority of individuals intimated a natural interest and concern in this whole area and many welcomed the opportunity to discuss values and related issues, as the opportunity had not previously presented itself.

Initial reactions from respondents were varied. Some teachers were rather confused as they attempted to locate values in the context of their experiences of teaching and the curriculum. Others were quite uncomfortable with the use of values-type language, expressing concern over its potential impact on curriculum interpretation and issues of teacher accountability. There was a tangible reluctance by a small number to even consider that they might bear any responsibility for the interpretation or communication of values through their teaching. While they agreed that values were inherent in education, they expressed feelings of discomfort, confusion and self-doubt, in dealing with values-related issues in any explicit sense. The majority of respondents took a little time to contemplate the concept of values in education and to "adjust their way of thinking about the curriculum" before reflecting on their perceptions and experiences in this area.

Teachers suggested the term was rather nebulous and difficult to "pin down" in the context of the curriculum. The whole area of values was described as "immense" and "complex", and individuals expressed some difficulty supplying a suitable definition. A few observed that there was an inadequate pool of vocabulary on which to draw when they came to articulating views and opinions. As indicated in the Introduction, respondents did substitute other terms, using them interchangeably throughout discussions, so reflecting the perceived ambiguity of the area. Despite these difficulties, there was widespread agreement that values permeated teaching and learning experiences and that it was not possible to divorce values from daily activities occurring within the education system.

Identifying a structure

In order to provide a more focused context in which to discuss values in education, and to identify a structure which would indicate the implications of values in education in more concrete terms, values were considered within three frameworks.

These were defined as follows:

1. The Curricular Framework

includes the Formal, Informal and Hidden curricula. This provided a broad and accessible framework in which to review the current provision for and perceptions of values in education. The three curricula represent three major areas of school life, though there is some variation in the definition and application of the three curricular terms:

  • the Formal Curriculum is essentially the 'taught' curriculum. It encompasses the Areas of Study (and individual subjects), represented in the Northern Ireland Curriculum. In this report it pertains to the delivery and interpretation of subjects and cross-curricular themes in the identification and communication of values;

  • the Informal Curriculum refers to areas and aspects of school life outside of the classroom - extra-curricular activities such as sports, music, drama and school trips, discipline and pastoral care policies. It also includes issues and activities relating to the playground and the school's physical environment;

  • the Hidden Curriculum has a rather imprecise meaning and has been described by writers as "highly ambiguous" (Meighan 1981:52). While the Formal Curriculum and Informal Curriculum refer to quite definitive areas of the school, the hidden curriculum may cover aspects of both, while also relating to separate issues. For the purposes of this research the term is employed to indicate decisions, behaviours, and activities which may go unnoticed or unrecognised, but which may have considerable effect on the school community.

2. The Developmental Framework

is based on the developmental dimensions of the Northern Ireland Curriculum, that is, values as they are associated with physical, intellectual, moral, cultural, spiritual and additionally emotional and social development. During the interviews there were some occasions when it was quite difficult to differentiate between value 'types' or to confidently class a value as, for example spiritual or emotional. It may be that the reader disagrees at times with the 'category' to which a value has been assigned.

Teachers did deliberate at times over this dilemma, but for the purposes of the research, it seemed more important to ascertain respondents' acknowledgement and recognition of values, than to quibble over the category to which a value should be assigned. Therefore there may be some overlaps in perceived values and a small degree of inconsistency in the identification of values.

3. The Context-Dependent Framework

refers to sets of values which arise from the distinctive character or location of the school. Factors may include the ages, ability, culture or social background of pupils and may be influenced or determined by views and expectations of parents, staff, pupils and members of the wider community.

The Developmental and Context-Dependent frameworks will be used to give greater definition and detail to values and in particular, to illustrate how they emerge within the settings of the classroom and school.

The Formal Curriculum

To undertake a systematic review of values in the formal curriculum, interviews focused on the Areas of Study within the Northern Ireland Curriculum, that is:

Science and Technology
Creative and Expressive Studies
Environment and Society, and
Language Studies.

Religious Education (RE) and Personal and Social Education (PSE) were also included. Cross-curricular themes featured throughout the discussions, although these have been presented separately following a review of the areas of study. Values were approached in the first instance through the Areas of study, by asking teachers about the values that could be identified and communicated through their teaching of individual subjects. Questions also addressed the permeation of the cross-curricular themes and associated values through the areas of study.

Although values in the formal curriculum were raised in interviews within the broader context of the areas of study, teachers' main point of reference (in the post-primary context) was invariably the subject which they taught. This is perhaps unsurprising, however it was interesting to observe at times, how vague any links with other subjects in an area of study appeared to be. Some teachers seemed clearly constrained by what are apparently definitive subject boundaries. Primary teachers did not communicate the same compartmentalised view of the primary curriculum and the lines of demarcation between subjects appeared to be less distinct and discernible.

Teachers' responses to the prevalence of values and value-related issues in their subjects, and their understanding, interpretation and communication of such issues are documented under each of the areas of study. Also the review of values in each area of study is not intended as an exhaustive analysis of every possible value connotation or reference, but rather as a reflective overview as presented by the respondent.

The majority of respondents are currently Education and Library Board Officers, occupying an advisory and support role. However, because they based their responses on their own teaching experiences, as well as the teachers they support all respondents in the main, are referred to as teachers. The use of italics in the main body of the text in this chapter indicates comments made by teachers.


English has been perceived as "an instrument of personal growth" (Bullock Report 1975:4) and as a means of equipping pupils with skills and abilities that will "stand them in good stead right across and up through the curriculum." Teachers were able to discuss values in relation to the English programmes of study with considerable insight and understanding. The values dimension seemed to be clarified further as discussions took place and teachers often spoke of "making the connection" once they had been given time to think.

Many respondents tended to look at English under the two headings of Language and Literature and from this perspective they were able to elicit examples of physical, intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual moral and cultural values.

English Language

  • The ability to use language effectively at all stages of development was seen to encourage pupils to express themselves eloquently, to function independently and to increase their understanding, empathy and confidence.

  • Some teachers referred to the physical, social and emotional value of creativity in language and the opportunities which were presented for pupils to deal with their thoughts and emotions, to improve their powers of expression and to develop their self-esteem. Teachers did admit however, that they were often "itching to get their hands on children's work", in order to make corrections, revisions or changes. It was suggested that teachers sometimes needed to accept children's creativity as their own and not to interfere. Creative writing was also identified as a means of encouraging and developing a pupil's sense of autonomy, responsibility and self-control. Teachers also defined the approach to creative writing as a "drafting" approach where pupils are engaged in a revising and redrafting process until they produced an acceptable version.

  • Primary teachers reported the "sheer delight and enthusiasm" shown by pupils at Key Stages 1 and 2 when reading aloud to the class or telling a story. They underlined the social and intellectual value of this activity, as well as its enjoyment and developmental value. Many individuals remarked on the "onslaught of inhibition" and the changing attitudes to reading aloud and personal expression as children progressed through the education system. Teachers spoke of some pupils' reluctance to read poetry or express an opinion, "they just clam up" and "they get embarrassed". Opportunities for talking and listening were perceived as a valuable social and emotional aspect of English, encouraging children to empathise, share and respect others' perspectives.

  • Some respondents referred to the disruption in pupils' development during the transfer between primary and post-primary schools and how teachers sometimes assume "they are dealing with blank slates" in Year 8. Post-primary teaching makes little reference to primary learning and therefore gives little in the way of acknowledgement to the value of primary experiences. English teachers talked of a "creativity gap "between primary and post-primary and a change in pupil's perceptions of and responses to the various components of English.

English Literature

  • Reference was made to a continuing emphasis on literature in the curriculum and the consequent detrimental effects on language and in particular grammar development. Despite the oral component at GCSE, and the need for preparation in this area, teachers frequently observed that "greater value is perceived in reading and the critical analysis of literature". In the post-primary context, more time was therefore given to examining texts and some teachers commented that a discussion or critique of a text was often undertaken on paper and not entered into through any kind of class discussion. This perception of a neglect of oral skills was mentioned by many teachers across all subject areas. Respondents spoke of a "chalk and talk" pedagogy associated with many subjects areas which eroded opportunities for pupil participation. This point is also made in the Northern Ireland Cohort Study where teachers commented that "pupils [do] too much written work" to the detriment of the "development of thought, self-expression, and communication with others".
    (Harland et al, 1996:44)

  • At Key Stages 3 and 4, the study of characters in novels was perceived as giving pupils the opportunity to explore feelings of empathy, sympathy and tolerance as well as "to get in touch with themselves ". Many texts were cited as examples to illustrate opportunities where teachers felt they could explore moral, social, emotional, spiritual and cultural issues. Interestingly, teachers who had studied these texts often had not considered their use in explicit "value-terms ".

  • The choice of text for study at any stage in English was considered a moral and social values statement. Several teachers suggested that the "choice of examination texts reflects values that are prevalent in society - avoiding direct language, uncomfortable incidents and other cultures ". This point was reflected in some teachers' reactions to holding class discussions and dealing with controversial issues. They admitted they would find this "too difficult and confrontational ". Other teachers concluded that it was important to deal with cultural and moral values if it was relevant and appropriate to do so.

  • Value was attached to the "recursive nature of English" where the nature of learning is essentially the same at every stage. Teachers commented that the same skills are applied and the same processes are at work.

  • Teachers felt that this enables pupils of all abilities to contribute in class and to experience some sense of achievement. One teacher commented, "I find that no matter what level the child is at, they always have something to offer".


One teacher commented that "you can never measure the impression a poem or text has made on a child - the value of the experience may only emerge years later". All teachers of English interviewed as part of the research concluded that values are scattered widely throughout the programmes of study and there are numerous opportunities to explore values through language, literature, creative writing and class discussions. Several drew particular attention to teachers' propensity to focus on cultural and moral issues as these were the "most obvious places to find values ".


Values and Mathematics were clearly not perceived to be close relations by many teachers. Initially, several declared Mathematics to be value-free and others suggested that any connections were artificial and contrived. Through discussions however, it became clear that there were actually some very interesting "connections". Wilson (1981) lists over 200 references of studies examining the interaction between Mathematics and its cultural content. Many of these address the value systems implicit in those contents. (Tomlinson and Quinton 1986).

