Learning that honesty pays

21st June 1996 at 01:00

An Oxfordshire primary is determined that values education should be fun, as Frances Farrer reports

Much of the anxiety about values in society focuses on good behaviour, the outward and visible sign of social awareness. In this definition, good behaviour is equated with compliance with a set of external rules maintained by sanctions.

So a view of core values as internal elements that need only to be strengthened comes as a novelty. However, this perception is the basis of the values work being done at West Kidlington Primary School in Oxfordshire, where the key defining phrase is "the child as a reflective learner".

This perception of values education sees the development of the calm, responsible child as fundamental to the learning of the subject disciplines, underpinning and permeating the learning of practical skills and the academic syllabus. It respects each child's inner value and capacity for understanding.

Values themes are used for a month at a time, forming the focus for morning assemblies and lessons. These lessons begin with complex, sophisticated discussions, and end with interpretive or illustrative work, mostly writing. Last month the school was concerned with honesty.

Linda Heppenstall's class of 30 Year 5s began a lesson with the reading of Matilda by Hilaire Belloc. And we all know what happened in that salutary tale: for the fun of getting the fire brigade to come out Matilda cried "Fire!", was noted as a liar, and when a real fire took hold, was not believed and incinerated.

"What does honesty mean?" The first question. Many hands went up and children spoke of telling the truth, owning up to things, and then of feeling bad about doing something wrong until owning up put it right. Richard said he had borrowed a football without asking, but had admitted it and been thanked for his honesty. The children's confidence in being open about misdemeanours is evidence of the approval they are given for it.

"What did it feel like to be honest?" "What did it feel like to tell a lie?" The class said they felt better for doing the right thing. They are encouraged to consider how certain modes of behaviour make them feel, suggesting that good behaviour is the natural foundation for good feeling. This places trust in each child's value, and values.

They moved around the related topic of cheating, then got on to a complex consideration of why people are dishonest. "To make them look good," said Emma. The children agreed that even if this worked in the short term it was not effective as a life plan. "To get themselves out of trouble," suggested Carol, but all agreed that as a means of getting out of trouble, lying was not effective for long.

Mrs Heppenstall noted: "The good rules have lasted a long time because they work", drew the children's attention to a book for reading time, offered the rubric Honest-Fair-Strong-Wise, and invited a poem, a story, or a piece of writing about a personal experience. Immediately Jamie offered to write a rap: this was applauded.

The list of core values in the school is made up of an almost equal number of straightforward, practical concepts such as respect, tolerance, thoughtfulness, and co-operation, and more abstract and difficult notions such as quality, unity, hope, humility.

How to introduce an abstract idea to primary pupils? The introduction, as with a concrete idea, is likely to be a story. Lately, the school has considered the concept of courage, illustrated by a Chinese tale of a successful quest by a child prince after violent behaviour from a giant.

Even the nursery school children are encouraged to explore their feelings and thoughts on values through drama, RE, dance, art and story. They are particularly encouraged to develop listening skills, massively useful in their school work and important in values education for the exercise of observing other people's feelings.

Headteacher Neil Hawkes says education is a civilising process and values education is its cornerstone. "The difficult part," he says, "is translating into action what you are talking about as a set of abstract ideas, or ideals. We use various mechanisms that make demands on staff too: objectivity is important, not being egocentric."

The parents of 10-year-old Karen feature strongly in her recent writing on appreciation. "My mum spent time on my bedroom, making it look nice," she wrote, going on to acknowledge family, teachers, and "fun work". Yes, that was the phrase.

Books used in the school

Turn Your School Around by Jenny Mosley, published by LDA Co-operation in the Classroom, Brahma Kumaris, World Spiritual University, Nuneham Courtney, Oxon OX44 9PG Values and Visions by Sally Burns and George and Anne Lamont, Hodder amp; Stoughton.Living Values, Brahma Kumaris, World Spiritual University

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