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Unit information: Addressing Controversial Issues in Education in 2015/16

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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) Academic Year (weeks 1 - 52)
Unit director Dr. Ingram
Open unit status Not open




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

Description including Unit Aims

There are many issues in education that are controversial because they embody major conflicts of values and interests. Controversial issues can be discussed with students during subject lessons or tutor times. It is difficult to teach such issues calmly and dispassionately and without accusations of bias. Some controversial issues relate directly to teachers’ professional practices, where the impacts of bias are difficult to recognise and evaluate.

This unit seeks to use normative ethical frameworks to discuss and evaluate different approaches to controversial issues in education. The development of a dialogic pedagogy 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 - teachers, co-ordinators, middle and senior managers, and researchers. The ethical approach will also be extended to consider controversial issues in contemporary educational practice, and so the unit will be suitable for those interested in education, but who are not working in schools and colleges. The course will be responsive to the personal and professional interests of the enrolled students. The unit is designed for practising teachers.

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, such as the teaching of human origins, genome studies, global warming, the promotion of health and sex education. Consider the value of cross-curricular approaches when discussing controversial issues.
  • To develop the ability to address controversial issues with confidence.
  • To facilitate students working collaboratively on controversial issues.

Intended Learning Outcomes

  • A critical understanding of controversial issues in education and of the challenges in approaching such issues.
  • A critical appreciation of the value of ethical frameworks for promoting discussion, understanding and decision making within school environments.
  • Collaborative learning.
  • Knowledge of how to conduct discussions involving ethical frameworks.
  • A critical appreciation of the value of worldviews in contemporary educational practice.
  • Ability to critically reflect upon controversial issues in education.

Teaching Information

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.

Contact Hours

20 in Total

Assessment Information

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 4 000 words or equivalent.

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