Mathematics and intellectual values

  • Mathematics is universally regarded as an important subject which bestows a high intellectual value on it. Schools and parents attribute a high priority to Mathematics and this is widely recognised by pupils, many of whom feel under some considerable pressure to perform well and attain good examination results. Teachers frequently commentedon this pressure and the fear which many children have of Mathematics. One teacher, whose school had undertaken a survey of pupils' perceptions of subjects, reported that Maths is "the most hated and feared of all ". Because of the high status of the subject many children are afraid "of being left behind" and of "suffering embarrassment by having to go back to basics".

    Teachers also pointed to "harmful competitive elements" which surround pupils and how these could seriously damage their self-confidence and progress in the subject. They concluded that this approach to Mathematics projected a strong set of intellectual, moral and cultural values which could have profound effects on pupils' learning and self-confidence.

Mathematics and methodology

  • The methodology used in teaching Mathematics was identified as indicative of the values associated with the subject. Teachers commented that it was easier to instil enthusiasm and a positive attitude in pupils at primary school as they used many more practical and innovative teaching methods. One post-primary teacher commented "it's all book work when you get to secondary so if you aren't interested in Maths in P7, you definitely won be when you come here ".

    Teachers did agree in the main, that their approach to teaching the subject could communicate certain values. One teacher admitted, "Iknow if I talk and direct all the time, I feel I take all the responsibility for the pupils' progress, so I try to have some pair or group work... to let them use their judgement and have some control over their progress and development".

Examples used in mathematics

  • Teachers were asked to consider the content of Mathematics, in particular the choice of examples and problems featured in textbooks and exam papers. They then discussed and identified the sorts of moral, social and even political values which they felt were conveyed through these examples. Some teachers referred to Key Stage 3 and 4 materials which included graphs and charts presenting profit margins, production output and stock market figures. One teacher commented "You know, I hadn't really thought about the nature of the data before, but .. .. it does clearly applaud capitalism and the struggle for wealth ".

    Research into the connection between Mathematics and the development of materials with alternative values is currently underway in England. These materials focus on data generated from other sources, reflecting a wider range of statistics related to social concerns, such as charity donations, road safety and environmental campaigns.

The relevance of Mathematics

  • Teachers in post-primary schools frequently spoke of their attempts to communicate the relevance of Mathematics to society in general. They referred to the intellectual and social values of the subject which not only allowed pupils to solve mathematical-related problems, but also equip them with analytical, problem-solving and decision-making skills and curious and creative minds. A teacher observed, "Maybe if pupils could see some value in Maths beyond knowing how to count and multiply and pass exams, they would enjoy it better".

Mathematics and 'perserverance', 'truth' and 'autonomy'

  • Several primary teachers drew attention to the "perseverance dimension" of Mathematics, pointing to a perception that the subject required more persistence and application than others. Although many less able pupils found Mathematics difficult, they commented that any progress was considered to be an even greater achievement and "cause for celebration ". Perseverance was identified as a valuable personal quality which contributes greatly towards a pupil's character development. Similar points were raised in relation to girls' perceptions of and performance in Mathematics. The male-dominated image of Maths was also debated in relation to cultural and social values which teachers felt could influence commonly held attitudes towards the expectations of boys' and girls' performances in the subject.

  • Some teachers felt that mathematics demonstrated certain inherent truths and that the subject had potential to promote this moral value in pupils' work and behaviour.

  • One teacher also suggested that Mathematics could help pupils discover their autonomy, "My GCSE pupils know that Maths is either right or wrong and that they can eventually find out for themselves ... they don't always need me".


Teachers concluded that it was easier to inspire pupils and to realise value-related aims and objectives for learning at primary school. They talked of post-primary pupils identifying "negative values" in Mathematics and of having already decided that they disliked or performed badly in the subject by the time they reach Year 8. It is interesting that many secondary school teachers echoed the view that, "a lot of the first years tell me either explicitlyorby their attitudes that they have already written Maths off. Some never give it a chance ".

Most Mathematics teachers were interested in the concept of values and Mathematics, though some felt there was a danger in overplaying an affective values-link and making inappropriate connections.

Science and Technology

Initial reactions to a review of values underlying Science met with a diversity of responses from primary and post-primary teachers:

Science is neutral - it doesn't have any values.

Science is about things not people.

Teachers pay lip service to the proposition that science is value-laden. The fact is there isn't time to explore peripheral issues.

Teachers commented on many aspects of Science in the curriculum including the changes in curriculum structure and content; the challenges and difficulties of catering for all pupils; and the primary teacher's perception of Science. Clearly, teachers were much more in tune with the cognitive aspects of science (the knowledge and understanding of scientific laws; the attainment of skills for designing and undertaking investigative experiments) than with the affective or value-related dimensions.

From the interviews, individuals intimated that teacher training emphasised cognitive development and knowledge-based teaching at the expense of the human dimension (though this is an observation which is not exclusive to Science). Teachers demonstrated some difficulty in identifying examples of values within the Science and Technology curriculum. Technology teachers made similar remarks, but also mentioned the need for more emphasis on moral values, environmental issues and their implications for pupils to be considered at teacher training level.

Science and physical development

  • In Science, primary teachers referred to the physical values which underpin studies of physical and psychological development. They illustrated these values by outlining some of the areas dealt with at Key Stages 1 and 2. Issues such as how the body works; how we move; the effects of exercise; how our bodies change; what we eat and wear, were all shown to promote pupils' understanding of their bodies and the importance of looking after themselves. Indeed physical values continued to pervade the Science curriculum right up to GCSE, with topics such as sex education, drug abuse and nutrition.

    When sex education was raised in interviews, all the respondents except one commented that science teachers adopted a purely scientific approach and that the social, emotional and moral values which were associated with this topic were dealt with elsewhere.

    I only deal with the plumbing. Other aspects are dealt with in PSE or HE.
    I'm not really qualified to deal with all that bit.

    The RE teacher is really good at discussing those sorts of things.

    There is a sort of party line. Science teachers leave those elements to the experts, the RE, HE and PSE teachers.

    However alongside these comments, Science teachers acknowledged that they saw changes in their role, admitting that they had other issues to deal with aside from delivering the curriculum,

    I think we are dealing with the social work aspects of teaching on a daily basis. Sometimes you've got to deal with the social aspects before you can progress to the knowledge and content.

Science and social and technological advancement

  • Physical and moral values were also raised in the context of scientific and technological advances which are seen to be affecting humans, animals and the environment on a local, national or global scale. A teacher pointed to a fundamental effect which technology has had on human life through the use of medical and bio-technological techniques,

    We are now redefining common terms like birth, parenthood and death. Technological advances are changing our perceptions and expectations regarding conception, suffering and death.

    The moral, social and physical implications of various actions were discussed in relation to how they were introduced in the curriculum. Teachers referred to issues which they dealt with at various Key Stages which considered moral, physical and social values (animal extinction, wastage disposal, pollution, drug addiction, genetic engineering, medical advances, and nuclear technology). One teacher mentioned having discussed the concepts of risk and safety in decision-making concerning these issues. He pointed to the moral values implicit in the decision-making process. Cotgrove highlights this point when he states that, "Risk is not just a statistical calculation. It is also a moral judgement about defensible conduct" (Cotgrove 1981 :ppl24-5).

Primary Science

  • In addressing pupils' earliest experiences of Science and Technology, teachers noted the importance of anchoring these subjects in the reality of pupils' everyday experiences. Primary teachers referred to activities which encourage children to examine the simplest pieces of technology they come into contact with. At Key Stage 1 pupils are also introduced to the effects of science and technology on society through such topics as 'transport' and 'the home' and through their introduction to computers.

    Older pupils may consider "how science shapes our lives" and the limitations of science and technology to solve cultural problems. Science advisors referred to primary teachers as the "unsung heroes" in teaching Science. It was suggested that without any specialist training many teachers had come to terms with the requirements of the primary science curriculum, although considerable numbers still lacked confidence.

    Technology teachers referred to opportunities for pupils to be creative and co-operative in processes which develop their sensitivities to other people's needs and cultures. A few respondents commented on the effectiveness of an historical approach which highlights how changes in cultural, moral and social values have been affected by science and technology.

Science and female pupils

  • A value-related aspect of discussions concerning Science and Technology included the relationship between these subjects and female pupils. One teacher was forthright in summarising his opinion of girls' performances in Science,

    Girls and Science are just not compatible. Feelings and sensitivity are not needed for Science. Perhaps I shouldn't say it, but some girls would be better off in Home Economics.

    Other teachers commented that Science continued to be regarded as a "male dynasty" and that some teachers were "still concerned about gender issues ". The majority of teachers remarked that the perception that girls tended to perform less well in Science was not always true and that the attitude and approach of the individual teacher could have a profound effect on girls' confidence and progress.

Distinctions between grammar and secondary schools

  • One grammar school teacher indicated his position regarding Science and less able pupils,

    I think it's a waste of time having those children attempt Science. Those single, double, triple award courses are no good if the kids want to do 'A' level. They haven't had anywhere near enough preparation.

    In response to this comment, a secondary teacher suggested that some grammar teachers felt the changes in the curriculum had left Science very "diluted and weak."

  • A few grammar school teachers identified pressures which they felt from senior management and parents to achieve good GCSE and 'A' level results. They commented that sometimes it was "like processing kids on to the next stage with as much in their heads as possible ". Another stated, "It's like stuffing cushions - in the hope that as much information as possible will stay there ". Finally, one teacher confided, "I do all the difficult stuff from September to Halloween so I sift out the ones who can 't keep up ". He maintained he was not the only teacher to do this.

  • Other teachers commented that quite a few pupils were just managing to keep abreast of what was happening in class. "In Science there is the odd high-flier. Most children are just keeping up ". These comments exposed strongly-held attitudes and values on the part of teachers and it would be interesting to ascertain if these values are apparent in the classroom and to what extent pupils may be aware of them.


