What does your school Value?

By June 26, 2015 Education No Comments

This is the blog I have been threatening for a while now; it’s in response to my visit to LPS just before half term as part of the ITL Big Day Out. So, given how much I loved the school on the day and my utmost respect and admiration for Julie Rees the Headteacher, why has it taken so long to write this blog? Simply, I couldn’t touch what truly made this school special. I know that may seem strange, but it held such a transforming power to me that defining it became somewhat esoteric. Until, thanks to David Didau’s recent blog, I was received this quote from John Tomsett’s book (which has gone to number one on my wish list!)

“Any head teacher who explicitly puts the students first hasn’t thought about that decision though; the implication is that teachers are less important than students. The best thing for students is a happy, motivated staff; by putting the staff equal first with the students you are doing the best you can do for the students. (p.184)”

I always enjoy David’s blogs, not because I always agree with him, but because he challenges me and takes my thinking further – the very point of blogs to me, not simply to vindicate one’s own personal viewpoint! But on reading this, I realised he had, or rather John had, put into 2 sentences what embodies the uniqueness of LPS that I had previously struggled to articulate.

I have previously spoken of the values I saw throughout my visit to LPS

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Which are the embodiment of the work by Dr Neil Hawkes, but apart from recognising that the staff and pupils at LPS not only talk the talk, but walk the walk, I still felt that it was transcendental. Yet this morning, that quote hit me. I suddenly realised the essence I had been searching for. The values were for the entire school, as important for the staff, as well as for the pupils and neither party were more important than the other and so, they respected each other and there was a clear bond of love throughout the school. Yes, you read that right, love. The genuine affection of one human to another, as they trust each other through a shared humanity and know this sharing has taken them to something beyond teacher-pupil status.

I have worked in 6 schools throughout my career, as well as visiting dozens of others and this symbiotic relationship is something which is rare in my experience. See which, if any, of these apply to your school (or to you) as the balance between expectations differs for child and adult, some where the adult is culpable and the other where it’s the school against the adult:

Child Expectation/ Rule Staff reality
It’s unkind to spread rumours about people. Just visit a staffroom!
We must all learn to take our turn. I am an adult; I will push into the lunch queue!
Hands up, no calling out and take turns to speak. Just listen during a staff meeting.
Your homework is due… no excuses! Report deadlines are missed, but it’s not my fault, because…
You must have healthy snacks. Look at the spread in a staffroom many weeks (even days!)
We will treat you all as individuals. Everyone will undertake the same Inset irrespective of role, responsibility, need.
The bell is not a signal for you. The bell is only a signal if it’s not the end of break and I still have coffee left!
The uniform is there to make you look smart. Wait till Summer and see the flip flops, no ties, etc, etc.
Turn up for lessons with everything you need. Attend meetings/Inset without pen/ paper and look surprised when notes are needed to be taken.
You will enter the hall silently and be silent during assembly. We are adults and our conversation is vital, irrespective of setting a poor example to you.

Hard isn’t it? Especially when you recognise yourself – recognising the school and blaming the institution is far easier!

However, I know there is another, better way. I have seen it, felt it and – I admit, been jealous of it! You see at LPS the values exude from the very being of the school. I suppose it goes to the heart of the question, what makes a school? The building? The teachers? The children? The support staff? The ethos?

At LPS, it’s not one thing, it’s everything! To write about it all would take an entire book, and is probably not my place after one visit, so I have restricted myself to a few highlights – which resonate with the above and values seen elsewhere and reflect the actual values behind the school (as in the tree above) seen here:

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  1. Lunchtime table manners

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 This picture is from Reception lunch, but is replicated across the school. By treating the children with respect and as if at a proper restaurant, then the children respond accordingly. It also makes lunch an event, not just a time to quickly eat as an escape from learning and then a dash out to play. Lunch is also a time for engagement between staff and children, participating in conversations to get to know each other better and also ensuring Pastoral matters are covered too.

What is lunch like at your school? Do you have tablecloths and flowers? Do staff actively engage with the children (I know prospectuses say they do, but in reality)?

  1. Playtime

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The sheer size of LPS can’t be underestimated I know, but I had heard about ‘The Playpod’ before visiting and saw how the children were taking risks, engaging with their own learning through play and negotiating on what equipment they were each using. In the early years area the space allowed for the trikes and scooters to have their own track, which the children used, as opposed to limited space where accidents were inevitable. Many of us know that play is vital in education, at all ages levels, but how is it instilled and encouraged in schools? Where are the opportunities for play with risk – as opposed to risky play? Julie always says that The Playpod has reduced accidents and injuries at break-time, though she then concedes it hasn’t, it’s just that the children have self-determination and so don’t complain about them now.

  1. Assembly

This is a vital element of every school; it (theoretically) sets the tone for the day. However, I was spellbound by how the entire school, including nursery, entered the hall in total silence, simply with Julie sitting in a chair at the front and a lit candle – for the children to direct their attention towards and have reflection time. There was no music or YouTube clip, nor slideshow on entry, it was complete silence with just the candle to focus on – certainly a point of self-reflection for me! Similarly, there was no shushing, rearranging of seats, shuffling around or whispered conversations (by staff or children) and this was despite there being over 50 visiting adults at the back of the hall!

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Even more impressive was the way in which the Year 6 completely independently led the assembly, no staff introducing it, no staff closing it, just Year 6 delivering an assembly about British values.

These are just three examples from an amazing school, but the truth of why it’s so amazing is that – in my opinion Julie, the staff and the children of Ledbury Primary School:

walk-the-talk

So, I ask:

  • What does your school value?
  • (How) does everyone know?
  • Do you have what Sir John Jones identifies as

Circles of Synchronicity

If not, shouldn’t you?

About M Creasy

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