Values-based Education (VbE) is an educational process, which enables children to develop their personal capacity to be ethically self-led, thereby developing their personal and social capacity to live wisely and affect society positively. The model also promotes mental health as I argue here: https://mentallywellschools.co.uk/do-schools-nourish-mental-health/
To achieve this profound transformation schools encourage activities that nurture children’s positive innate capacities.
Key features of the VbE Model:
- Adopting a community inspired set of universal positive human values such as respect, honesty, justice, humility and compassion to underpin the life and work of the school.
- Whole staff training to gain consistency of adult attitudes and behaviour.
- A whole school focus on the development of ethical intelligence, through an expanded ethical values vocabulary, promoting a new transformational universal language based on values
- Using insights from relational neurobiology and the development of reflective practices.
- Gaining knowledge of how to work with an ‘inner curriculum’ that empowers both children and adults to understand their internal world of thoughts, feelings and emotions.
- A focus on relational leadership.
- An acceptance that all adults will be the role models for the school’s values.
Does it work? Stephanie Giles, former pupil at the first VbE school calls for all schools to be values-based.
Dear Dr Hawkes,
My name is Stephanie Giles and I am a former pupil of West Kidlington Primary School, which I attended from reception in 1994 through to year 6 in 2000. I do not expect by any means that you will remember me after 20 years, but I certainly remember you! I attach an old school picture at the end of this email, by the slim chance that you do.
I wanted to write you an email to personally thank you for implementing the values-based education at my primary school. I strongly feel that your system taught me to develop inner thoughts and self-awareness, which is something that I have harboured throughout my adult life. It has truly had a lasting impact. If it is ok, I wanted to share with you how I think this has been the case, but first I feel I must address how I came to find your email address on a Saturday morning in lockdown!
I was browsing through the Internet, reading the debate on whether schools should reopen on June 1st, (obviously there is a lot of discussion surrounding primary schools at the moment) and it got me thinking about my primary school, West Kidlington. I looked on their website, out of curiosity more than anything, and it led me to further articles about the values-based education system you implemented. I found this simply intriguing and I have just spent the last 2-3 hours reading all about it. This has resulted in me acting upon on an overwhelming desire to email you, for which I really hope you do not mind!
I must admit I experienced an epiphany when I realised that the calm and connected feelings I have always felt whenever I reflect on my childhood and school days, is most likely due to the values education I received throughout this period. I strongly identify with all of the positive benefits to the system and it is only now, as an adult, and from reading in depth this morning, that I realise just how creative and purposeful your design of this was.
As a child, I remember learning about the “value of the month” in Monday morning assemblies you led (with the word of the month such as ‘humility’ ‘love’ or ‘responsibility’ clearly displayed on the board behind you under a globe, if I remember correctly). You would be calmly sat at the front of the assembly hall and the coloured spot lights slightly dimmed to create an ambient atmosphere. I remember you telling stories associated with the value of the month and then having to close our eyes in a ‘moment of silence’ while we answered your rhetorical questions through quiet thought. Please know that this was a truly magical experience for a child to be a part of Monday morning assemblies that were always something to look forward to, and again, that creation of a harmonious wave of calm across the hall when we entered is something I’ll never forget. Looking back I remember the visual scan you gave each pupil as they entered the assembly hall at the start of assemblies and it definitely had a positive engagement effect from a pupil perspective. I also remember the feeling of coming out of the assembly when our eyes hit the light and there was a positive ‘buzz’ that you had invigorated amongst us for the start of the day. Knowing just how effective VbE is, is to know how vividly those feelings have stayed with me for 20 years and shaped my life.
I realise now, just how carefully constructed this was, your presence was calm, the teachers were focused, the music was soft; it was such an invigorating start to the week!
I also now realise just how embedded the values system was to my childhood education when I think back to lessons with school teachers I still remember (Mrs Heppenstall in particular, Mrs Briden and Miss Pack to name but a few!) with periods of quiet thinking time, the nature trail around the school field and the pond/wildlife reserve. Looking back at West Kidlington, I have vivid memories of this and associated feelings of calm and peace whenever I think back to my school days. They are truly wonderful memories and I wanted to thank you for creating such a calm and focused learning environment, I didn’t realise it until now, but it has grounded me for life.
