any of a range of theories which lay stress on the nation-state either in terms of pursuing self-determination - political independence, national liberation - or by promoting the nation-state and duties towards it. Fascism is an extreme form which elevates the nation-state and demands devotion from its citizens. Ethnic forms of nationalism emphasise issues of race, religion, and culture rather than the state as political unit. Another strand of nationalism involves feelings of superiority over other countries.

natural selection

a term from the work of Charles Darwin (1809-82) for the phenomenon whereby organisms better suited to their environment survive, flourish, and reproduce (in contrast to weaker ones). Sometimes known as 'the survival of the fittest' (see social Darwinism).


a philosophical outlook which views reality as natural, rejecting any sense of the supernatural. It rejects the idea of divinity and is opposed to idealism and metaphysics.


that which exists from birth; hereditary; inborn essence.

nature-nurture controversy

dispute about the extent to which human development is determined by inherited capacities (nature) or by experience and environmental influence (nurture). The argument seems irresolvable but that both have an influence seems beyond dispute.

necessary condition

a factor which is essential for another phenomenon to exist but may not be sufficient to achieve it alone. For example, having a writing implement is a necessary condition for good writing to take place but simply having a writing implement does not guarantee the quality of the subsequent writing (see sufficient condition).


educational provision is often designed with the aim of meeting learners' needs - their requirements or, even, wishes. However, this is a matter of perception and also of values: analysing what is seen to be in the interests of the learner and from these selecting what is seen as educationally important or valuable.

needs hierarchy

a theory of motivation developed by Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) which postulates that humans have a range of needs which can be placed in rank order, from basic survival to complete fulfilment. Lower needs cease to motivate once satisfied, but higher needs cannot motivate until lower ones are met.

negative liberty

a term from the work of Isaiah Berlin (1907-97) which refers to the absence of external restraint. Having negative liberty means that one is free to act. However, one still may not be able to act because of a lack of capacity, power, or ability and this is where Berlin introduces the concept of 'positive liberty' which is the capacity to act as one would wish. For example, any school leaver is free to spend a gap year abroad, if they so wish - negative liberty - but it is probably only those with sufficient money, confidence, support, and physical health who are actually able to do this - positive liberty.


a variant of modern conservatism which is noted for its activism and missionary zeal, seeking to promote and promulgate globally issues relating to individual freedom, democracy, the free market, and capitalist ideology generally. It is opposed to social liberalism and upholds what are termed traditional family values instead


process or activity of making strategic personal or professional connections with others.


literally a 'belief in nothing', it is applied to a range of views, most notably materialism which, in denying that mind or spirit exists, rejects immortality or an after-life. It is also applied to politically or socially destructive behaviour.


cognitive; apprehended by reason as opposed to empirical or sense experience.


the theory that universals such as 'goodness' or 'redness' do not exist in reality but are merely grouping terms humans use. In modern times it has become associated with theories which stress that because our understanding of reality is constructed through language it remains beyond our direct experience.

non sequitur

a conclusion lacking any valid argument or one drawn illogically from what has gone before.


the theory that moral judgments merely express a person's attitudes and do not make any assertions about the properties of the object or action in question. It is also known as emotivism.


applied to time in an educator's working life which does not involve direct teaching or contact with learners. It is viewed as essential for effective planning, preparation, and assessment.


usually applied to elements of communication without words or symbols, such as gestures, movements, facial expressions, or postures. These are seen as vital aspects of relationship-building, and so of effective teaching, but often overlooked as inessential.


of an assessment, where an individual's score indicates the relationship of that performance to the performance of the group in question. Thus one can get results in rank order - first, second, third, and so on, or can use terms such as above average or below average.

normal distribution

a frequency distribution which follows the normal pattern of a 'bell-shaped curve', so with most instances grouping around the mean, with a few at either end of the spectrum.


in social theory, the way in which norms and standards are set by dominant groups, any deviation from which is then seen as abnormal, deviant, or problematic. It was also a term used in special education for the belief that the aim should be for all those involved to be encouraged and supported to lead as 'normal' a life as any other member of society.


the ability to be numerate, to manipulate numbers, to understand numerical relationships and processes. In the past it was referred to as arithmetic, one of the three Rs. With literacy, it is seen as an essential outcome of education for all.

numerical equality

this refers to provision where each relevant person or group is given the exact same of whatever is to be distributed. In the classroom, this might mean each pupil being given the exact same amount of the teacher's time (see equality; proportional equality)

nursery education

pre-school education for children from the age of 2 to 5. Free provision is available in parts of the UK for all 3 and 4 year olds, the amount of hours available varying from system to system. It is not compulsory. There are both state and private nursery schools.


a broad term which covers experience, environmental influence both social and material, and upbringing (see nature-nurture controversy). It is also used for the caring, supportive attitudes and behaviours expected of parents and others in relation to children and their developmental needs - physical, social, and emotional.