Are ‘Values’ devaluing themselves in our schools?


I saw this Ofsted myth floating around twitter the other day and it really struck a chord. ‘School values’ have been a thorn in my side for the last two years. As an RE and collective worship coordinator my experiences are related to the promotion of ‘Christian values’ within a church school but I think the lessons I have learnt are valuable for all school leaders.

When I arrived at my current school, in fact from the very day I walked around on my pre application visit, I knew the school promoted good values. There were no shiny value displays, no ‘value of the month’ but I knew that they were there. The evidence was in the children. They were confident and thoughtful, polite and courteous. They clearly loved their school and really cared for everyone in it. There was no doubt in my mind that the school was preparing these children to be good citizens for life in modern Britain. I was sold and two weeks later, much to my delight, I was awarded the job.

As always in any new job, there was change that needed to be made and I made it. The major part of this surrounded preparing the school for its SIAMS inspection, an inspection in which how ‘embedded’ its Christian values were would be tested in great detail. So, up went the shiny value posters, the calendar of monthly value focuses. Class teachers and leaders all across the school made absolutely sure the children were versed in talking about the ‘values.’ The evidence was now not just in the children it was totally in your face. It worked. No inspector in their right mind could have questioned the wealth of evidence of ‘deeply embedded’ values. However, there is a niggle that remains with me… Ian Fletcher ‘head of values’ from W1A keeps coming to mind. If you don’t know what I mean then check out this clip below: –

It is my biggest fear that this is how we sound as schools leaders discussing values, that the box ticking exercise of inspection evidencing makes the word fall into the ‘buzz word’ category of latest fads and that their personal worth to the children will be totally devalued.

I have always been adamant that I didn’t want our school ‘values’ to become just a set of meaningless words the children had to remember to repeat in front of an inspector. It’s a trap so easy to fall into when preparing for inspection.The SIAMS framework talks about values that are ‘lived’ and I really wanted to protect that.

So this is the model I propose for school values. Move away from the list. What your school thinks is most important (what it values) is in your mission statement. The school mission statement and schools core values should support each other completely. First, start with a reading or a song, something that supports your mission statement that is child friendly (ours was obviously a bible reading but there are numerous other readings and poems to pick from). A reading, poem or song, more than a list, is something that the children can revisit and reflect on personally. Something that every time they will find something new in, something from which they can form their own personal values.

Yes, do revisit the words and themes from it (monthly if you have to) but also when they suit what’s happening both in and outside your school. Continue to reinforce any of its themes during school assemblies but get rid of the word ‘values.’ Why on earth do we need to use this word in front of the children other than to make sure they answer the inspector’s questions correctly? Good teachers promote good ways of living without even knowing they are doing it, in assemblies, in class discussion, through thoughtful texts and quotes, not through the use of the word ‘values.’

If you know your school has good SMSC provision, if your collective worship or assemblies support this, be confident. You have the evidence. Your children will demonstrate ‘values’ and be able to explain how their school teaches them to live in depth even if they’ve never heard the word ‘values’. Be brave and risk it. Your values don’t need to be plastered on every wall. Avoid expressions like ‘Today’s value is’, ‘Our monthly value is’, ‘which value is important to you?’ and instead remember that ‘values’ is more than just the latest buzz word. It is about what is important to us personally and about allowing children to develop spiritually, morally, socially and culturally.

If you choose a reading or song to reinforce this revisit it regularly and allow children and staff to reflect on it, and to suggest what in it is important to them. Introduce new themes by asking “why is love important?” “What does it mean to be humble”, “What qualities do you want to show to others?” “What can you practice to help make the world a better place?” And remember, if your children can answer those questions, they will probably show far more evidence of ‘living’ values than any shiny display or a fully remembered list.

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