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Unit information: Addressing Controversial Issues in Education in 2018/19

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Unit name Addressing Controversial Issues in Education
Unit code EDUCM0036
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Ingram
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Education
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


People disagree fundamentally on the purposes and aims of education, whether formal or informal, public or private.

There are many issues in education that are controversial because they embody major conflicts of values, ideologies and interests. Controversial issues in education are regularly discussed in the media, in our daily lives and in educational institutions. It is difficult to discuss such issues calmly and dispassionately, without accusations of bias. Some controversial issues relate directly to professional practices, others to the lives of citizens.

This unit introduces a series of normative ethical frameworks to discuss and evaluate different approaches to controversial issues in education. For example, situation ethics, Kantian ethics, virtue ethics, utilitarianism. The development of dialogues and discussions in a community of enquiry will help people to address controversial issues in education, including in their own practice, with increased insight and confidence.

No prior knowledge of ethics is required and frameworks can be developed within any education sector, curriculum subject or area, so this unit is suitable for anyone with an interest in education, broadly conceived – including practitioners and researchers. The course will be responsive to the personal and professional interests of the enrolled students. Examples of student-generated themes include the importance of social media, distinctive cultural approaches to education, such as Confucianism, private and public education, Creationism in the science classroom.

The aims of the unit are:

  • To develop an understanding of the nature of controversial issues, their importance in education and pedagogical approaches to addressing controversial issues in the classroom.
  • To develop an understanding of the main theories of deontological and teleological ethics and their use as frameworks for discussion of controversial issues.
  • To develop an appreciation of the controversial nature of some professional practices, such as the use of data for target setting, determinism, the moral education of multicultural world views, the promotion of ‘British’ values and the virtues of building character and resilience.
  • To consider the application of these ethical frameworks to controversial issues in education.
  • To help to educate others to address controversial issues with confidence.
  • To facilitate students working collaboratively on controversial issues.

Intended learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of this unit students will demonstrate:

  1. A critical understanding of controversial issues in education and of the challenges in approaching such issues.
  2. A critical appreciation of the value of ethical frameworks for promoting discussion, understanding and decision making within school environments.
  3. Updated subject and pedagogic knowledge in a chosen area of study
  4. Collaborative learning.
  5. Knowledge of how to conduct discussions involving ethical frameworks.
  6. A critical appreciation of the value of worldviews in contemporary educational practice.
  7. Ability to critically reflect upon controversial issues in education.

Teaching details

The teaching strategy will employ three broad approaches, where appropriate, with the aims of contextualising as well as theorising issues of central importance, the development of student autonomy, and the individualisation of study and support. These are:

Face to Face Teaching

Examples here include large and small group teaching methods, including presentations from staff and experienced professionals, debates, case study analyses, student presentations and practical workshops.


ELearning approaches will be used to facilitate individualised study and support within the broad parameters of the units and programme. These will include: on-line discussion (with individuals and groups, online supervision and peer mentoring, guidance and feedback. Critical use of Web resources will be encouraged.


The use of collaborative working practices (synchronous, asynchronous, face-to-face and virtual) will be encouraged and facilitated.

Assessment Details

Summative assessment:

Production of teaching and learning materials to incorporate an ethical discussion into a teaching scheme. The materials will be accompanied by 4 000 word (or equivalent) written assignment introducing its theoretical context and reporting on its development, implementation and evaluation.


Production of an essay to critically explore issues about the use of ethical framework in a controversial issue, reflecting on the implications for education. To total 4000 words or equivalent.

Both options cover ILOs 1-7

Reading and References

  • Stradling, R., Noctor, M., Baines, B. (1984), Teaching Controversial Issues, Edward Arnold.
  • Cowan, P., Maitles, H. (2012) Teaching Controversial Issues in the Classroom: Key Issues and Debates. Continuum. London.
  • Oxfam (2006) Teaching Controversial Issues, Oxford: Oxfam.
  • Hess, D. E. (2009) Controversy in the Classroom: The Democratic Power of Discussion, Routledge: Abingdon.
  • Graham, G., (2004) Eight theories of ethics. Routledge: Abingdon.
  • Hand, M., Levinson, R. (2012) Discussing Controversial Issues in the Classroom. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 44, (6), pp 614–629