Values education: Enabling each child to feel valued

Rosemary Dewan

Rosemary Dewan is the CEO of the Human Values Foundation which promotes the importance of teaching human values in schools. Since 1995 it has been providing practical, cross-curricular programmes for personal development and behaviour management, integrating SMSC, PSHE education, Citizenship, PLTS and SEAL.

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How children and young people feel about themselves has a significant bearing on every aspect of their lives. The more they feel valued, the more likely they are to enjoy their schooldays and be able to succeed in reaching the highest level of their personal achievement.

Schools are expected to offer a stimulating, broad, balanced, relevant and, when appropriate, differentiated curriculum and have high expectations for every single one of their children so that they can achieve success and ultimately, as many of them as possible, have real options open to them when it comes to choosing pathways into their adult lives.

For many schools, one of their explicit, stated aims is that of ensuring each and every child feels valued. Central to this are their policies, one of which may be an Inclusion Policy, which makes clear how the adults in the school community value the individuality of all the young people in their care and how each person’s achievements, attitudes and wellbeing matter.

Such a policy helps to ensure staff, whatever their role, work collaboratively in the interests of all the children, irrespective of their age, gender, attainment, achievements, background and any disability. It will usually state how, by taking account of pupils’ varied life experiences and needs and in conjunction with parents, carers and other professionals, staff are committed to giving them every opportunity to achieve the highest of standards.

What do you want for your children?

It is natural that parents, carers and teachers want the very best for the young people they are helping to nurture. Typical amongst the greatest desires for the children when they grow up are love, happiness, confidence, motivation, positive relationships, self-sufficiency and their health and safety.

What are the school’s values and is it serving its pupils’ needs?

Part of a school’s shop window is its mission statement. This provides a succinct indication of what lies at the heart of what it is striving to achieve, including identifying pupils’ talents and potential and developing them by giving them high, yet realistic targets, so that they can lead happy and productive lives, both while at school and later on.

When you look at a school’s website, does it have a motto to inspire everyone and what are its core values? These are pointers to the school’s ethos and how it plans to engage and develop the whole child, combining overall fulfilment as valued human beings with maximum educational development in its broadest sense.

What are the school’s aims and objectives?

The stated aims paint a picture of how passionate the school is about providing a friendly, safe and supportive climate in which all the pupils are valued and helped to realise that they can achieve success and how it plans to extend the children in every possible way, thereby equipping each one with appropriate skills, knowledge and understanding to learn independently.

Is it clear how individuals’ attributes will be developed, such as self-belief and a yearning to go on doing better? Will the school actively foster self-esteem in an atmosphere of trust and support, encouraging children’s spiritual, moral and cultural development and providing opportunities and motivation for all of them to further their potential mentally, emotionally, socially and physically?

Does the school promote progression through a coherent, continuous and flexible programme of learning and what kind of support is it likely to provide at times when children may feel less secure, such as during their transition from one stage of their education to the next?

Is systematic values education an integral part of the curriculum, empowering pupils as they have fun uncovering their personal strengths and virtues, identifying what is important in life and gradually establishing well considered reference points to guide and give consistency to their thinking, choices and behaviour?

Is commitment to inclusion woven into every aspect of the life of the school? If so, it is likely to have strategies that actively seek to identify and remove barriers to learning and participation, which can hinder or exclude individual pupils or groups of pupils.

How central to the school’s philosophy is equality of opportunity? This must be a reality for the children and can be brought about through the attention all the staff pay to the different groups of children who may be represented within the school, for example:

  • girls and boys
  • children who are at risk of disaffection or exclusion
  • able, gifted and talented children
  • minority ethnic and faith groups
  • children requiring support because English is not their first language
  • children with special educational needs
  • children with key adults in the armed forces
  • travellers
  • asylum seekers.

How does the school go about helping children develop the desire and ability to contribute to the community at large, respecting and appreciating others for their differences and beliefs? Is it welcoming parents and carers and working cohesively, within an ethos of individual excellence that enables all its young citizens to meet challenges and make positive transitions into adulthood as responsible, well-balanced members of society, with a caring attitude towards the environment?

Initiatives enabling young people and coaches to flourish

International evidence shows that children's long-term attainment is crucially shaped by their development in four key domains:

  • Emotional wellbeing
  • Attitudes and disposition
  • Language development and communication skills
  • Social competencies and self-esteem.

Below are four initiatives that can boost the competencies of anyone guiding and mentoring children and young people so that they too can enjoy contributing to exciting growth in these key domains. They help participants feel valued and respected and open up opportunities for youngsters to shine, grow and concentrate on building happy, meaningful lives for themselves and others.

Action for – This site includes some free resources that can easily contribute to emotional wellbeing. One is a guide with 10 keys to happier living, remembered by ‘GREAT DREAM’. The first five: Giving, Relating, Exercising, Appreciating and Trying out, relate to how we interact with the outside world while the second group of five: Direction, Resilience, Emotion, Acceptance and Meaning come from inside us and depend upon our attitude to life.

Leading Parent Partnership – This national award provides a coherent framework that can help schools and parents understand each other better, improving communication and encouraging parents to engage effectively in their children’s education.

Personal Values – One of the products on this website is a free Personal Values Assessment in the form of a simple survey. The resulting report provides a wealth of information and exercises that help you to understand yourself and your values in your everyday life.

Rights and Responsibilities Schools - Working towards this award enriches relationships and builds children’s self-esteem and social competencies. During the process, they develop critical thinking skills and learn to respect themselves, others and the importance of informed decision-making.

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