Fay Lowe

I am Researching…

the extent to which a locally agreed syllabus can meet the moral development needs of white British working-class boys, in an area where there is a high prevalence of far-right extremism.  This topic is one that matters because it is now being recognised that far-right extremism, which has to some extent been overlooked by the media and even government policy in the past, is a growing threat to our society (Thomas, 2012; Abbas and Awan, 2015).

My research will engage with the challenges facing white working-class boys in education and the implications this has for their moral development. It is not until more recently that white working-class boys have been recognised in their underachievement in school (Demie and Kirstin, 2014; Demie and Mclean, 2017). The factors contributing to their educational underachievement including social, economic, and cultural are beginning to be acknowledged and the wider implications these have, including and importantly for this research, a lack of identity within educational contexts. The curriculum doesn’t reflect the culture and lives of working-class children (Demie and Kirstin, 2014)  For Reay (2018), this is an inherent problem with an education system that was not created for the working classes. This can lead to resistance from the pupils (Bright, 2011) and a struggle to understand their identity in such a context (Ingram, 2009, 2011). It is this lack of identity and specifically for this research, their moral identity, which can contribute to the reason why some of these boys then become involved in far-right extremism. My research will explore this further and consider if there are ways this can be countered through the Religious Studies curriculum.

When exploring morality and moral identity, I will consider what morality is and why I believe RE has a place in supporting a pupil’s moral development. Moral education can be seen to “assist young people to live more meaningfully and rightly in the light of a clear recognition of the greater value for positive human development of some principles and qualities over others” (Carr, 2005, p. 25). For this research, the unique moral development need being considered is how white British boys living in areas of high prevalence of right-wing extremism, can identify the principles and qualities that are of greater value, against some local acceptance of extreme views, racism and violence. Eaude (2011) in relation to the role RE has to play in this, whilst accepting that moral education needs to be in the whole life of the school, recognises that RE has a distinctive contribution to make to moral education. For him, this contribution is to consider how religious traditions have understood morality and to set issues of morality within this context, encouraging critical engagement.

To consider the ways which the curriculum can meet the moral development needs of white British working-class boys, a preliminary study of the locally agreed syllabuses needs to be carried out. The locally agreed syllabus is a curriculum document unique to Religious Education in England (and Wales). Local Authorities are required to produce their own syllabus for the teaching of RE. The area where this research is based uses a syllabus written in collaboration with RE Today Services, the trading arm of the ecumenical charity Christian Education and an organisation that has provided syllabuses for many areas across the country. My research will consider the place of white British working-class boys within this syllabus, but also highlight its intended contribution to moral development. As a result, I will begin to highlight how this syllabus may or may not be meeting their moral development needs. Following this a more in-depth analysis will be made through mixed methods research, engaging with the target group of boys themselves, to find out their views on their own moral development and the contribution RE has played. I will also consider the views of those involved in the production of the syllabus and the teachers who have recontextualised the syllabus for their classrooms about the extent to which they see the syllabus having an impact. Further research could be carried out with those involved in preventing violent extremism or policy makers when considering the recommendations that may be made by this research.


Abbas, T. and Awan, I. (2015) Limits of UK Counterterrorism Policy and its Implications for Islamophobia and Far Right Extremism, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy. Available at: https://www.crimejusticejournal.com/article/view (Accessed: 25 January 2021).

Bright, N. G. (2011) ‘“Off The Model”: resistant spaces, school disaffection and “aspiration” in a former coal-mining community’, Children’s geographies, 9(1), pp. 63–78. doi: 10.1080/14733285.2011.540440.

Carr, D. (2005) Making Sense of Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy and Theory of Education and Teaching. Routledge.

Demie, F. and Kirstin, L. (2014) Raising the Achievement of White Working Class Pupils. Lambeth Research and Statistics Unit Education, p. 43. Available at: https://www.lambeth.gov.uk/rsu/sites/www.lambeth.gov.uk.rsu/files/Raising_the_Achievement_of_White_Working_Class_Pupils_-_Barriers_and_School_Strategies_2014.pdf (Accessed: 9 January 2021).

Demie, F. and Mclean, C. (2017) Narrowing the Achievement Gap of Disadvantaged Pupils. Lambeth Research and Statistics Unit Education. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Feyisa-Demie/publication/316701342_Narrowing_the_Achievement_Gap_of_Disadvantaged_Pupils/links/590de27ba6fdccad7b10b818/Narrowing-the-Achievement-Gap-of-Disadvantaged-Pupils.pdf.

Eaude, T. (2011) ‘Spiritual and Moral Development’, in Barnes, L. P. (ed.) Debates in Religious Education. Routledge, pp. 134–145. doi: 10.4324/9780203813805-19.

Ingram, N. (2009) ‘Working‐class boys, educational success and the misrecognition of working‐class culture’, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 30(4), pp. 421–434. doi: 10.1080/01425690902954604.

Ingram, N. (2011) ‘Within School and Beyond the Gate: The Complexities of Being Educationally Successful and Working Class’, Sociology (Oxford), 45(2), pp. 287–302. doi: 10.1177/0038038510394017.

Reay, D. (2018) ‘Miseducation: inequality, education and the working classes’, International Studies in Sociology of Education, 27(4), pp. 453–456. doi: 10.1080/09620214.2018.1531229.

Thomas, P. (2012) Responding to the Threat of Violent Extremism – Failing to Prevent. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic. Available at: http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/id/eprint/14969/ (Accessed: 8 March 2021).

Fay Lowe

has been teaching RE for 15 years.  She is currently the Head of RE at a high school in Rochdale.  She is also studying for a PhD in Education at the School of Interdisciplinary Studies, Glasgow University where her research interests include moral education, the locally agreed syllabus and preventing far-right extremism. In that precious unit of time called ‘free-time’, she is usually either playing the violin or walking the hills and reservoirs around Manchester.