How to help children make the most of school and become well adjusted, mentally healthy, happy people.

Ledbury Primary School in Herefordshire is a school I know well. It is led by an outstanding Headteacher, Julie Rees. Julie is very proud that her school is recognised, along with many other excellent schools, as a Values-based school. The pupils, parents and staff there take every opportunity to share what goes on in the school with each other and the wider local community. This has created an environment where children do well and are helped to be well adjusted, mentally robust and happy pupils.

During the 1990s, as the Headteacher of a school in Oxfordshire, I developed, with my staff and pupils, an explicit form of values-based education, which has become the blueprint for the approach I now advocate. Ledbury is one of thousands of schools worldwide that sees education as a holistic process that nurtures the essence of what it means to be human, whilst giving pupils an outstanding education.

Let me encapsulate the key elements and, I hope, inspire you to adopt the formula in your own school community.

What’s Values-based Education (VbE)?

VbE differs from other values education in one main regard. Values education teaches learners about values, whereas Value-based Education provides a teaching environment in which learners experience positive universal values first-hand throughout their schooling. It is a method that underpins the overall vision and practice of the school and its approach to teaching and learning.

VbE is a pedagogical system that gives children a transformational vocabulary, based on values such as respect, trust, honesty, fairness, justice and compassion. These value words are thought about and experientially explored by those who use them (pupils and staff and parents) in order to empower them to live their lives based on such values. The process of implementing such an approach is challenging, as it requires each of us to hold a mirror up to our thoughts and actions. The benefits are worth the effort: individuals feel transformed and empowered to be self-leaders. Embedding such an active ethical compass has shown to positively affect pupils’ behaviour, their thinking and the quality of their schoolwork.

What are the key processes involved?

  1. Decide on a group of values that you want to think about. Schools will make this a community process. At home you can have a family meeting to decide your values.
  2. Give yourself and others time and space to think about the values. Schools often have a value for the month. Remember that you have to help each other to keep to your chosen values and not drop them. For instance, when you are shopping, consider how you are showing respect for others and not acting selfishly.
  3. Remember that you are the living role model for the values. Children will spot inconsistencies in what you say and do as adults. Use the language of values when talking with children, “Well done, you were very respectful” and show the positive values in action.
  4. Give regular time and space to be inwardly reflective about the values and work on them.

What are the results?

In a word, transformational. What my research, and that of others, has found is that by giving children positive value words to think about, an ethical vocabulary is developed, which guides thinking and behaviour altruistically. We nurture our ethical intelligence, which is our ability to morally self-regulate our behaviour. I think this is the most important intelligence to develop in our world today and should be a major aim of education.

I hope I have inspired you in this short article to consciously underpin all aspects of your teaching and wider life with positive values. For more information and examples of VbE in practice, see www.valuesbasededucation.com.