In most cases teachers were willing to acknowledge and identify values implicit in Science. Most also felt they had dealt with values in some way through their teaching, though some admitted they do not normally frame their teaching in terms of values, "You never stop to think, you just do ". Others acknowledged the importance of "doing values", but concluded, "If the re was more time, I think more teachers would deal with these additional areas ".

Home Economics

Home Economics (HE) was clearly perceived by other teachers to be "awash" with opportunities in the programmes of study to confront and explore values. For this reason it seemed more appropriate to deal with HE as a distinct area of interest. HE was identified as one of the pre-dominant value dimensions in the formal curriculum (along with PSE and RE) and so many elements of the programmes of study seemed entirely value-laden.

Home economics and the family

  • HE teachers themselves agreed that the two strands of 'Family Life' and 'Home and Family Issues' consisted of many examples of moral, cultural, social, emotional and physical values. A third strand, 'Diet and Health' offers endless opportunities to examine physical and mental development, addressing for example, self-image, food preparation and diet-related health disorders.

  • The changes and challenges facing the family in the 1990's moving towards the year 2000, was an issue raised by every teacher interviewed. Numerous sub-issues, including divorce, single parents, abortion, elderly parents and disability were identified during the course of interviews. There are further opportunities for the discussion of values through the study of family structures and units, employment, care, relationships and responsibilities. Teachers commented on the sensitivity and relevance of these issues for many pupils at a personal level and suggested the need for caution and diplomacy,

    It is sometimes difficult to identify a context in which to broach these sorts of issues. You have to be so careful.

    The good teacher is in tune with every pupil's learning and experiences. She is perceptive and sensitive.

    The majority of teachers seemed to have responded well to curriculum changes, which as described by one individual, "represented a tremendous shift in emphasis and change in content". There were some suggestions that this shift had improved the image of the subject, and more senior managers were giving it greater priority in the timetable.

Home economics and emotive issues

  • Many of the issues related to family and relationships give rise to concerns about the management of feelings and emotional responses. For example, the HE programme states that pupils should have opportunities to consider stress and conflict and to identify strategies to cope with conflict. Examples of situations given include parent/child disagreements; family expectations; and the impact of traditional attitudes and beliefs on relationships. Teachers again emphasised the need to get to know the class well, in order to communicate confidently and to deal with issues effectively. They also referred to the importance of establishing a process for pupils to think about issues; demonstrating how to assemble and use information; analyse viewpoints; adopt and share their own personal viewpoints; and then make decisions about appropriate action. Teachers noted that by developing this knowledge pupils could apply it to many life situations and experiences into adulthood.


Teachers identified the values dimension as a major strength of Home Economics. As well as the knowledge and skills which are readily applicable to all aspects of life, they observed that pupils were given opportunities to develop their own personal values and attitudes; to identify personal strengths and weaknesses; and to identify goals and expectations for their futures.

Language studies

The language teachers interviewed as part of the project taught a combination of French, German, Spanish and Irish. The advisors were also able to comment on Italian, Russian and Japanese because of their contact with other teachers. When it came to examining values however the individual characteristics of a language were not a major consideration. It became clear that the teaching and learning processes of language development were remarkably similar. The initial responses from most teachers concerned examples of the exploration of cultural values which takes place as part of the teaching of foreign languages. Teachers also provided thoughtful insights into values involved in the processes of language teaching and learning.

Language and culture

  • The programmes of study at Key Stage 3 and 4 state that pupils should have opportunities to develop an "understanding and appreciation of culture of the country or community of the target language. By identifying similarities and differences between cultures, they may learn to examine their own more objectively".

    Teachers frequently drew attention to this statement and indicated different types of classroom activity which they undertook to fulfill these aims. Several teachers commented on the close relationship which exists between language and culture noting that, "language and culture go hand in hand." They indicated that it is virtually impossible to learn another language and not have "some grasp of what the culture is about". Teachers pointed out that in learning about other cultures, pupils also learn about their own. It was claimed that this sort of experience promotes tolerance in that, "it gives a different perspective on Northern Ireland" and "it helps open their minds".

Languages and social development

  • Teachers mentioned a range of opportunities where language studies could contribute to the social development of pupils, for example, by encouraging self-confidence and providing pupils with "the chance to express themselves ". Regular group interaction and working in pairs also promoted the development of sensitive talking and listening skills which teachers concluded were readily transferable across the curriculum,

    If you can get them to really listen to their partner, and it is possible, you know they are on their way to developing a very valuable and valued skill.

Languages and moral issues

  • Opportunities to introduce and explore moral values were perceived to be more limited. Teachers reported that issues with moral undercurrents did arise from time to time, though the nature of the materials in use in schools often did not place a great deal of emphasis on this aspect of development. With increased access to videos, magazines and newspapers, pupils were coming into contact with "undiluted moral material ". However it was stated that pupils often did not have sufficient knowledge and understanding of the language to read or discuss such issues and for this reason teachers do not always consider such material appropriate. Pupils at 'A' level may be presented with more opportunities to address the moral aspects of language through set texts and news materials.

Languages and strategies for less able pupils

  • Language teachers made several comments concerning their approach with pupils who experience difficulties with language studies. Some outlined strategies and tasks which acknowledged and rewarded a pupil's achievements. Reference was frequently made to the "creative teacher" who was able to develop and implement motivating activities. One teacher also referred to the difficulties of pitching language lessons at an appropriate level for the whole class,

    The challenge is to target lessons at the top end to promote development and at the bottom end to give encouragement. Too often lessons tend to hit around the middle.

    Interviews with special needs teachers revealed a debate concerning the value of language studies for pupils with moderate learning difficulties. Some felt it gave children an opportunity to experience part of the statutory curriculum and to revisit the grammar and components of English, while others thought it was not particularly relevant or should be an "optional extra".

    Another challenge identified in language teaching was to enthuse the disinterested, disenchanted pupil. Teachers referred to the importance of choosing a good selection of resources and using a wide variety of methods.


An over-riding concern of language teachers was to capitalise on opportunities to consider social and moral issues where they arise naturally within the context of language teaching, rather than in an contrived way.

Advisors also reported different approaches to language studies in secondary and grammar schools. They suggested that pupils in secondary schools tended to be encouraged to enjoy and appreciate a language while grammar school choices of a language were often based on strategic choice as an examination subject selection or the prospects of a successful grade at GCSE.

Creative And Expressive Studies

According to teachers engaged in the area of Creative and Expressive studies many aspects of the subjects included under this umbrella term are the "epitome" of physical, cultural, spiritual, moral, social and emotional values. Teachers frequently identified the salient features of Art and Design, Drama, Media Studies, Music and Physical Education (PE) in affective, attitudinal and value-related terms.

Perceptions of Creative and Expressive Studies

  • Teachers observed that it was precisely because of the irrefutable "value characteristics" that Creative and Expressive studies occupied a "subordinate" and "inferior" position within the curriculum. Teachers remarked on a bias within the curriculum on cognitive development resulting inter alia in a neglect of the affective and creative side. Several respondents alluded to the potentially negative consequences of this type of curriculum on children's futures in the adult world,

    Eminent educationalists and business people like Sir John Harvey-Jones are pointing out that it is no longer just enough to be good at the knowledge-based subjects or the skill-oriented subjects. The demand is now for people to be innovative and creative, therefore the particular skills developed in the creative and expressive area are all important. Society is now looking for people who think, not just say and do. Yes it is important to have skills but you must also be able to address problems, know how to deal with them and then solve them.

Creativity and physical development

  • All the Creative and Expressive subjects yielded evidence of implicit and explicit values associated with the physical development of young people. In the context of physical development PE presented many opportunities for the promotion of co-ordination and movement skills, body awareness, physical and verbal interaction, physical expression and the development of personal qualities and attitudes. Primary teachers identified PE as a very appropriate vehicle for highlighting the value of exercise, hygiene and healthy eating. One teacher commented, "it is generally setting children on the road to a healthy lifestyle". Other teachers referred to the far-reaching effects such education might have,

    You hope that they might remember some of the things you tell them about food and exercise and that they might take it home with them.

    I often tell them why we do PE I think teachers sometimes have to spell this out for them. Sometimes they don't hear it anywhere else.

    Music, in particular the use of musical instruments and singing, was perceived to enhance a child's co-ordination and ability to control fine movements. This was an observation frequently made by special school teachers who commented on the tremendous opportunities it offered children with moderate and severe physical disabilities and learning difficulties to gain control of their bodies and to interact with instruments, space and each other.

    Various activities in Art and Design were identified as having similar value - clay modelling, painting, drawing, creative tasks using textiles, and printing. In addition, many aspects of these subjects were seen to encourage co-operation, trust and perseverance.

Creative movement

  • Teachers in primary and post-primary schools are being encouraged to introduce dance and creative movement in order to explore the more creative and expressive aspects of PE Dance and movement, like Drama are seen to develop children's awareness of their bodies, their powers of expression and their ability to explore feelings and emotions. A few teachers who had undertaken dance with their pupils thought that it was a refreshing change from games and sports activities. One teacher also said that, "creative movement is where you might just find the non-academic child sparkling ". Most teachers felt that dance was a bit too specialised and complex for the untrained while some post-primary male teachers thought it was "out of the question really".

    The interviews uncovered a fairly widespread feeling amongst primary teachers concerning a lack of confidence and knowledge about PE. They frequently complained of a lack of training in PE and the small amount of time allocated to the subject in many schools. This point has been mentioned at a National level with comments about the "government's ostrich-like.., attitude to the standard of PE in primary schools where more than 90% of teaching is carried out by non-specialists". The gravity of this situation has been set alongside evidence suggesting that,

    the 7 to 11 age range establishes the attitudes, enthusiasm and basic capabilities in physical activity. By the age of 11 most children have sorted out their feelings about physical education and sport. (Lee in TES October 1995:17)

Cultural influences in Creative and Expressive Studies
  • Several primary teachers drew attention to the inclusion of traditional street games such as hopscotch and circle singing games in their PE programme. They explained the games were linked to geography or history topics on traditions and culture which were being studied concurrently. In music, teachers referred to background studies and pupils' experiences of music from other countries and cultures, such as North American Indians and 'the blues'. They also highlighted cultural elements in studies of the construction and composition of indigenous music and analyses of traditional and world music. One teacher commenting on culture and music said,

    You find as you get to know the curriculum more that there are lots of opportunities to think about culture and it is better when you just find the connection, instead of forcing it.

