Controversial Issues Guidance
Addressing the teaching of controversial issues can be difficult for school leaders and teachers. The main reason for this is that they are issues which divide people’s opinions within society. Groups of people within society may hold different values. They promote opposing viewpoints. They offer alternative interpretations and explanations for events to suit their position or agenda (Stradling, 1985).
Controversial and sensitive issues can arise in all subjects. Whether they are planned or unplanned. Schools and all subject teachers need to be prepared to discuss these issues with young people.
Teaching controversial and sensitive issues can be challenging because they may be based on or lead to conflicting values and arouse strong feelings in pupils. However, there are significant benefits. Pupils can gain a deeper understanding of such issues. They can develop skills such as critical thinking and how to communicate better. They can become more emotionally aware. Research also suggests that learning about controversial issues helps prepare pupils for civic and political participation (Barton and McCully, 2007a).
Research also shows that teachers may avoid teaching controversial issues for a variety of reasons including lack of confidence (Barton and McCully, 2007b; Fournier-Sylvester, 2013).
Therefore, this guidance supports principals, senior leaders/managers and teachers to plan and develop approaches to teaching controversial issues at whole-school and classroom levels.
We have designed this guidance to complement and add value to other guidance and work on controversial issues. It focuses on teaching controversial issues at Key Stage 3. However, you can apply the teaching and learning approaches in Key Stage 4.