Education Quandary

I miss teaching in a Church of England school. How can a secular school foster similar values?
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The Independent Online

Most schools say they try to foster values such as honesty, but as this reader points out about her new school, it often doesn't amount to much. One way schools can develop a genuinely caring culture is to look to a small miracle that has been wrought in a primary school outside Oxford.

In this school, values such as patience, humility and courage have been placed at the heart of the curriculum. Children are introduced to 22 values at school assemblies and focus on each for a few weeks, over a two-year cycle. They talk about what they mean, and apply them in daily life. Short periods of silent reflection allow both teachers and pupils to find calm and concentration, and everyone learns to think about: "Who am I when I am the best I can be?"

Children are given a strong set of values which they learn to foster in themselves, and from this flows high expectations, good behaviour and good work.

West Kidlington Primary School pioneered this approach some years back and so-called "values education" has spread to hundreds of other schools. The Department for Education and Skills says it creates respectful and coherent school communities with emotionally stable pupils and teachers. Frances Farrer, who has written a book about it, says she has lost count of the number of times people have told her that it has transformed their lives. A Quiet Revolution: encouraging and sharing positive values with children by Frances Farrer with Neil Hawkes, published by fh books, £5. Info: frances.farrer@telco4u.net.

Readers' advice

Christian values flow from Christ. If people in a school do not believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ, and hold him in their hearts as they go about their daily lives, it will be impossible for them to replicate the values that lie at the heart of a church school, and any attempt to do so will be an empty gesture.
Pamela Orchard, Essex

My children went to a primary school that went out of its way to encourage children to think about their behaviour and the effect it had on other people. It used circle-time discussions to talk about co-operation and responsibility, and children were always told to listen to their conscience, which would guide them. But at secondary school it all went out of the window. Bullying was widespread and no teacher ever seemed to talk to pupils about anything but coursework and exam results.
Anne Robertson, Bromley

There is nothing wrong with "sharing" and "respect" as core values for a primary school (they are clichés, but more than that too), especially if firmly and explicitly based on "The Golden Rule": treat other people as you'd like to be treated yourself. Children need a moral framework, of course, but teaching by example, and showing that there are good reasons for behaving well, will be more effective than simply laying down the law or parroting rules, religious or non-religious.
Marilyn Mason, Education Officer, British Humanist Association

Next week's quandary

Ever since school started this term, my nine-year-old daughter has started coming home with headaches. We have had her eyes tested and there is nothing obviously wrong, and she does not seem to be either stressed or anxious about her new class. She has tried sitting in different places in the room, at the front and further back, but it makes no difference. Now we have run out of ideas.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce at The Independent, Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack with cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

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