Data has been twisted for political ends

2nd February 1996 at 00:00
Dr Nick Tate's plenary speech given at the recent School Curriculum and Assessment Authority conference (TES, January 15) and its media coverage has brought considerable discredit to the European Community-funded research project which I direct, and by implication to student teachers and their trainers in schools and colleges.

The research, in line with EC interests, generated data on student teachers' understanding of the role of schools in promoting equal opportunities in five member states. Selective UK evidence has been taken out of this context and has been used to serve what appear to be political rather than educational purposes.

Allegations have been made that student teachers' caution in relation to the teaching of social values implies a moral relativism which restricts their ability to teach pupils the difference between right and wrong, between good and evil. Yet no evidence for this assumption is provided in the research. Interviews with a sample of student teachers and their trainers suggest a moral commitment to encouraging pupil involvement in, and identification with, ethical issues.

Student teachers also take note, as requested, of parental concerns. The data reveals their sensitivity to diversity and their awareness of the extent of social change. Quite correctly in my view, they reflect on the role of the teacher in such a complex modern social milieu.

Reforms of initial teacher education towards competency-based training in the last decade increasingly reduce the space and priority given to professionally important issues such as the teaching of values and citizenship. Therefore, it is not surprising that few student teachers (less than 10 per cent) felt confident teaching abut public and working life, family life and legal rights.

The EC project demonstrates the need to pursue Education for Citizenship in primary and secondary schools, with proper leadership and political will. Student teachers need to acquire the relevant body of knowledge, to learn appropriate teaching methods and to debate, in an intelligent manner, the teaching of values in education. Such initiatives would be in line with the spirit and intentions of the Education Reform Act and would also address European concerns about the revitalising of democratic structures.

The way our research data has been used creates serious reservations that the proposed national forum on the spiritual and moral preparation of pupils will not encourage the participation of researchers and scholars or a genuinely open dialogue which such important social concerns deserve.

DR MADELEINE ARNOT Department of Education University of Cambridge

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