    Areas for considering cultural and traditional values in Art and Design were highlighted by several post-primary teachers. They commented on the cultural, political and social values underpinning art masterpieces which were studied by pupils and the "cultural baggage" which pupils carry in "designing their own masterpieces ".

Exploring identity as part of Creative and Expressive Studies
  • Within Media studies teachers reported that an exploration of identity was often at the heart of their work and provided a basis for classroom discussions about gender, stereotyping, nationality and religious identity. Drama was also perceived to provide pupils with effective tools to explore identity in a safe and supportive environment. Teachers mentioned various techniques such as role play, character shadowing and improvisation. Drama and media studies teachers endorsed the processes and structures available through drama for effective and productive studies of sensitive moral and controversial issues.

    It allows pupils to express themselves without the constraints of language and it encourages kids to ask questions, challenge commonly-held views, and analyse messages in the media and modern popular culture.

Emotional development through Creative and Expressive studies

  • There was a consensus amongst teachers of Creative and Expressive subjects that emotional values pervaded the entire area of study. PE teachers indicated that pupils' participation in dance facilitated interaction with emotions. Dance drama, creative dance and character dance were all seen as mechanisms which give pupils access to their own and others' feelings and experience in knowing how to interpret and manage these feelings. In Art and Design, teachers outlined opportunities for pupils to make personal and visual responses through design and construction and by accessing a wide range of stimuli, technique and media.

  • In Music, pupils were encouraged to recognise the manipulative power of music and its ability to distort meaning and reality. Teachers commented that while sensitive issues might arise from time to time, they tended to be peripheral to the main objectives of lessons. Several teachers referred to the analyses of music from films such as 'Schindler's List' and 'West Side Story', but also added that they had not actively sought out opportunities to initiate discussions around any of the difficult or controversial issues addressed in these films.

  • The processes of recognising, interpreting, accepting and managing emotions characterised many conversations where teachers referred to the powerful effects of images, words, sounds, music, mime, and silence. Another important emotional aspect of these subjects, mentioned by a few teachers, was the feelings aroused in pupils through performance. Pupil experiences of failure, success, rejection and injustice on the sports field, on the stage or in music was considered to have a potentially profound effect on their emotions. On the other hand, many activities in the Creative and Expressive subjects were considered to have an "almost therapeutic effect", providing non-verbal mechanisms to communicate or heal personal emotional traumas.

  • There were evidently many opportunities to explore and experience the emotional dimensions of these subjects, with or without the teacher's active involvement. A sizeable percentage of teachers still expressed some discomfort and reluctance in "going too far", explaining how they preferred not to, "get too deep into these emotional experiences". Their fears focused around their inability to deal with emotional traumas that could arise and the repercussions of becoming involved with sensitive situations, as one teacher said, regarding a third year Art and Design class,

    It's not that you're not looking to help. You ' re just afraid in some cases, of what you might find.

Spiritual development through Creative and Expressive Studies

  • Teachers strongly agreed that spiritual values underpinned many areas of the Creative and Expressive area of study, however they experienced some difficulties in articulating tangible examples. Many teachers felt that spiritual experiences and development are, by their very nature, ethereal and immeasurable. Such experiences were also considered to be intensely personal and individual and therefore it was not possible to recognise every spiritual element or encounter within the subjects. Responses from PE teachers tended to focus on dance as an expressive process. In Media Studies and Art, teachers indicated how words, graphics and images were employed as stimuli to provoke pupils into reflecting, analysing and questioning what they feel and believe. Music teachers used terms such as 'reflection', 'inspiration' and 'motivation' to describe the kinds of spiritual experience which might be evoked through different musical encounters. Art was identified as a powerful means to self-discovery by many teachers in both "passive and active ways". Others referred to the subjects' "aesthetic powers" and the "...opportunities for identifying and appreciating beauty, peace and joy ". Drama was also seen to "equip pupils with confidence and knowledge to undertake investigations into their beliefs, faith and principles ".

Creative and Expressive studies and special needs

  • Special school teachers clearly attached great value to the activities available to children through Creative and Expressive studies. Much emphasis was placed upon self-exploration and self-expression and encouraging children to participate with others in drawing, singing, movement and drama. Every special school visited during the project was making plans for, or engaged in rehearsals for a concert, play or musical show. All the schools had extensive displays of the children's art work in the reception areas, corridors and classrooms. Teachers indicated many positive effects on the children of their involvement in creative and expressive activities in developing qualities such as self-confidence, self-esteem, self-knowledge, self-control, responsibility, creativity and team spirit. Opportunities to express and explore their own personal problems or disabilities were also indicated. The advent of drama, art and music therapies have given greater emphasis to the healing powers in the arts, and provided opportunities in many special schools for the exploration of physical, emotional and spiritual experiences.

Assessment and Creative and Expressive Studies

  • A number of teachers referred to assessment and the criteria they used in evaluating pupils' work for Art and Design and Music. The assessment of musical compositions was a particular example of teachers identifying the difficulties in assigning a value to pupils' work. While many respondents approved of guidelines which were issued for assessing composition, there were some teachers who acknowledged the validity of placing an intrinsic value in pupils' work (the notion of attributing subjective values to a piece of artwork or musical composition). A few teachers also referred to the sensitivity involved in offering any criticisms of pupils' creativity which was essentially a very personal matter.

The status of Creative and Expressive Studies

  • A common issue raised by almost all the teachers interviewed was the approach adopted in schools for timetabling Creative and Expressive subjects. Teachers complained that these subjects were, "slotted in wherever possible" or "left until the end with RE". Music teachers almost invariably commented that music was only "important "worried about", or "a priority" when a school musical event was approaching. The rest of the time it was "second rate", a "lesser subject" or "bottom of the heap".

  • Media Studies, according to many teachers, is poorly valued, particularly within grammar schools. Some secondary teachers concluded that "grammar schools think it's a Mickey Mouse subject", or "grammars don't think its a valid area for study". Media studies teachers in both secondary and grammar schools also reported some of their colleagues perceptions as,

    I suppose it's good for kids who won't do well anywhere else;

    It's alright for the less-academic ones; and

    Sure it only encourages them to watch more TV and do even less work,

    Such perspectives left many Media Studies teachers feeling that their subject was at times "fighting for its corner" and some teachers had attempted to raise the status of their subject by initiating cross-curricular projects with English, Drama and History. This point is confirmed by the Northern Ireland Curriculum Cohort Study which suggests that,

    teachers' concerns about the comparatively low status of the creative and expressive arts in the Northern Ireland Curriculum are forcefully corroborated by pupils' prima facie responses. (Harland et al, 1996:77).

  • Drama teachers repeatedly drew attention to their subject as a potential vehicle for children to explore sensitive and controversial issues across the different areas of the curriculum. They indicated how, by using different drama techniques a teacher in almost any subject could develop children's abilities to understand and empathise with other positions and experiences. However, the responses from teachers of others subjects were somewhat less enthusiastic. They spoke of their inexperience, lack of skills and lack of confidence in the whole area typified by the comment, "Maybe if I had some training I'd think about using drama from time to time ".

  • Comments were frequently made regarding the role of the Music, PE and Drama, and to a lesser degree Art and Design, as important elements in a school Public Relations (PR) strategies. These observations are addressed in greater detail under the Informal Curriculum.


Creative and Expressive subjects seemed to present teachers with many real and unique opportunities to highlight and explore different values. In doing so, some teachers acknowledged the potential for the establishment of more open and effective relationships between themselves and their pupils. Whilst others acknowledged this possibility, most also voiced strong concerns about maintaining "appropriately distanced relationships" and professional detachment.

Environment and Society

A comment from one primary school teacher seemed to summarise the perspectives of many teachers of this area,

Environment and Society is all about life and perhaps more accurately, living. I suppose when you talk about values, then it's looking at the values that brought us to where we are and the values that will take us forward its also about how we exist and interact with our many environments and neighbours.
When asked to consider the current provision for values in History, Geograph and Business Studies respondents immediately reflected on the opportunities to address cultural and moral values, particularly in History and Geography. Other values took a little longer to "tease" out, however the majority teachers' responses did suggest that Environment and Society does embrace a wide range of physical, social, emotional, intellectual, moral and cultural values.

Values related to intellectual development

  • Teachers valued 'intellectual development' in Environmental and Social Studies through the acquisition of knowledge and skills in this area. This encompassed the recognition and assimilation of new terminology such as treaty, politics, society, domestic and foreign policy, and conceptual knowledge relating to chronology, change, progression, and consequences in History. In Geography, teachers listed tenns such as settlement, environment, pollution, economic development, population, latitude and longitude. In Business Studies they referred to pupils identifying the roles of citizens, consumers and employees.

Personal development through environmental and social studies

  • In terms of physical values and in particular, personal qualities, all the subjects yielded opportunities for children to learn how to make choices and decisions, to participate effectively in group activities and to develop healthy and mature attitudes. History teachers underlined the importance of pitching their presentations of historical events at the appropriate age level. Several drew attention to the need to revise certain lessons, "to ensure they were suitable for the target audience ". One respondent commented how,

    third and fourth year boys have to be handled sensitively, they ... are sometimes still very immature and unable to deal effectively with some everyday issues.

  • Also in relation to physical values, one teacher suggested that the power and potential impact of expressive and persuasive rhetoric and movement, demonstrated by famous orators such as Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini, might also constitute an interesting lesson. Pupils could analyse and discuss how and why these individuals succeeded in securing and maintaining power, as part of their studies of European, Fascist, or twentieth century dictatorships.

Social development through environmental and social studies

  • In the context of the primary school, teachers identified many examples of opportunities to promote pupils' social development. They referred to lessons which focused on care of the environment and pets, learning about other people and relationships and cultivating respect for and understanding of different lifestyles. Pupils were using a variety of strategies to explore these areas, including pair and group work, active learning sessions, oral presentations and class exposition. A few post-primary teachers gave some concrete examples of undertaking a study of a plantation family in Ulster, in order to explore lifestyles and society at this time, while another illustrated a lesson studying slogans and the effect that these could have on communities, government policies and conflicts.

