Relationships and processes within school: the hidden curriculum and school ethos

The Hidden Curriculum refers to the unwritten rules, values and normative patterns of behaviour which students are expected to conform to and learn while in school.

Examples of things taught through the ‘Hidden Curriculum include:

  • respecting authority
  • respect for other pupils’ opinions
  • punctuality
  • aspiring to achieve
  • having a ‘work ethic’

The Hidden Curriculum is normally contrasted to the ‘formal’ curriculum which consists of the formal programme of specific subjects and lessons which governments, exam boards and schools designs to promote the educational achievement of students.

A weakness of the concept of the ‘Hidden Curriculum’ is that most, if not all of the expected patterns of behaviour are, in fact, written down and thus formally encoded in school rules, and students usually have to formally agree to them through their school’s tutorial system, so whether these factors make up a truly ‘Hidden Curriculum’ today in school is, to my mind, questionable.

The Hidden Curriculum today is most likely to be reflected in a schools ‘ethos’ – ethos refers to the character, atmosphere, or ‘climate of the school’. This might include things like:

  • whether there is an emphasis on academic success, and/ or artistic or sporting achievements.
  • whether there is an emphasis on equal opportunities for all students – does the school focus on helping disadvantaged students, for example?
  • whether there is an emphasis on respect for diversity – does the school promote multiculturalism and anti-racism and sexism?
  • Whether the school encourages students to participate in community life.
  • The extent to which there is an entrepreneurial culture and strong ties with local businesses at the school.
  • whether parents are encouraged to get actively involved in the life of the school.

The type of learning a school encourages – whether formal, traditional ‘chalk and talk’ learning, or independent learning, for example