Monday, 1 September 2014

Building A Values Based Education Curriculum

We are all shaped by experiences. Every one of us has experienced joy, grief, excitement and disappointment. We have been let down or supported; embarrassed or praised;  been lied to, or even lied about. Heartbreak, romance, childbirth, promotion, pride. All of these impact on our thought processes and life decisions, and make us the people that we are.

It was with such in mind that we considered in developing our PSHE curriculum. The 'tough new curriculum' as some sources have called it begins from this month. 

The new documentation tells is this:

2.1 Every state-funded school must offer a curriculum which is balanced and broadly 
based and which:
 promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society, and
 prepares pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.

2.2 The school curriculum comprises all learning and other experiences that each school 

plans for its pupils. The national curriculum forms one part of the school curriculum.

'.. all learning..' is the key phrase here. If we view the whole day, from the time before the bell sounds, through break and lunch times, to taking the children round to their parents at the end of the day, then there are a plethora of other learning opportunities. Indeed, if we were to include anytime a child is in school uniform, and representing the school in the community, then the definition of the 'school curriculum' is even broader. 

Which leads to this further paragraph from the new curriculum document.

2.5 All schools should make provision for personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE), drawing on good practice. Schools are also free to include other subjects or topics of their choice in planning and designing their own programme of education.

PSHE. I have seen a 'scheme' for this, and what a behemoth it was, dictating which year groups should be covering a particular aspect in which week. Totally unworkable. Some teachers may be familiar with SEAL, which contained some useful material, but was also unwieldy and inflexible in some hands. Indeed I recall a former colleague delivering one of the prepared assemblies, and still being there 45 minutes later until rescued by a fire drill. 

PSHE needn't be such a 'beast'. It is about life skills and dealing with people. No fixed scheme can possibly support that.

It was with this in mind that I introduced colleague to the work of Dr Neil Hawkes and his superb and deeply personal reflection 'From My Heart'. Neil's work outlines 'Values Based Education', something he built during his headship in Oxfordshire, and has since shared Worldwide.

I won't go into detail. The book is an excellent read, and the website provides a simple rationale of the project.

We chose VbE because we felt the philosophy behind it suited our school and the way we wanted to deliver the new curriculum. We had already made the decision to build a project based approach, driven by CLPE's 'The Power of Reading' programme, to which the creative aspects of the curriculum are linked where possible. 

Quite simply, a programme of values, 22 of them, one for each month over a two year cycle, is chosen to suit the needs of the school and the children. The values are modelled through assemblies, at least one dedicated lesson, displays and rewards, and form part of the fabric and character of the school. Modelling is the modus operandi, as the staff have to live those values, and use the appropriate vocabulary to support them.

Today our start of term INSET was dedicated to deciding our guiding values. We considered what had shaped us as people, by reflecting upon our own perceptions of positive and negative aspects of society in our lifetimes (we range, as most staffs do, from 20s to 50s), and discussing the people who embodied values, and the books that had deeply moved us. This list produced parents and grandparents, Mandela, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and perhaps less predictably, but nonetheless deservedly, Clement Attlee. The books included The Bible, 'To Kill A Mockingbird', and at somewhat of a tangent, 'Black Beauty'. 

We also took time to consider the school itself, because the programme of values is determined by the character of the school. Social deprivation, degrees of aspiration, the lack of positive (particularly male) role models; all were considered, together with the fact that we already have strong core values, our views of society and our values 'heroes'. Through discussion, sharing, elimination and no small amount of laughter, we generated this programme, unique to our school.


So that is it! Our values! Our values journey starts with the children's arrival tomorrow and my assembly on the value of 'Positivity' later in the week. There is more work to do in further INSET on reflection, vocabulary and the application of the values to situations around the school. The values have to be lived by all the staff at all times after all.

This was the most powerful aspect of Neil's work for me; living the values. As teachers we are incredibly powerful as role models: in totalitarian regimes we would have been one of the first 'up against the wall' after all! It does disappoint me to see teachers being rude to each other, particularly through Twitter. This summer I have seen a number of unpleasant comments between professionals. Would they speak to colleagues or indeed children like that? Bearing in mind that Twitter is an open forum; anyone could be reading it. Healthy debate and discussion is fine. Rudeness is not. Perhaps these people need to read Neil's work too.