Values related to cultural identity and tradition

  • Values related to cultural identity arose in many areas of the History programmes. At Key Stages 1 and 2 storytelling, myths and songs were recognised as a means of communicating the traditions which make up a society. Through Geography children learn, "how to see themselves in relation to other children, other places and then other traditions".

    Teachers recognised how historical studies reflect many aspects of culture through studies at primary level of the home, play, school, transport and shopping. At post-primary level topics mentioned included politics, war, economics, social and educational policies. In undertaking a study of Northern Ireland culture by examining historical and political events one teacher commented,

    I try to encourage the kids to see that there is more to this country than what you see in the media, hear from politicians or catch scribbled on a gable wall.

    His point highlighted the role of History in raising sensitive and controversial issues using a variety of methods which encourage young people to examine and understand the values and beliefs of themselves and others.

Controversial issues

  • Teachers of History commented on the controversial nature of many aspects of their programme of study the strong feelings, even uncontrolled outbursts, which arose especially in relation to Northern Ireland. One teacher suggested that,

    History has a strange power to provoke a mixture of emotions in the classroom. Teachers have to quite resolutely put theirfeelings to the side and try to concentrate on presenting a clearly balanced perspective.

    Other teachers pointed out how difficult this could be. Every teacher alluded to the sensitivities in teaching about Northern Ireland and to the fact that many children still lived in what are essentially divided communities.

Values and development education

  • Examples provided by Geography teachers highlighted opportunities to explore the impact of decisions and actions on people and the environment. These included studies of homelessness, air and sea pollution, famine, land development programmes and profit markets. A common feature of such studies is that they draw attention to the value systems of others and pupils' personal beliefs and values in relation to the issues concerned.

    Teachers demonstrated how by looking at environmental change, conflicts over resources or environmental management pupils are afforded opportunities to identify and analyse personal and corporate values and attitudes and to determine how these could influence subsequent judgements, consequences and actions. One particular topic which was frequently raised concerned perceptions of developing countries and how they are perceived. Teachers discussed the negative implications of ethnocentricity and the degree to which opinions and beliefs could be determined or altered by media images.

  • Several teachers were working towards promoting positive images of children in countries characterised by famine, war, disease and death.

    The TV images are not the whole story. We want to present the truth about these cultures. Yes, there are terrible scenes, but there are also other scenes, which children might even be able to identify with. The children in our pictures are wearing clothes, playing and eating dinner - not so different from our own pupils.

    Their aim was to temper television images with equally real, but happier, healthier images of children in developing countries and to encourage pupils to develop a critical awareness of media images.

Values and Business Studies

  • Business Studies presents pupils with an insight into business culture, providing opportunities to examine the structure and processes of business deals, contracts and interaction. Teachers commented on how pupils are also confronted, through different topics and assignments with various definitions of society's values such as enterprise, work, ambition, profit, and rewards. Recognition was given to teachers' responsibility to present such values, as one teacher said, "in the broader context of things, alongside greater achievements like honesty, justice and respect". Other issues included the introduction of maternity and paternity leave, flexitime, and the rising number of female managers. Other aspects of gender issues in the workplace also featured in discussions and debates.

Morality and environmental and social studies

The interviews with teachers involved in environmental and social studies highlighted the extent to which this Area of Study can lead to an exploration of the morality of certain practices as well as a less subjective consideration of the values involved.

  • In Geography, awareness and care of the local environment is addressed through numerous projects which raise questions about individual, collective and corporate responsibilities and the morality of various actions. One Geography teacher remarked that,

    pupils can step in and out of each actor's shoes and experience what's going on. It helps them to appraise a situation morefullyand to understand the profound difficulties in identifying the "right" decision.

  • In History the purpose and consequence of actions is considered through an interpretation of historical events which may include some understanding of the morality of other time periods and cultural settings.

  • Teachers of Business Studies referred to elements of the programmes of study which address the characteristics of morally-correct business practice (honesty, fairness, justice and tolerance) and "morally-corrupt" practices (fraud, prejudice, dishonesty and exploitation). Other opportunities to address morality occur in the context of human rights issues relating to the working and employment conditions in various countries, fair pay and issues such as the exportation of live animals. Teachers related details of lively debates which had centred around several of these subjects.

Personal beliefs and attitudes

  • A number of teachers referred to the capacity of their subject to challenge pupils' attitudes, beliefs, motives and values. For example, the study of various conflicts in History gives rise to moral complexities of cause and consequence and the positive and negative effects of change. Political and civil unrest in Northern Ireland was also a focus of study at Key Stage 4. Teachers communicated a range of perceptions regarding the difficulties of confronting and teaching these issues. Their experiences depended to a some degree on the location of their school and the background (and in some cases sex) of their pupils. One teacher remarked,

    Dealing with these issues is like walking on a minefield. You have to try so hard to get the pupils to think about other people's feelings and opinions and not just their own. Human life, truth, and respect -for some of these kids, moral values like these just don't come into it.

    Teachers, especially at the post-primary level acknowledged the moral dimension of many issues they mentioned, though the challenge to focus on them more explicitly for some, was just too difficult to meet.


Most teachers in the area of Environment and Society, referred to the "power" which resides with teachers to choose which topics to study. Some commented on the extent to which a teacher could distort situations and events. Most agreed that while very few teachers set out to deliberately indoctrinate pupils or promote propaganda in their teaching, teachers should be aware of the extent to which their teaching methods or selection of resources may introduce an issue from a particular perspective or bias. According to some it is difficult not to do this. The overriding message however was the need for teachers to be ever conscious of how they present information and what they perceive their pupils to understand by it.

Religious Education

Religious Education (RE) was indisputably the most commonly identified "values dimension" of the curriculum. Almost every teacher made some reference to this subject at some stage throughout the interviews. Some respondents also referred to the RE teacher as the "values man" or the "moral expert", suggesting morals and values were "his speciality". Teachers expressed a variety of opinions about RE. Some thought it provided pupils with a beneficial departure from the pressures of the scientific and cognitive-based curriculum, "giving their brains a rest". Others felt it was a valuable opportunity for pupils to gain further accreditation suggesting, "it's more useful now that pupils are doing it at GCSE".

The RE syllabus places a significant emphasis on values, attitudes, beliefs and morals, particularly through the third part of the core syllabus entitled 'Morality'. The main aim of this course is stated as a preface to each Key Stage,

pupils should develop their ability to think and judge about morality, to relate Christian moral principles to personal and social life and to identify values and attitudes that influence behaviour. (DENI 1993).
A review of the examples given in the programmes of study for each of the attainment target clearly outlines the permeation of physical, moral, cultural, emotional, social and spiritual values throughout the subject. These examples include a recognition and acceptance of self, a concern about the environment, management of relationships, decision-making and a respect for love and life.

Because the programmes of study embrace such a rich, eclectic range of value-related material, it seemed rather unnecessary to ask RE teachers to restate these during interviews. Instead, teachers were encouraged to focus on general perceptions and experiences of the RE programme, teaching methodologies and strategies and debates surrounding value-related issues within the subject. Additionally, because RE was widely perceived as the main context for the exploration and discussion of values, it was considered that a review of its status within the curriculum would be appropriate and enlightening.

RE as 'emotional cement'

  • Many of the teachers interviewed, drew attention to the valuable opportunities RE affords pupils to explore and discuss many issues which have direct relevance for their own lives. Some teachers stated that RE was helpful in supporting "sensitive" aspects of their own subjects. Examples were given of the moral, social and emotional aspects of sex education which are often not addressed in Science and explorations of identity and tradition which support work in History and English. One RE teacher commented that RE was sometimes perceived as 'filling in gaps left by other subjects" and another suggested that in addressing difficult or sensitive issues she was going where "other teachers fear to tread".

The low status of RE

  • Although the valuable contribution of RE to the curriculum was endorsed by many teachers and senior managers, RE teachers were concerned with the low status of the subject. They felt that this was due in part to the emphasis on knowledge and skills within the curriculum which is then embodied in the approach adopted by many schools. They indicated that while the content and teaching of RE was often applauded by head teachers and senior staff, it was often the last subject to be timetabled and the first to be changed or reduced in terms of the time allocated. Teachers spoke of RE being "slotted in" or "tagged on" the school timetable after every other subject.

    Many also mentioned that a considerable proportion of RE teachers were non-specialists and that in many schools RE teaching was shared between several teachers, sometimes up to as many as eight. Many schools did not have an RE specialist. According to one RE teacher, "other staff think there's nothing to it. It 's just a matter of rattling through the facts". This issue has been raised in England and Wales with an OFSTED review "identifying a lack of specialist staff and a lack of commitment to the subject by school managers" (Pyke, TES 1995).

    Several teachers also observed that despite the introduction of statutory requirements for Religious Education, parents and pupils perceived little value in studying the subject, if the school did not also offer some academic accreditation,

    They've told me they think it's a waste oftime unless they can get some sort of certificate. It's a terrible shame that this seems to be the only contribution RE can make.

RE, personal beliefs and commitment

  • The personal beliefs of RE teachers were also mentioned by teachers in terms of their perception and delivery of the subject. In 1994, SCAA established several working groups to identify the content of model RE syllabi. The conclusion reached by these groups led SCAA to state that RE "can only be understood and learnt from within" and also that "religion can only be taught from within - that is with a religious commitment" (Wilson, TES 1995). RE teachers who were interviewed, considered whether RE teaching was approached any differently or if there was anything "lacking" if the teacher was not an "actively committed Christian". The variety of responses included the following:

    While the non-Christian teacher may be very thorough, honest and interested, there are some things that will not be conveyed.

    The Christian teacher will communicate the real meaning and experience of prayer. The non-Christian will not.

    Many of the values in RE are common to society - honesty, fairness, tolerance and kindness - a teacher doesn't need a religious commitment to teach these.

    A good background knowledge and enthusiasm for RE is enough.

