Better than taking the tablets;Curriculum

15th March 1996 at 00:00
'Ten commandments' to instil values in primary pupils are easily improved, writes Moira Laing

Dr Nick Tate, the Government's chief curriculum adviser south of the border, believes that schools need to promote a code of values which, once agreed, should be non-negotiable and pursued nationally.

If all schools promoted his suggested "modern 10 commandments" then the nation's children would experience the moral grounding which many may currently lack due to "the void left by the diminishing authority of the church and the decline in traditional family values".

In the same week in January as Dr Tate spoke, we received responses from the 19 teachers at Beancross primary school, Grangemouth, about the values their school promotes.

Beancross primary is engaged in a research project, with the faculty of education at Strathclyde University, which aims to develop and implement environmental education policy and practice. A survey of teachers' values is part of this project. The Beancross teachers' values bear a strong similarity to Dr Tate's code. However, they extend his code by painting a more explicit picture of the type of pupil they wish their school to produce.

In reply to the question, "what values should a school try to promote in its pupils?" the staff collectively identified 30 values. The most commonly held relates to respect for the belongings and property of others, followed closely by respect for the school, its equipment and its surroundings. Both are a focus for explicit and recurring discussion and teaching from primary 1 to primary 7.

Awareness and thoughtful action towards the environment is also valued. Tolerance of other cultures, customs, habits, races and religions ranks highly, reflecting the concerns shared by staff about a neighbourhood where Protestant Catholic sectarianism, reinforced by the RangersCeltic cult, is rife. Sharing and co-operating with others and good manners towards others are thought important too.

Teachers' values are almost equally divided between caring for others, being considerate and thoughtful towards others and being aware of other people's feelings, views and situations. It is, however, in the values expressed about their pupils' personal development that there is a similarity with Dr Tate's code - with one exception.

His "10 commandments" cover: * honesty - 11 teachers from Beancross put this top of their lists; * respect for others - quoted by all 19 teachers; * politeness - four teachers are very explicit about the importance of this; * a sense of fair play - though not stated as such, "fair play"encompasses co-operating, sharing and tolerance; * forgiveness - two Beancross teachers consider this a core value; * punctuality - this is the exception in that there is no reference by the Beancross staff to any aspect of time-keeping;

* non-violent behaviour - linked closely by the Beancross teachers to self-discipline, respect, tolerance and "considerate actions towards others"; * patience - two teachers cite this; * faithfulness - phrased as "loyalty" and "trust", this is significant for three teachers; * self-discipline - four teachers describe self-discipline as "management of feelings", a further 10 give prominence to "self-worth", nine to "self-esteem", six to "confidence" and "self-awareness", five to "pride in achievement".

The Beancross pupils have experience of being agents of change in improving the quality of behaviour and practices in the school and its grounds. The school is proud that after five years of effort they can now see the effects. Vandalism is more of a rarity and pupils have an interest in local issues and increased awareness of them.

The teachers were then asked, "which environmental values should a school try to promote?" Their answers related to conservation and care of the natural environment, conservation and care with regard to social issues, co-operating with others, and pupils knowing that they should and can act.

The Beancross staff's responses refer to "working together to discourage the dangers arising from litter, pollution and vandalism", conservation of resources, "care for the balance of the natural environment" with particular reference to the Beancross area and Grangemouth, "respect for community, awareness of mutual interdependence, awareness of the need to balance development and conservation", "sharing and working alongside others, making personal sacrifice in the interests of others" and to the pupils' realisation that they have a positive role to play, that they feel competent to communicate their views and act.

In a school such as Beancross, environmental values contribute to extending the concept of caring and provide opportunities for practical action. The Beancross staff are concerned to turn out pupils who feel confident and positive about their role in the community. This value is further extended in the teachers' responses to the next part of the survey: "choose one environmental value which you consider to be particularly important and explain why it is important".

Most teachers focused on one of the following: conservation and care of the local environment, respect for living things, awareness and tolerance of cultures, or a healthy and "less selfish" lifestyle. To the Beancross staff these values are important because in the context of such issues their pupils can learn that they have a part to play in sustaining some quality of lifestyle or environment. They also learn they have to take a stance because their future depends on what they do today. They have to work out where they stand on such issues and sustain their efforts. They find out that, acting together, they can all do something to help, even if they have to make sacrifices sometimes.

Engaging pupils' minds and experiences in social and environmental issues takes them on from being respectful, honest and self-disciplined to being confident and competent to act in the belief that they can do something to improve things.

Finally, the Beancross staff were asked, "What can a school (and a teacher) do to promote such values?" The Beancross staff say a written policy statement is needed so everyone is clear about the values. It should also show everyone (pupils, parents and community) that it does try to practise what it preaches and ensure that these values are developed across the formal curriculum.

Beancross rewards effort and positive behaviour. Periodically, the staff initiate whole-school projects and collaborate in community-run projects. They look out for pupils' ideas and use resources and contacts to support pupils in their efforts, promoting practical actions (such as recycling, grounds improvement, fund-raising) and providing structures to keep them going.

The Beancross staff say that "what a teacher can do" is to encourage pupils to contribute ideas to solve local issues, emphasising how important each individual can be. He or she can also be a role model, particularly in terms of care and tolerance and give time, and thought, to raising awareness and understanding of issues in meaningful and concrete ways. It is important, they say, to create the right kind of atmosphere to help pupils to work out what they think and where they stand.

This is obviously a school with a clear set of shared values and a number of strategies and structures for promoting them. Such values are quite compatible with Dr Tate's. However, by fostering their pupils' confidence and independent thought, the Beancross values have more to offer their pupils than a rigid "10 commandments" code, they empower them to be active members of their community.

Moira Laing is programme co-ordinator for environment, Jordanhill Campus, Strathclyde University.

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