I grew up in Kidlington with my mother, father and older sister, Jessica, who also attended West Kidlington during the years you were headteacher. We were, and still are, a loving and supportive family. I hypothesise that if my parents hadn’t sent me to West Kidlington while you were headteacher; my life could have taken a different path. I strongly believe both a supportive home and school life are needed for a child’s well-being; in my childhood I was lucky enough to have both.
When I left West Kidlington in year 6 my family moved area and I went to the local secondary school. The experienced that followed was totally different to my years at West Kidlington. In my new school I was badly bullied, which seemed to be tolerated by the school. I found teachers would shout at misbehaved pupils, something I had not experienced in my primary school days and it was honestly quite a shock to the system. I cannot remember any values-based education in the curriculum, but even if there was, it was not adhered to in my experience. I remember longing to return to West Kidlington where it was such a happier, peaceful time. It felt like my childhood bubble had violently burst. Nevertheless, through everything your system taught me (although I didn’t realise it at the time), I stayed true to my moral compass, quite simply because the 22 values were so strongly embedded in me, I practiced them in every day life I just didn’t realise it at the time!
So rather than “joining” the bullies as I observed others do, I remained true to myself and kept a small circle of friends and did not engage or retaliate to their behaviour. Instead, I became resilient and I found myself questioning why? What was it about them that they could not treat people respectfully or co-operate? I concluded that I could not reason with them and I would just try and stick to my path in life.
I have never considered myself to be naturally intelligent, but I have always been hard working. So I threw all my energy into studying to combat the terrible unhappiness I was experiencing throughout these secondary school years. As a result of my hard efforts, I excelled in my GCSEs and became the highest performer of my year group. Unfortunately, this led to more bullying, even when I stayed on at their sixth form, so I decided to transfer to Wood Green in Witney at the end of year 12 to continue my studies.
To continue my story, I went on to University to study Medical Sciences and was accepted for second year entry due to my high grades. I graduated with a first class degree in 2012 and in the last 8 years, my career has rapidly progressed. I obtained an MSc in Forensic Anthropology & I am studying for a part-time PhD in the same subject field. I love to learn but I also love to practice what I learn so I worked for 6 years in the police service as a Crime Scene Investigator.
Now, my line of investigation work has taken me all over the world as I have expanded into areas of World War II repatriation projects based at Pearl Harbour, to research projects in Europe and the USA, training operational personnel in the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva. I love to teach. It is my passion to inspire students to pursue investigative careers. I am now lecturing at a University alongside my casework, where I am leading a multi-million-pound project to set up a new research and teaching facility in the field of investigation. I was recently nominated for a ‘National Women in Defence Awards’ for my endeavours. I am always looking for new ideas and inspiration; I want to help people and complete meaningful work. In 2018 I devised a new ‘CSI teaching programme’ at Pembroke College, Oxford University to international summer school students. I strongly believe in active pedagogy and delivered all kinds of interactive lessons to the students (photograph attached relates). It was fulfilling to see them engaged and inspired; and to this day I still receive communication from my students on their adventures into the world of work I inspired them to pursue.
How does all this relate to the values-based education system at West Kidlington you may be wondering? Or perhaps you are thinking I should review the ‘humility’ value! The aforementioned career achievements are, in part, due to my hard work ethic that I adopted during the ‘bullying’ years, but it is so much more than that. I truly believe that I would not have achieved all I have along my way, without those core values of respect, responsibility, freedom, kindness, friendship, co-operation and love that you taught me.
I will conclude this rather lengthy e-mail now with the following:
Dr Hawkes, I wanted to thank you for implementing your truly inspirational values system, thank you for making my childhood at West Kidlington Primary School so memorable and enjoyable, and thank you for teaching me values which I have held so closely since leaving 20 years ago throughout my adult life. I will be eternally grateful that I was lucky enough to be a pupil of West Kidlington when you were Headteacher and to have experienced the values education you implemented. Words simply cannot express my gratitude. Please just know that even after all this time, your work has had a truly transformational and lasting impact. It has made a real difference to my pathway in life – thank you.
Thank you Stephanie – you touched my heart with your words. I hope others will listen to your call for action. Neil