    Respondents frequently referred to the RE teacher who displayed strong, unshakeable convictions and the temptation to use RE lessons as an opportunity to proselytise. There was a unanimous rejection of any teacher forcing their views on pupils or teaching from "a high moral ground". A good RE teacher was characterised as caring, tolerant, interested and empathic, with an enthusiasm for the subject and a good working knowledge of the course contents.

RE, values education and moral education

  • The notion of 'values education' arose quite naturally in some conversations and several teachers went so far as to suggest that RE involves a broadly similar approach when dealing with complex and emotional issues. The distinguishing characteristic of RE was that the morality it promotes stems from a strong spiritual basis and a definitive biblical influence. A number of teachers expressed reservations about the term 'morality' because of its negative associations with rules, prohibitions and judgment. In general, teachers felt the salient point was how morality was approached and explored in class and to what extent pupils found it interesting, relevant and challenging. One respondent commented that, "it is important to acknowledge the value differences across generations," while another concluded that, "there are basic values that don't go out of fashion ".

  • Many individuals commented on morality and debated its definition. There was a concern that the issues involved should not be defined too narrowly. "Its not just sexuality, you know" was one response and another teacher stated emphatically that the "stereotypical moral issues - sex, abortion and suicide are only part of the story". These statements corroborated others' views that the term had a much broader meaning. Teachers commented that morality dealt with, "the big issues - life, death, relationships, fears, feelings", with "love, justice and life" and "guiding pupils to understand, to make choices and to stand up for what the)' believe ". On no occasion did teachers echo a perceived motivation behind the RE syllabus in England and Wales, "the belief that young people must be taught how to be good" (Wilson, TES 1995). Indeed many teachers expressed some concern that to adopt a deterministic approach, concentrating explicitly on definitions of 'right' and 'wrong' would be damaging to the whole spiritual and emotional content of RE. They were anxious that,

    RE would then be subsumed under moral education and we would be reduced to teaching what is right and wrong.

    Clearly, teachers regarded the morality dimension of RE from a much broader, more inclusive perspective, placing a strong emphasis on the value of each individual, their understanding and opinion, and their participation in contemporary society. It was also evident that teachers valued the developmental aspect of RE, commenting on the crucial opportunities which the programme of study offered young people to reflect on, and shape their views and opinions. One teacher remarked,

    While pupils will never have to deal with many issues in their subjects again, the issues in RE will continue to crop up again and again.

Teaching methods and strategies in RE

  • RE teachers frequently reiterated how the choice of appropriate and imaginative teaching methods and strategies, and the development of an "open, honest and accepting relationship with pupils ", are crucial for effective teaching. Several commented that an essential part of discussion work is the opportunity for pupils to give their own perspective and to examine where their own values had originated.

RE in controlled and maintained schools

  • Teachers in maintained post-primary schools mentioned the benefits of retreats for Years 11 and 12, where pupils are given the opportunity to spend time together away from the classroom to discuss a wide range of issues, "usually' including relationships and sexuality". One teacher felt that "taking children out of the timetabled routine and exam-oriented atmosphere" gives pupils the opportunity to "think more freely and speak more openly about real life issues ". A few teachers commented how the maintained school approach to RE was less 'formalised' than in controlled schools and that the teaching made greater reference to marginalised groups such as travellers, alcoholics and the poor. Another teacher suggested there was less concern for "outcasts" in the controlled schools approach.

  • In terms of the values underpinning the approach to RE in the controlled and maintained sectors almost every individual interviewed suggested there is a difference between the two, though they often experienced some difficulty in articulating the distinctions. Many teachers suggested that because Catholic liturgy and ideals pervaded much of the daily life of maintained schools, RE was a more "natural" and integral part of pupils' education. (The concept of a Catholic School ethos is referred to in Chapter six). In addition where schools had strong links with a local Catholic parish and clergy this was perceived to raise the profile of RE within the school. In controlled schools pupils are drawn from a range of denominations and none and this is reflected in a broader based 'non-confessional' approach to RE. One respondent suggested that teachers and pupils in controlled schools experience RE through "words and understanding", but often displayed a "lack of heart". In maintained schools, on the other hand, teachers and pupils "have meaningful experiences ", but are "often unable to articulate their theology".

RE and integrated schools

  • Integrated schools have designed RE programmes to meet the needs of Catholic and Protestant pupils within their enrolment. In most cases this has meant identifying a common programme augmented by provision for specific denominational needs. In drafting and implementing an RE programme in integrated schools, teachers spoke of "starting from a point of contact and sharing experience, while still using the core syllabus ". An integrated primary school teacher commented that, "the staff didn't realise how much they had in common until the)' started thinking about basic values and beliefs ". Several teachers in the integrated sector said that they felt more motivated about RE than some of their counterparts in mainstream schools,

    Its so much more exciting and pupils greet each others differences with interest and acceptance.

    An important point emerging from discussions with teachers was that in the integrated sector RE is based on the premise that children need to feel sure of their own tradition before they can share this tradition with others. For some teachers this added an additional impetus for integrated schools to ensure that each child is well-acquainted with their own religious background and tradition.


The extent to which RE may contribute to pupil development and the wider curriculum was perceived to be largely dependent on the respect and support accorded the subject by the senior management in individual schools. Many RE teachers felt that the subject had more to offer but two or three periods a week was limiting, "Given respect, there are many areas of the curriculum which the RE teacher can broach and deal with quite effectively".

Some teachers acknowledged a definite improvement in the status of the subject. They suggested that this may be because schools are discovering that more and more "outside issues" are creeping into the classroom and teachers are increasingly pressed to repond to these. One teacher concluded, "RE is the Cinderella subject, but it seems it's now perhaps getting read)' for the ball".

Personal and Social Education

Personal and Social Education (PSE) was widely recognised as strongly values-oriented. Teachers in many areas of study described the content of PSE as "heavily value-based", commenting on the contribution it could potentially make towards the affective and behavioural development of pupils. The notion of 'development' was prominent in many discussions, as teachers commented on opportunities for "moral development", "emotional development" and "personal and social" development. When pressed to offer a more detailed analysis of these terms some teachers acknowledged that they would have difficulty since they often used the terms interchangeably. Whilst such descriptors are used widely it appears that teachers have had limited opportunity to unravel or discuss the distinctions and nuances of the terms.

Values and attitudes involved in PSE

  • Teachers indicated that many facets of PSE addressed values, such as personal attitudes and beliefs, self-knowledge, interpersonal relationships and decision-making. PSE, according to teachers gives pupils the opportunity to leave the usual knowledge-based, intellectual dimension of the curriculum to one side and to concentrate on their "social, personal, moral, sexual and emotional selves ". Teachers pointed out that in this sense PSE is unique, allowing pupils of all abilities to develop and achieve. They also drew attention to opportunities to examine cultural values, giving examples of where teachers could consider the concepts of identity and tradition which encourages pupils to develop an empathic understanding of other views and beliefs.

Learning in partnership

  • The controversial and sensitive nature of many of the issues encountered in PSE had prompted many teachers to adopt teaching approaches which facilitate collaboration and joint-participation of teachers and pupils. Several teachers spoke of aiming to achieve "a sense of equal status between teacher and class" so that pupils might develop a strong sense of ownership and partnership about their own learning. For this approach to be successful teachers recognised that they had to be prepared to "share, perhaps even expose a part of their inner selves" and to "trust and invest some faith in the class".

PSE as 'education for life'

  • Teachers commented that in common with RE, PSE is a form of "life education ", that is, education which will potentially inform and guide pupils in their decisions, opinions and behaviour for the rest of their lives. From this perspective, PSE was defined as an essentially "pragmatic" subject - guiding, preparing, training, and equipping pupils to engage effectively in inter-personal relationships and to "participate actively in daily living ". Teachers went on to refer to the many diverse pressures which exist in modern society and to the concerns that pupils will grow up to function in this society at an unthinking and perfunctory level. Equipping pupils with the knowledge and skills to implement thinking and decision-making processes and encouraging them to form attitudes and identify their values at this stage of their lives, was perceived by teachers to be a positive and effective means of ensuring that pupils would develop into empowered and participating citizens.

Perceptions of PSE

  • Teachers' opinions and perceptions of PSE were varied. In secondary schools where PSE was an integral part of the timetable, PSE teachers themselves were in most cases enthusiastic and very positive in their assessment of the subject and the valuable benefits and opportunities it provided in promoting "non-intellectual" aspects of pupil development. Most secondary teachers acknowledged that the subject "doubtlessly does some good" while a few were less enthusiastic suggesting that it "gives the less able ones hope of getting at least one GCSE".

  • There was an impression conveyed by some grammar school teachers that PSE was a rather lightweight subject, with little intellectual value. Within the broader picture of academic achievement and accreditation the subject was perceived as "not a lot of use ". One or two treated the subject with some contempt, commenting that it was "really a two-bit secondary subject". These views however did not reflect the majority of opinion. Most teachers (grammar and secondary) commented that while they knew little about the content of PSE, it made an important contribution to the school timetable in terms of "whole child development".

  • As with RE, teachers saw PSE as covering those "social ", "sensitive ", "difficult", "additional ", "controversial" aspects of their subjects which some preferred to "skim over" or "leave to the side". In this way, PSE was perceived as also "filling the gaps ". Significantly, teachers commented on a disparity between recent messages from the government for a more emphasis on personal, social and moral education and the reality in most schools that the formal programme of study for PSE is only afforded one or two periods a week on the timetable.


PSE teachers expressed a concern that PSE was not more readily recognised and accepted by teachers and senior managers in grammar and secondary schools. While they felt the subject had "gained some ground" there was still a long way to go. A teacher summarised her feelings by commenting,

I think it's rather sad and shortsighted that education in our society seems to be confined to the development of a fairly narrow knowledge base. We need to reconsider what our pupils really need once they leave the security and familiarity of the school.

The Cross Curricular Themes

Throughout interviews, respondents were asked to consider where and how values featured through the Cross-Curricular Themes (CCTs), and where appropriate, to identify how these impinged upon the various subjects which make up the Formal Curriculum. From teachers' responses, it became evident that several of the cross-curricular Themes were more prominent in their minds than others. Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU) was the most commonly mentioned CCT, followed by Cultural Heritage and Information Technology, (though the latter was mentioned much less frequently). While most teachers were confident providing evidence of how the themes permeated through the programmes of study, fewer teachers were able to frame concrete, practical examples of how aspects of the themes might actually be explored with pupils.

