Children and family values : a critical appraisal of 'family' in schools
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Prompted by the Labour government's proposal to introduce education on family relationships into the National Curriculum, this research project was set up to investigate how teachers portrayed 'family' within the classroom and the reactions that children had to the images that were presented. The intention was to highlight any problems that might arise from including 'family' into the formal curriculum. The fieldwork was conducted in three primary and three secondary schools. Two of each of the schools were located in the West Country and the remaining two, in order to give some ethnic and cultural balance to the project, were in the West Midlands. A total of sixteen teachers and forty children were involved. In each school, three topics or lessons that concerned 'family' were observed during the course of one academic year; this was followed by interviews with the teachers, to ascertain their intentions within the lesson, and with the pupils, to gain their reaction. Final interviews with each of the children encouraged them to reflect on what they had learned about 'family' during the year. Government documents concerned with family education suggest an agreement on the values on which family should be based and appear to regard family as an uncomplicated concept. The data collected, however, indicate that 'family' is regarded by teachers as a complex and sensitive subject that should be approached with caution. In addition pupils show a variety of reactions to the lessons, ranging from anger and distress to ready acceptance. The project's contribution to knowledge is therefore to demonstrate some of the complexities that are involved in teaching about 'family' and to inform one aspect of the ongoing debate on values education within Britain.
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