Handling sensitive and controversial issues

Learning from real life experiences is central to the Primary curriculum and we recognise that vulnerable children may not have a range of experiences as building blocks.

However, when it comes to emotional learning, these pupils may have lived a lot more!

This learning may not have been healthful, reflected upon or made coherent.  So when it comes to listening, accepting other points of view, arguing a case and dealing with difficult feelings, they may not be ready for sensitive or controversial issues. What they have is deep personal impact of political and social issues.

There is a need, therefore, for sensitivity when dealing with discussions about family values and lifestyles, health, physical and medical matters, law and order, finance, unemployment and environmental issues.

Here are guidelines for use in a staff meeting or for reflection outlining how teachers may like to be ready for handling sensitive and controversial issues- including being asked about their own views.


Dealing with sensitive and controversial issues

What teachers need to do:

  • Judge when to allow children to discuss issues confidentially in groups and when to support by listening into those group discussions
  • Ensure that pupils have access to balanced information and differing views
  • Decide how far they are prepared to express their own views, bearing in mind that, as a teacher, you are in an influential position
  • By preparing, beforehand, any child for whom the content is highly sensitive and that they are made aware before the whole class session 
  • Being aware that the words used may make for unexpected vulnerability e.g. loss and bereavement words are many faceted and may spark a connection to a sadness.  

Ensuring balance:
Teachers need to avoid bias by:

  • Trying not to highlight a particular set of facts that give it greater importance. There is a need to find equally relevant information
  • Actively encouraging pupils to offer contradictory interpretations 
  • Making it clear that they, as teacher, are not the sole opinion
  • Helping pupils to distinguish opinions and value judgements from facts
  • Opening opportunities for all pupils to contribute
  • Challenging a consensus of opinion that emerges to quickly or easily.

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