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Values come out of the shadows

The Aberdeen-based Gordon Cook Foundation, which has spent more than Pounds 1.3 million on researching and promoting values education projects, ought to make itself better known. That is the main recommendation in the first full review of its work since the bequest in 1990 by its late founder, Victor Cook.

The trustees, chaired by Peter Clarke, former principal of Robert Gordon Institute of Technology, have responded by adopting "a generally proactive policy" instead of waiting for projects to be submitted for funding. There is a temporary suspension on new projects while enough funds are accumulated to allow for new tenders and invitations to undertake work.

The review by Bridget Somekh, former depute director of the Scottish Council for Research in Education, and Michel Byrne says that the foundation deliberately adopted a low profile and that has contributed to "not very accurate public perceptions" of its work. "The trustees prefer to think in terms of publicising the work of projects rather than the foundation itself. "

Mr Cook, a businessman and philanthropist, was keen to promote citizenship among young people. The trustees of his bequest have funded more than 100 projects, mainly in primary and secondary schools. Their impact is said to be "substantial but low key".

Despite the aim of supporting projects useful to pupils and teachers, there is disappointment at the lack of concrete outcomes. But the foundation has had an impact on the 5-14 and Higher Still programmes through its co-operation with and funding for the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum.

One problem is the "sensitive" definition of values education. The review states: "Several of the words closely associated with the work of the foundation have strong connotations of value-laden attitudes or even political ideologies (citizenship, character development, enterprise, values, moral). This means that they convey meanings to others which may or may not be understood by those who use them."

Dr Clarke says that the trustees recognise the "unavoidable personal interpretations and understandings of the many abstractions which pervade values education". But he adds that there is growing interest in the area and more support from national and local government and other organisations.

This will allow the foundation to be more selective in its support. Many small projects will be funded rather than tying up the bulk of income in one or two large ones. There will also be a "preference for good communicators".

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