Putting a value on values education

Carol Hawman

Carol Hawman is a freelance writer, editor and trainer working within education and sport. Carol started out as a youth worker before joining Outward Bound. From outdoor education she moved into disability sports development then joined the Youth Sport Trust, where she worked for ten years, developing and implementing PE and sport programmes for young people. Since becoming self-employed in 2007, Carol has worked with a variety of agencies on a range of topics. She recently wrote the Get Set Values Awards.

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Website: www.getset.co.uk/values-awards Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Originally published on 13th October 2015 Originally published on 13th October 2015

Three years ago I was listening to the BBC Radio 4 Education Debates. The discussion focused on what we should teach our children in school. It included a clip from an enthusiastic boy who talked about the values he had been learning: respect, honesty and determination. A member of the expert panel was dismissive, claiming a school curriculum should be about skills and knowledge, not “wishy-washy” values. Yet this was 2012: the year that banks were in the news regularly for dishonest dealings. A few days later the London 2012 Olympic Games opened, followed by the Paralympic Games, and the nation was inspired by witnessing the Olympic Values of excellence, respect and friendship and the Paralympic Values of determination, inspiration, courage and equality. What did those contrasting stories tell us about the need for values in education and life?

Well, here we are in 2015, with another Olympic and Paralympic Games on the horizon, and the landscape appears to have changed. Maintained schools are now required “to actively promote fundamental British values” as part of pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development – key components of the new Ofsted inspection framework – and the media has reported on a number of schools that have failed in this respect. However, while any change to Ofsted criteria creates anxiety, most schools recognise that they do promote such values to their pupils already and, like the Olympic and Paralympic Movements, they uphold their universal worth.

Do we acknowledge values?

Yet there is a quandary. At the same time that Government and Ofsted are focusing "How do we give them the recognition they deserve?"on values, they are putting pressure on schools to improve standards – standards that are measured solely in terms of academic achievement. How do schools demonstrate their high standards in terms of values?

If we truly value our values, how do we ensure they are explicitly developed in school – so that pupils are fully aware of what they mean for their and others’ lives. How do we give them the recognition they deserve? Academia has certificates; what signals that values are just as prized? If we accredited values education, would we value – and uphold – values more?

Of course, many schools do acknowledge values within school. This includes recognition through teacher- and peer-feedback, newsletters, websites, noticeboards, postcards home and awards evenings. In PE and sport, pupils are awarded merits for fair play and teamwork. Sports-related values, such as the Olympic and Paralympic Values, are adopted across the school generally. Young people are inspired by, and often find it easier to recognise, values when they are demonstrated by role models in sport. Equally, schools use those heroes’ failings to engage pupils in discussions about managing and rising above challenges.

Should values be universally endorsed?

Internal recognition of values is important, but it may not be enough if they are to be valued across society. Shouldn’t pupils have access to a universal currency, one that all teachers, employers and citizens recognise? Could we offer a consistent and generally endorsed standard of achievement, one that evidences young people’s commitment to living the values and enabling others to do the same?

It doesn’t require a prescriptive curriculum: pupils would decide when, how and with whom they will demonstrate the values to ensure those values are relevant to their daily lives. Nor is it a programme that needs to be taught: pupils would be offered opportunities – in and beyond school as appropriate – to learn about and demonstrate the values in a variety of ways. Examples could include volunteering, tackling new challenges, considering their daily behaviours and supporting others. It wouldn’t focus on inputs – a tick list of tasks – but on outcomes: pupils would provide evidence in varied and creative ways, according to their interests and abilities, to show how they have applied the values in their school and home lives. Above all it would be relevant: pupils would understand and be able to articulate why the values are important to their and other people’s lives. Wouldn’t that be accreditation worth having?

If we want an education system that truly enables every child to thrive and to reach their potential – in work, in society, in life – we need to find a way to recognise and reward attributes that can’t be captured in tests and exams. And if we want that education to prepare young people for life and to create a society, a world, in which excellence, respect, friendship, courage, determination, inspiration and equality are paramount, it is time to put a value on values.     

What values do you promote in your classroom? Share them below!

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