Global Learning Programme

Teaching controversial issues

More than ever before, educators need to build up the skills and confidence to help young people make sense of today’s world, and to tackle controversial issues in the classroom.

Young people are increasingly concerned about the state of the world, due to the immediacy and unsettling nature of images and information in the news and social media. Current issues such as the war in Syria, Brexit, Trump’s election, the refugee crisis, violent extremism, poverty and inequality, and the famine in East Africa are making young people worried about the world and their future.

Teaching about this topic can also support pupils’ SMSC development and well-being, values, and understanding of peace, conflict and security. How can we create a safe space in the classroom to help develop the knowledge, skills and values pupils need to discuss controversial and sensitive issues?

Recommended reading

The following links and articles provide useful background information to help you teach controversial issues:

The Prevent Duty and Controversial Issues: creating a curriculum response through Citizenship, from the Association for Citizenship Teaching (ACT)

How the GLP responds to school priorities such as 'British values' – a perspective by Clive Belgeonne

GLP guidance and teaching ideas to help pupils develop their enquiry and critical thinking skills

Ofsted guidance on ‘British values’ and SMSC

Council of Europe toolkit on teaching controversial issues

Teaching resources

Useful resources to teach about controversial issues:

Oxfam’s Teaching Controversial Issues guide, updated in 2018.

Miriam's Vision: A Response to the 2005 London Bombings − a collection of curriculum-based lesson plans, accompanying resources and guidance notes for teachers of 11- to 14-year-olds.

This GLP resource offers further support and guidance on teaching controversial issues and critical thinking.

The GLP resources on ‘British values’ can help you develop a strong set of shared values with your staff, pupils and local community.

Think Global’s ten critical questions are a really useful resource to explore issues around terrorism and/or democracy.

Read how Berrymede Junior School, Greater London, tackled extremism in a Year 6 literacy lesson by using the ten critical questions above.

Three Faiths Forum ‘I saw it on the news’ resource provides teachers with tips and tools for responding to controversy, particularly where there are pupils of different faiths and perspectives.

Facing History and Ourselves offer guidance on discussing controversial issues in the classroom, K-W-L charts to help pupils organise and process information, and a step-by-step guide to support pupils with developing discussion skills, particularly when trying to discuss controversial topics.

The PSHE Association has put together a framework document for discussing a terrorist attack with secondary school pupils, and guidance to discuss the issue in primary schools.

Tackling Controversial Issues in the Citizenship Classroom: a Resource for Citizenship Education (2012). Dublin: CDVEC Curriculum Development Unit. [Available online]

We welcome suggestions for useful articles and teaching resources on the topic of Teaching controversial issues. Please email them to glp@pearson.com