A concern regularly intimated by teachers, was that the introduction or inclusion of the cross-curricular themes in some areas of the curriculum and at some stages in teaching was artificial and forced. Respondents commented that the implementation of the themes then became nothing more than a "tick box exercise" where teachers placed a "tick" against a theme each time it was featured in their teaching These perceptions are corroborated in the recent cohort study of the Northern Ireland Curriculum where teachers' dissatisfaction with the cross-curricular themes was focused very strongly on the "sense of artificiality which the CCTs were perceived to impose on the 'natural' content of individual subjects" (Harland 1995:48).

Health Education

This theme tended to be raised by teachers of a small range of subjects, namely HE, PE, PSE and Science. Teachers in primary and post-primary schools referred to opportunities to highlight the theme through topics concerned with personal and social development and the environment. In terms of the values associated with personal development, aspects of the PE programmes of study at all Key Stages were perceived to contribute to the development of a positive self-image and self-confidence in pupils. Teachers indicated how play in the early years encouraged children to explore and experiment with movement, and to develop a positive attitude towards physical activity. Older pupils were focused on increasing their awareness of their physical capabilities and the physiological and social value of integrating regular exercise into their daily routines. Some of the topics featured in the Science, PSE and HE programmes of study relate directly to health issues, such as nutrition, hygiene and human development. Respondents reflected again on the formation of healthy and responsible attitudes in pupils towards these issues, and on the development of self-confidence and a positive self-image.

Social development was measured through the formation and management of healthy, social relationships with family, friends and others. Opportunities were perceived in all the subjects mentioned to further the development of positive social skills and attitudes. These were highlighted by the ability of pupils to work effectively with their peers, to form balanced judgements and to develop an understanding and acceptance of others.

In recognising their relationships with, and responsibilities to the environment, pupils are also encouraged to see how issues and activities in these subject areas relate to the world outside, and in developing a sense of social responsibility, to consider what contribution they themselves might make to society.

Information Technology (IT)

The learning outcomes identified for this theme include,

a knowledge and understanding of appropriate uses of IT, with a corresponding ability to apply it sensibly and with confidence... and a recognition of the effects which IT can and will have on themselves, other individuals, organisations and society.(NICC 1992)

Identifying values in this theme posed some problems for most teachers. Responses tended to focus on the permeation of technology through most aspects of life and the necessity for pupils to be familiar and comfortable with various tools of information technology. The computer was mentioned on many occasions, and respondents highlighted the opportunities it provided for creative, communicative and mathematical activities Other perspectives considered the impact of information technology on individuals and society and the responsibility which accompanied the widespread employment of various IT tools.

One concern expressed by teachers was the increasingly technocratic nature of the curriculum and the perception of a potential shift away from human values, and the value of the individual. One teacher commented that as a society, we tend to create what is either beautiful or useful, and that as human advancement pushes on through technology and science, we are being given ever clearer indications of what is considered to be of worth and of value.

Economic Awareness

Economic Awareness aims

to develop in young people the ability to participate effectively as confident consumers, producers and citizens. (NICC 1992)

This theme was mentioned in connection with subjects under the Environment and Society area of study and on several occasions Mathematics. Teachers emphasised the value of pupils having a good working knowledge of this area in order to be able to make balanced and informed judgements, and to discern what were appropriate actions in various situations. Teachers also commented on how pupils might be empowered to use relevant knowledge and to investigate issues which could have implications for the personal, social and economic welfare of individuals, communities and the wider society.

Careers Education

The concept of careers education is based on a belief that

individuals should be enabled to shape and direct the course of their lives as autonomous and responsible members of society, in order both to enhance the quality of personal life and contribution to the common good. (NICC 1992)

Several Careers teachers were interviewed as part of the research, and they commented quite extensively on the potential benefits of this cross-curricular theme in pupil development. Careers studies undertaken in the context of any subject were perceived to promote and enhance pupils' knowledge and understanding of themselves. Teachers indicated how, in considering further education or employment, pupils undertake a valuable "inventory of their characteristics, skills and strengths". Opportunities are afforded pupils to identify and catalogue their personal qualities, strengths, interests, potential, abilities and values - to think essentially about who they are. Teachers felt that promoting self-awareness helped pupils to consider the place they occupied in their class and school, and in their circle of friends, family and society.

As well as gaining essential knowledge and skills though selected subjects, it was noted that pupils were also investigating appropriate personal skills and qualities and making important choices and decisions.

Teachers felt that self-awareness was promoted through all subjects to some degree, though English, HE, PSE, and RE appeared to offer more opportunities to pursue this objective. English teachers intimated how the use of language, and the development of telephone and interview techniques also contributed to Careers Education. RE was perceived to offer opportunities for the development of self-awareness and to deal with issues related to lifestyle and ambition. Many teachers felt they complemented the work of the careers teachers, by offering additional information relating to subjects, and where it was possible, and appropriate qualifications and career descriptions.

One issue raised by many teachers, concerned pupils' transition from school to further education or employment - as they described it the "wider world." Individuals commented how the values upheld and transmitted within the school walls often contrasted markedly with those in further educational establishments, and in the workplace. Some concern was expressed that schools rarely acknowledged this, and offered only minimal preparation for the transition into the "wider world".

One teacher commented,

"It's a totally different ball game out there. Sometimes I think teachers and schools forget that they communicate a set of values which are not always readily applicable or transferable to the bigger world of work and life.

Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU) and Cultural Heritage

Respondents tended to address these two themes as one (under the term EMU), either because they recognised the two as being "conjoined", or because EMU was perceived to have assimilated or "swallowed" Cultural Heritage. It became evident at an early stage during interviews, that many teachers perceived EMU as being the quintessential expression of values within the curriculum. When discussing the values underpinning school life or specific subjects, respondents frequently mentioned EMU, and many teachers' understanding of the concept of values seemed to stem from their knowledge and practice of this theme.

The objectives of EMU were referred to, either in part or in their entirety by a considerable number of respondents as they considered values in the curriculum. In articulating values perceived in activities and projects, teachers' responses were often informed by the objective which states that pupils should be enabled to;

learn to respect and value themselves and others; to appreciate the interdependence of people within society; to know about and understand what is shared as well as what is different about their cultural traditions; and to appreciate how conflict may be handled in non-violent ways. (Smith 1994)

Teachers spoke of such experiences;

    helping pupils to gain a greater knowledge of themselves and others;

    &developing less polarised views than their parents;

    improving teacher and school links with other schools and community;

    encouraging children to discover and find out the truth about cultural traditions;

    "helping pupils to discern what is important to them - what they value and;

When EMU was discussed in the formal curriculum, that is through the subject areas, teachers tended to focus on the Creative and Expressive subjects and English, History, HE, PSE and RE. Areas which were highlighted, included interpersonal contact and associated issues, studies of personal, social and cultural identity, and opportunities and positive effects of class discussions and debates. Several respondents made references to EMU being a focus in RE,providing a"moral conscience of the school." (In response to this, many RE teachers said that they had "backed off" from EMU activities and the "EMU image", anxious that they would not personify the impact and practice of the theme within the school). As indicated earlier some teachers were concerned that the inclusion of EMU in some areas was contrived, and the links between topics and the theme at times tenuous. Some teachers also found it difficult to identify tangible links between the theme and their subject, and a few said they "just consider EMU if it happens incidentally."

EMU in Practice

Since teachers identified EMU as a discernible values thread, or as a few suggested, the "present practice of values" in the curriculum, it may be useful to briefly highlight what appeared to be the prevailing views and perceptions of the theme. Firstly, there was some considerable variation in the recognition and definition of the theme, and a lack of cohesion in implementation in some schools. Many teachers communicated an understanding of, and described their approach to EMU, in terms extending beyond the generation of initial contact between Catholic and Protestant pupils, (primarily through the Cross-Community Contact Scheme), though this was referred to by many. There were references made to European studies and opportunities for pupils to participate in projects and exchanges with their European counterparts. Several teachers also described EMU activities which had been undertaken by arranging visits and outings with elderly people and children with special needs, though the latter was a less common occurrence because of insurance issues, parental opinion and the logistics of arranging visits. It was interesting that some teachers found a European dimension to a school's EMU programme was often more easily established and maintained than contact with a nearby school. A few teachers also communicated a greater enthusiasm about European activities than those organised with local schools.

A small number of teachers referred to"other colleagues" who were "doing 30 minutes of EMU a week," or who had dismissed it altogether, arguing that "there just isn't time to worry about that as well." Some other teachers commented on the tendancy for schools to undertake detailed reviews of the inclusion of EMU throughout the curriculum, in order to fulfil the requirements of the DENI Inspectorate, and then to "shove these reports and implementation strategies in a drawer and forget about them". Teachers also commented on the crucial influence of senior management on the emphasis given to EMU and the success of the theme in the school. The personality and experience of a school's EMU co-ordinator and the level of support given to her by senior staff was also an important influence on the impact of EMU across the curriculum and through the school. One EMU co-ordinator commented,

EMU in our school is like Chinese Whispers. From the time of training to the drafting of a school policy to actual practice, EMU is often barely recognisable.

Some teachers commented that its aims and objectives gave EMU a strong identity and that for some schools this was "out of kilter". On the other hand, one teacher commented that since the objectives so closely resembled the school's objectives, it was easy at times to "let it all go by default." Others commented that they still did not feel confident handling the theme, that they felt they were being encouraged to "sell" something, or that the requirements of the theme exceeded the remit of the teacher's role. The fact that EMU had been imposed through statutory orders still evoked some anger and resentment from a few teachers.

Most teachers expressed some degree of commitment to promoting and developing EMU in their subject area and school. Some indicated examples of where they felt teachers had failed to harness the full potential of EMU or as one teacher commented, "missed the point." References were made to schools who initiated contact through the Cross Community Contact scheme and had then not organised appropriate follow-up activities.

it's just not enough to load two sets of kids on a bus and let them do their own thing at the Icebowl. It takes a lot of planning and thinking.
A more detailed examination of teachers' perceptions of EMU and its introduction to the statutory curriculum in Northern Ireland is provided by a recent report (Smith and Robinson, 1990).

