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When words mean so much

The "positive values" framework used by the Sisters of Presentation in Rawalpindi is based on a method pioneered at West Kidlington primary school, in Oxfordshire. Headteacher Neil Hawkes, pictured, and his staff selected 22 "concept" words to be used and applied consistently throughout the school for a month at a time on a two-year cycle.

The words - such as peace, co-operation, honesty, friendship, respect - offer a focus for everything that goes on in school, whether it be the classroom, playground, school hall, even the head's office. The idea is that children absorb the mechanisms and vocabulary necessary to gain emotional intelligence. "Children have to learn how to be in the world - how to deal with complex situations, how to observe and respond," says Mr Hawkes, who is now a consultant on the framework.

At West Kidlington the words were explained and considered in daily assemblies; the children wrote and performed plays demonstrating their meanings. The words were then used in lessons, and dropped into everyday conversations and explanations as often as possible. Lesson time was allocated every week to the consideration of behavioural and ethical questions.

The method also allows for a daily period of silent reflection, which has proved so popular with the children that they ask for extra sessions. They say they use the framework to help settle arguments in the playground. Sam, 10, says: "You have to make it mean something according to what's happening. You have to see if values can help you work it out."

Teachers say the shared vocabulary makes their lives much easier. Linda Heppenstall helped to select the original West Kidlington group of words.

She says: "You've got a way of talking to children that gives them a reason to behave well. They're learning about their range of emotions, what they have in common with each other, how they differ."

A DfES-sponsored report in 2004 found that, in a sample of nine schools, values education had given children "an impressive ability to reflect". The method is now used in many British schools, and in other parts of the world including Mexico, India and Cyprus.

A Quiet Revolution, Frances Farrer's 2000 book about the positive values method, is available in a compact edition. Contact: frances.farrer@telco4u.net; neil.hawkes@btinternet.com

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