The importance of values education
– Dr Mark Whalley, Headmaster of Rookwood School
Ask most parents, teachers and headteachers what they want for their children and they will probably say very similar things. A small number will start off with qualifications and academic success but most will talk about happiness, preparation for life, values and character. I wholeheartedly sit in the latter camp, believing strongly that a good school develops young people to the best they can be by instilling values and developing character. Academic success is then a simple consequence of being educated in a community in which values such as respect, excellence and integrity are threaded through daily life.
Several years ago, when I was a headteacher with Service Children’s Education, I introduced a values-based ethos to the school I led. While I was preparing an early assembly I stumbled across the core values of the Army, the Navy and the RAF. On their websites you can find their value statements: ‘Courage, Discipline, Respect for Others, Integrity, Loyalty and Selfless Commitment’ (Army), ‘Commitment, Courage, Discipline, Respect for Others, Integrity and Loyalty’ (Navy) and ‘Respect, Integrity, Service and Excellence’ (RAF). I was struck by how these statements could equally be used to describe the values of a school.
Now as the headteacher of an independent school with boarding I see values education as being even more important. In term time boarding pupils are exposed to a school’s values all the time and have many opportunities to express those values. Life in a boarding school represents a unique educational experience, one in which a child’s home and school become part of a continuum. Different schools deal with this in different ways and each boarding school will have a slightly different take on this, but what they all have in common is that the entire life of a pupil during term is experienced within a school community.
Successful boarding houses are communities in which all members feel safe and valued. This goes beyond the obligations or the boarding house staff; the atmosphere and ethos is as much a product of the boarders as it is a product of the institution. Older and more experienced boarders create the social atmosphere in which younger boarders thrive, and a commitment to their boarding community is vital in making the boarding house a happy place. Boarders who can do this embody so many of our important values including three from the Armed Forces: commitment, loyalty and service.
Boarding can be an emotional challenge for some children, leaving and sometimes not seeing their family for many weeks on end. They have to learn to live with others, share rooms, abide by rules and keep to timetables. These are challenges that day pupils never experience. So for some boarders, courage is required to overcome new challenges.
I have no doubt that boarding promotes the values that we share with the Army, Navy and RAF. These values form the basis of the character of the young people who eventually leave us and prepare them well for the challenges of adult life. Boarding promotes such a wealth of lifeskills that those who experience it and fully embrace it leave school as well-rounded young people who are confident, resilient and principled.
Dr Mark Whalley holds a PhD in Physics along with a Masters degree in Education and a BSc in Mathematics and Physics. He began his teaching career 20 years ago in Staffordshire and since then has worked in Cyprus and Germany with Service Children’s Education in a variety of roles. He was the Head at John Buchan School in Paderborn, Germany for several years before becoming Headmaster of Rookwood School in 2016.