A small act of courage: why discussing values matters
There were some wonderful moments at an Index Forum meeting a couple of weeks ago at Ashill Primary School in Norfolk. One that stood out for me was when a boy of 8 or so opened the door. He was entering a room of a dozen adults, hardly any of whom he knew, and engaged in a discussion. He cheerfully asked a question, got a response - about where the 'Nature Detectives' after-school club was, as it happens - said goodbye, and was off.
For me, this was remarkable. When I was his age and at school, I’d have been scared stiff by entering such a situation and would have feared some sort of reprimand. When I remarked on this straight afterwards, many in the room were surprised. Of course he feels comfortable to come in and ask a question - why wouldn’t he?
This interruption had come as, in small groups, we were discussing one of the Index values. Appropriately, two of the three groups had chosen ‘courage’. This had certainly been a case in point. Our discussion continued. Helen believed that being in a small community school really helps: “in a small school, children learn courage, but they lose it in secondary”.
This courage and confidence in children is something that we’ve seen repeatedly in our visits to small Norfolk schools; in settings where everyone knows everyone else’s name, the feeling of anonymity and caution is diminished and all feel they belong and are welcome to contribute. It is something powerfully good and important that current measures do not capture. The Index’s indicators, however, do. Dimension A: ‘Creating Inclusive Cultures’, with its focus on ‘Building Community’ and ‘Establishing Inclusive Values’, precisely helps schools to think about whether they are creating the conditions in which students and staff feel known and valued, are afraid of no-one,and thus develop the courage to speak out if they feel they need to – even to people they don’t know. There could be few more valuable skills for life.
Our conversations then turned to the issue of parental participation in secondary schools. There was pessimism from some on this. Bruce, a school governor and LEA employee, suggested that most secondary school students don’t want their parents to have anything to do with their school – they want them to stay away for fear of embarrassing them! Others talked about the difficulty of getting parents into the secondary school in any numbers. However, Jo, a teacher at Waylands Academy, replied by describing how a recent event had encouraged 70 parents to attend. Helen, in addition, thanked the Waylands teachers there for the high quality communication she felt she’s always received from the school.
As with my assumptions about primary school children being afraid of strange adults, one person’s impossibility was no problem to another. This is the value of bringing together teachers, heads and governors from different schools in these meetings: every time, people leave buzzing with ideas and encouragement, and with a new sense of what’s possible.