Education: Spirituality and standards go hand in hand

Schools can achieve better results by teaching moral values
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The Independent Online
WHEN SANDRA Walton took over as head teacher of a struggling Birmingham primary school, she turned first not to a new strategy for reading and maths, but to a new look at spiritual and moral values.

Mrs Walton, head of Allens Croft Road primary school, volunteered for a Government-backed pilot project on teaching on morals and spirituality because she believed it would raise academic standards.

She has no doubt of the importance of the project in a school where 70 per cent of pupils have free school meals compared with a national average of 18 per cent, and where a third of the pupils have special educational needs.

"When I came here, I asked how we could support academic improvements when some children's basic needs for things such as security and quality housing were not being met."

Mrs Walton and her staff grasped the values proposed by the National Forum for Values in Education with enthusiasm. They are that pupils should be taught to value themselves, to value others, to value society (truth, freedom, justice), and to value the environment.

After discussions between staff and pupils, new "golden rules" have been devised. They are on display in every room, even the toilets:

n We care for everything and

everyone.

n We try our best.

n We tell the truth.

n We listen to others.

n We work together.

n We are a team.

"Thank you for listening", "Thank you for being polite" "Are you keeping calm?" say colourful posters. Messages and photos from an anti-bullying week are on one wall; a celebration of last year's achievements on another.

Children's self-esteem has been fortified by a new system of rewards: a letter is sent home for good behaviour; a local company supplies T-shirts as a reward for 100 per cent attendance; every teacher has a "happy" and "sad" side to the blackboard - happy for names of children who behave well, sad for those who don't.

A school council, which includes even the five-year-olds meets every half term to discuss issues such as bullying. "We must be sensible," announces five-year-old Scott.

The staff have had to go back to first principles and decide just what they mean by spiritual and moral, translate them into action and review what they have done.

There is still a long way to go, says Mrs Walton, but already children and parents' attitudes are changing. Eighteen months ago, the school was close to being declared failing. This summer, inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education declared that it no longer even had "serious weaknesses".

Judith Judd

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