Muddling the message

2nd June 2000 at 01:00
Grouping religious and moral education with PSD and health education must be carefully thought through, says Iain Gray

THE consultation on the structure and balance in the 5-14 curriculum proposes grouping health education, personal and social development and religious and moral education. That would require appreciation of the relationship among these areas and the contribution of each to the overall curriculum as well as an insight into the claimed overlap among them. The draft consultation gives cause for concern on both counts.

It introduces a list of dispositions, "a commitment to learning, a respect and care for self, respect and care for others, a sense of social responsibility and a sense of belonging". These reflect values shared by all in the teaching profession and by Scottish society as a whole and as such should be, as the document suggests, central to the overall 5-14 curriculum.

The draft health education guidelines, however, place the dispositions within the particular context of personal and social development and health education. There must be consistency between the individual guidelines and the proposed structure and balance document.

On the second cause for concern, the conceptual basis for grouping the three areas should be provided. This would involve a critical in-depth analysis of the rationale underlying each area.

For example, the personal and social development guidelines state that PSD is "essentially concerned with the development of life skills" and this is reflected in one of the stated aims, to "develop life skills to enable them (the pupils) to participate effectively and safely in society". If this is the case, then the overlap between PSD and RME may be limited. The other three aims identified for PSD suggest a much greater overlap with religious and moral education, but how central are they within PSD?

The aims are to "have an appropriate positive regard for self, and for others and their needs; identify, review and evaluate the values they and society hold and recognise that these affect thoughts and actions; take increasing responsibility for their own lives". Both PSD and health education identify "values" as being part of their concern.

The health education document aims to encourage "young people to explore and clarify their beliefs, attitudes and values". The PSD one to "identify, review and evaluate the values they and society hold and recognise that these affect thoughts and actions".

These statements reflect the RME aim, to "develop their own beliefs, attitudes, moral values and practices through a process of personal search, discovery and critical evaluation". This concern with beliefs, attitudes and values is at the very core of RME. <> Is this, then, the main area of overlap? If so, it has to be clearly stated and the implications fully worked out. An analysis of the documents highlights the issues. Solutions are another matter. All three areas are concerned with the sense of "wholeness" of the pupil, and any attempt to identify issues or aspects of experience as being exclusive to one will result in the other areas feeling emasculated.

Certainly the approach adopted by Starting Points, the former Committee on Primary Education's guidelines on social, moral and religious education, which date from 1985, are unhelpful in this respect. RE is presented as being concerned almost exclusively with the external manifestations of religion. These have to be meaningless when divorced from the experiences they interpret and express. RE is more than ceremonies and customs just as health education is about more than bandages and birth control.

The "emotional health" strand of the draft health education guidelines contains a considerable amount of overlap with the "Relationships and Moral Values" strand of the RME guidelines. Would there be value in making these strands identical in terms of attainment targets so that teachers do not have to "tick" different, though very similar, targets when carrying out an audit of themes such as family and friends? If this were accepted as useful, could an eventual restructuring of the PSD document identify similar correspondences?

More immediately the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum should clarify the implications of its proposals. The draft structure and balance document proposes that 15 per cent of time in the primary school should be allocated. Yet later, there is reference to Circular 691 which provides for an allocation of 10 per cent of time for RME in the primary curriculum but goes on: "It is not anticipated that the time allocation recommended in this guideline will require a change in the advice of the circular."

Would it not be more helpful to allot 10 per cent to RME and 5 per cent to PSD and health education? The result would be time for those aspects of PSD and health education not covered through other areas of the curriculum or the wider life of the school. Those involved might query whether that was enough, but such a debate could help to tease out some of the issues.

Do we face an unholy alliance? On the basis of the present proposals, the integrity of each area is more likely to be guaranteed by keeping them as separate areas of the curriculum. With clearer analysis of the issues, a creative and worthwhile relationship could be developed which would enrich the experience of our pupils.

Iain Gray is head of religious education at Strathclyde University.

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