EMU as a "ready-made" values dimension

Many of the teachers interviewed commented on the "ready-made" nature of the values underpinning EMU, and what they perceived as a widespread acceptance of these within the education system. Based on these perceptions of relevance and acceptability, quite a number of teachers demonstrated moderate to strong support for a values module or a values cross-curricular theme based on a range of aims and objectives of EMU. This support was precluded by several positive and negative observations.

Firstly, it was suggested that by "shaking out the values" and adapting EMU, a new theme would be free of many of the negative connotations and suspicion surrounding EMU. It was felt that the perceived political dimensions would also be erased to a large extent. Teachers spoke too of a "tiredness" associated with EMU and several commented on the barrage of intiatives, government directives, and guidance materials, which had left them rather weary. Several respondents thought that the introduction of a values theme would shift teachers' thinking towards more universal concerns such as citizenship, social justice and human rights issues, and offer more materials and guidance for exploring and discussing controversial issues. This would lead to an "opening up" and broadening out of the conceptual framework of EMU.

On the negative side, teachers warned that the introduction of "something new or different" would not be greeted enthusiastically by teachers who already felt over-burdened and under pressure. For this reason, a cross-curricular theme relating to values seemed more acceptable than a separate module or subject area. Some respondents felt there was an ambiguity associated with a theme relating explicitly to values, and that teachers might face some difficulties attempting to "tie down" what on the surface would seem a rather nebulous concept. A few teachers also suggested that it was not entirely necessary to legislate for value dimensions in the curriculum, as values were already an integral part of teachers' daily practice, and they simply did"not have time to look for them". One individual commented, "the good teacher is already doing it". Taking this a stage further, there was a concern that the inclusion and implementation of a values theme would be difficult to monitor and control, leaving teachers a free rein in their management and practice. Another comment expressed concern regarding the articulation of the intended outcomes of a values theme, and the identification of suitable methods for assessing its impact and effects on pupils.

One issue which teachers were almost unanimous in their responses to, was the need for more appropriate pre- and in-service training for the delivery of EMU and any value-related themes. Many individuals expressed a desire for more opportunities to engage in personal development. They also pointed to a need for greater provision of guidance and materials so that they might be equipped with the confidence and knowledge to confront and explore affective and controversial issues.

EMU, as intimated earlier, was perceived by many teachers as a frame of reference for the values which currently underpin the curriculum. Many of them felt that the most profitable way to move forward was to build on the values, and activities already in place from the permeation and implementation of EMU throughout the Northern Ireland Curriculum.

The relevance of the cross-curricular themes

The perception, by a number of teachers, that the cross-curricular themes were in some cases "intrusive", "confusing", "additional", and "extra", clearly suggested that they were not a priority or of significant importance to teachers. These comments were also indicative of a limited permeation of the themes throughout the curriculum. While many respondents did consider aspects of the themes important because "they cover some areas which are outside of the timetabled subjects," teachers in some subjects did not regard them as integral or essential components of a pupil's educational experience. In pursuing further explication of this perspective, teachers were asked what their aspirations were for each pupil leaving school, or at a more fundamental level, what they were aiming to produce.

Their responses in the first instance tended to centre around objectives which correlated with individual subjects. For example, one teacher stated that his objective was to "equip pupils with scientific knowledge and methodical, investigative skills," and an English teacher's response was to "empower pupils with effective language and communication skills." Teachers in other subject areas submitted similar knowledge or skills based objectives. When asked to consider what schools should be aiming to produce, the majority of responses focused first and foremost on the intellectual capabilities of pupils. "An educated person" or "an intelligent, knowledgeable individual" were two responses. Only a few individuals commented on the development of personal qualities in pupils.

These perceptions provided further evidence of the apparent imbalance in the curriculum towards cognitive and knowledge based areas and dimensions. Teachers did not appear sufficiently convinced or motivated to spend further time on or give greater emphasis to the cross-curricular themes, when as they said themselves,

the pressure is on other areas of the curriculum. We can't waste time with the themes - they're not what's important to headmasters, parents and pupils.

Paralleled with these perspectives however, teachers expressed a willingness to promote and extend their delivery of the themes through their subject areas and beyond. This willingness was conditional however, on a "slackening" in the workload and a "let-up" in pressure, and on a changing emphasis in the Formal Curriculum.


A number of general conclusions may be drawn from teachers' perceptions of values in the Formal curriculum.

A compartmentalised perspective

Throughout the interviews, many teachers' perceptions of the Formal curriculum were presented from a subject oriented perspective. This approach was applied not only to their understanding of the curriculum, but also to perceptions of their own role in the school and the wider education system. Teachers repeatedly indicated, implicitly or explicitly, that they existed in a kind of "subject bubble" and that they engaged in relatively little collaborative contact with their colleagues, to either identify areas of overlap or commonality between subjects. Indeed a few individuals' responses suggested that to attempt any cross-curricular study or interdepartmental projects would connote the complete antithesis of good teaching practice. In the Northern Ireland Cohort Study, teachers indicated that they had "deliberately refrained from integrating material from other subjects, in order to avoid confusing pupils" (Harland 1995:60). Some individuals therefore admitted that they were aware of opportunities for potential overlap, but identified collaborative work as inappropriate, or expressed a lack of confidence or expertise in adopting this pedagogical approach. One or two teachers commented "I have enough problems keeping abreast of my own subject area". Whitty, Rowe and Aggleton ratify these findings in their report on subjects and themes in the curriculum, when they comment,

Most teachers do not have an understanding of what happens in other subject areas and indeed find it a considerable challenge to keep up with developments in their own subject. (1994:26).

Findings in the Northern Ireland Curriculum Cohort Study also corroborate these points, with references made to the "insularity of certain subject departments" and teachers explaining this in terms of "[defending] a subject's sense of identity" (p.52).

Other reasons submitted for the lack of collaboration include the perceived "stiffness" of a subject's own curriculum, the "time problem" and the constraints of "too many topics" in the curriculum (p.53). Research into pupils' perceptions of the curriculum reinforces the image of a "compartmentalised curriculum" and also points to pupils' inability to discern links because it's "not in the right boxes" (p.55).

Curriculum Priorities

From teachers' responses and reviews of the curriculum, it was obvious that certain areas are prioritised. Teachers commented that the timetabling and subject options offered to pupils clearly indicated in most cases, an emphasis on the core subjects of English, Maths and Science and a bias towards the accumulation of scientific and technological knowledge and skills. Many teachers identified without hesitation, areas which they felt were considered "valuable" by senior management, parents, DENI and the wider society. A large number of teachers engaged in Environment and Society, and the Creative and Expressive areas of study complained that the increase in the proportion of time allocated to Science subjects imposed more limitations on their time, and in some cases left teachers "struggling to get through everything." Others commented on the narrow options which some pupils faced in choosing subjects, having, at some stage to decide between "intellectual" and cognitive based subjects and creative, "imaginative" subjects. It was suggested that such a decision represented essentially a choice between "academic" subjects and what were widely judged as "practical", "expressive", "minority" or "secondary" subjects.

When these perceptions of the curriculum were examined in greater detail however, it emerged (at times more clearly than others), that individual schools' thinking and the nature of it's values strongly influenced what was deemed important and what was prioritised. On some occasions these differences related to the type of school, (that is primary, secondary, grammar, integrated, special, controlled and maintained). At other times a school's own particular ethos and values appeared to have a strong influence on what was prioritised in the curriculum. As there were some limitations in gaining access to schools during the research, it is difficult to comment accurately or generally on this issue. Some indication of these priorities may be found however, under the Hidden Curriculum.

Finding the Values Dimension

Teachers did make a connection between Creative and Expressive subjects, PSE, HE and RE, and a possible values dimension in the curriculum. The perception and delivery of these subjects differed quite considerably in grammar and secondary schools.

Teachers in secondary schools suggested there was a greater emphasis on creative and expressive subjects and pinpointed examples of Drama and Art techniques being implemented throughout the curriculum subjects. They observed that affective-type strategies were "strongly rejected by many grammar schools", who they felt regarded such approaches as "secondary and second-rate." In contrast, secondary teachers regarded Drama in particular, with considerable enthusiasm, indicating its versatility and the opportunities it afforded less able and less outgoing pupils to participate in class.

In a similar vein, PSE and HE were also considered more important in many secondary schools, and treated with a degree of disdain by some grammar schools. Again, teachers in secondary schools identified value in these subjects, providing a "point of contact for weaker students" while also covering "issues which are relevant and important to all pupils whatever their abilities." A few grammar school teachers acknowledged the value of PSE in a secondary school context, but criticised the apparently arbitrary structures governing the content and discussions in PSE and suggested it was "hardly practical or useful in an academic environment", again reflecting a distinctive learning and curriculum emphasis. According to most teachers, RE seemed to have a notably higher status in most grammar and secondary schools.

Strengthening a values dimension within the formal curriculum

Teachers were generally supportive of the importance of a values dimension within the formal curriculum and constantly emphasised the importance of "building into" what already exists in the curriculum. As outlined earlier, many of the values inherent in EMU and Cultural Heritage were considered as an appropriate starting point, and the approaches employed and issues discussed in PSE, HE and RE give some guidance in ascertaining how a values dimension might be developed in practice. However teacher support was qualified by concerns that:

  • the existing parameters for discourse in PSE, EMU and to a lesser extent RE were rather loose and indistinct, and that greater clarity and structure was required for a more widespread permeation of values and value-related discussions;

  • the existing association of PSE and RE with values and moral education had already identified such issues as peripheral in many teachers' minds;

  • lack of assessment or examination structures for the values dimension would confer in many minds a lower status on the area;

  • fuller integration of a values dimension into the formal curriculum would necessitate a change in or need for additional pedagogical techniques;

  • addressing values in the curriculum would necessitate some knowledge of moral education and the philosophical debates surrounding this area, and this would raise significant questions about the capacity of teacheres to take on the task.

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CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
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