Raymond Ross visits Carrick Academy and a cluster of primary and special schools to see how personal and civic values education affects a community
The great Irish poet and one-time inspector of schools W.B. Yeats wrote:
"Education is about lighting fires, not filling buckets." It is a thought - and a quotation - which lies at the heart of South Ayrshire's strategy for values education.
The authority is aiming for "an evolution that converts our existing schools to learning centres which have a clear philosophy and which put the learning centre at the heart of a learning community," it says in Ethos and Culture in a Learning Centre for the 21st Century, 2004.
An ethos which builds self-esteem and rewards success is, it argues, the crucial factor in promoting learning.
South Ayrshire takes its values in education cue from Maine, in the United States. Since education director Mike McCabe made a study visit (TES Scotland, June 11), he believes that a strong ethos can only be achieved by involving young people in discussions about core values.
In South Ayrshire the process begins with each school cluster or individual establishment - business or otherwise - drawing up its own set of agreed shared values, an exercise first undertaken by staff in the department of education, culture and lifelong learning. Their five core values are honesty, respect, responsibility, equality and compassion.
At Carrick Academy, in Maybole, each pupil year group was polled, as well as their parents, all the staff and the school board, to choose their five values from a list of 10. There was almost total unanimity among the pupils. The final list of shared values was: respect, honesty, responsibility, fairness and ambition.
"I like to think the reason why the five top values were almost identical in each year group is because they were already embedded in the school and the ballot was an opportunity to articulate that," says headteacher Rodger Stewart.
"Our job now is to raise awareness, to make the values part and parcel of what we do. This is not a gimmick. It's the logical next step after building in a positive ethos.
"It's about working in partnership with the pupils, sharing values and the vision of where we want to go and how to get there."
The school organised a "values week" in March to highlight a different value each day. Pupils who successfully demonstrated the values were given a prize at the end of the week. On "ambition day", pupils had great fun dressing up in career clothes, presenting a school full of doctors, pharmacists, builders and footballers.
To promote the idea of service to the school and the community, 32 pupils each year undertake Welcome Host training, which is designed to improve standards of service and hospitality provided to every visitor in Scotland.
The pupil hosts, who receive a badge and certificate, are trained in social skills and help out with school functions such as prize-giving ceremonies.
Office and janitorial staff also receive training.
Building community skills and confidence is the aim of the XL Community Project, organised by the Prince's Trust. Carrick Academy's S4 pupils raised money and decorated a social room in the community wing that is used by the local youth club and a toddlers' reading group.
A buddy system was set up six years ago. A senior peer helper, recognisable by a smiley badge, is allocated two S1 pupils and meets them once a month to help them settle in, explains S5 helper Jill McCreath.
"It helped me in S1 and I value what I do as a helper now," she says. "It can be easier for a pupil to talk to another pupil rather than a member of staff. It's confidential but we can go to staff if the problem is serious."
S6 helpers train new S5 helpers and recently began training P7s to act as helpers in their schools.
There is an active pupil council at Carrick Academy and pupils have a say in curricular matters. "We talk to pupils about how they think departments could be improved," says Mr Stewart. "It usually means a wee tweek here and there to make it better for them. It is not seen as a threat by the staff; teachers welcome it.
"It's too early to say whether these measures impact on achievement, though that is going up every year. But the atmosphere is certainly better and pupils feel their opinion is valued."
The main beliefs of the learning community:
* a values-based approach is central to its operation and development
* leadership and management must be open and inclusive
* the needs of learners are given the highest priority
* support is given to families and growth of communities
* a sense of community is fostered, centrally and more widely
* learners, staff and partners are expected and enabled to achieve their best
* equality, inclusion, respect and consideration are at the heart of relationships with each other.