Values that are relative to every school

21st May 2004 at 01:00
Neil Hawkes and Frances Farrer conclude their series on positive worth of moral education

A report on nine primary schools working with positive values reaches a general conclusion which is appropriately positive too. This is that all the values education schools in the sample seemed to benefit from better communication between staff and children, and between the adults.

The report was written by Dr Tony Eaude, who notes early on that the schools adopted the method for different reasons. Warnock's observation that teaching is essentially a moral transaction informs the positive values method. This is one of the tenets behind the method's development; the motivation for it was a widespread recognition of an amoral advance and moral relativism. For those taking up this challenge there is a caution: a course must be steered between indoctrination and insufficient guidance.

The essential elements of values education are:

* A set of universal values central to how the school works and adults and children conduct themselves.

* Explicit consideration of the meaning of 22 values over a cycle of two years.

* Staff modelling of values.

* Reflection to facilitate control of responses to external events.

The prototype was West Kidlington primary school, near Oxford. The report examined how transferable the method was.

The first generalisation that could be made was that "all the schools were welcoming, with purposeful and calm learning environments". The main reasons for adopting the method had been children's behaviour and the desire to bring greater meaning to assembly and link it to personal and social health education or religious education. The biggest common factor between the participating schools had been their sense of "something missing".

All the schools said the positive values method provided them with "a convenient and powerful theme for assemblycollective worship". Furthermore "the older children demonstrated subtle and thoughtful understanding".

The schools had adopted different aspects of values education but, said Dr Eaude, "what was remarkable was how several elements, each on their own unremarkable, combined to make a significant impact.

"Systematic engagement with these ideas harmonises the staff and provides security and focus for the children". The children "had an impressive ability reflect".

Does the method apply to all? "With a thought-out rationale and sensitive leadership" the answer would be yes. "Values education clearly made the tremendous impact in a range of schools."

Maybe the last word should go to Philip, a 10-year-old at Greenfield lower school in Bedfordshire. He said with great feeling, and backed by nods from other children, 'I was always in trouble but now I never am'".

Details from Neil Hawkes is a senior adviser in Oxfordshire.

Frances Farrer is a journalist

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