Values in Action

A less than serious look at how we embody our values. Of course all this has changed now that we have changed the curriculum!? …and this was written some years ago and performed by the Principal and Vice Principal at a Professional Development Day for all staff.
But seriously, is there an element of hypocrisy in any school?


Two people sit on a park bench à la Pete ‘n’ Dud

Dud:      Hello Pete, what you been up to then.

Pete:     Hello Dud, Not much. Just been pondering the relationship between existentialism and quantum physics

D:            Oh Yeah

P:            Well, if Sartre hadn’t been so obsessed with restricting his concept of freedom to the human form, and been prepared to consider it in the subatomic domain, then all of Heisenberg is reduced to electrons being condemned to be free.

D:            (Pause….) Solves the mind body problem though.

P:            Exactly,   …….        So I hear you got a new job then?

D:            Yeah

P:            Where’s that then?

D:            I’m at that Island School now.

P:            Oh, I have heard about that. Good reputation.

D:            Oh yes, it is a very good school, Island School.

P:            What’s so good about it then?

D:            (pause) Well,… The kids are great. Really committed, fun to teach. Brilliant staff too. They’ll do anything for those kids.

P:            Yeah, but what the school about though, what is it trying to do?

D:            Oh, right,… well we’ve got values … is that what you mean?

P:            Values, that’s good isn’t it. That can be what identifies a school, and makes its identity. What are they then?

  1. Oh, we all know our values. They are up on banners and notices all over the place. Can’t miss the values. The first one is Responsibility.

P:            (rather dubiously) Responsibility eh? … That’s different.

D:            Oh, it’s not just responsibility. We embrace it. And we embrace it in various ways. In our teaching and learning to start with, and then in various other things, but I can’t remember the rest of it.

P:            That’s quite good then. You mean the students embrace the responsibility for their learning and the teachers embrace the responsibility for their teaching. Very good that. A lot of schools don’t do that. So the students: They take the responsibility to decide what they learn and when they learn it. And the teachers: they take responsibility for what they teach and how they teach it.

D:            Exactly (smugly)

P:            And if a student wants to learn Rap Music, Forensic Pathology, Hong Kong Law, …

D:            …No No No No No. We have options and the student must pick from them. You can’t allow students to learn whatever they want can you?

P:            Why not?

D:            Well they might just end up learning what they are interested in, and you can’t have that.

P:            Obviously not. Any way you have got options, so the students can take the responsibility to put together a learning programme that suits their learning styles, skills and interests from within the options.

D:            (dubiously) er… Yes

P:            Someone who is a talented artist knows they want to go into the media can do Drama, Art, Music, English, History, Global Awareness and History of Art.

D:            Well, no. There are constraints. Everyone has to do English of course. That is obvious,… and Maths. Maths skills are fundamental to everyday life, we all need them.

P:            Maths skills like…?

D:            Trigonometry, solving quadratic equations, you know the sort of thing.

P:            Yes I use these on a daily basis. What else do they have to do?

D:            Some science, well quite a lot of science actually. They all do Biology, and Chemistry and Physics. They all do PE and ICT too. … But beyond that it’s all options.

P:            Where they have a free choice.

D:            Yes, they can pick any four, as long as one is a language, one is a technology, one is an Art and one is a Humanity.

P:            So within the constraints of having to do 8 compulsory courses and picking four options that have to come from four separate discrete groups, students have absolute and complete responsibility for planning their learning. Do they at least choose optional topics in their courses?

D:            No, the teachers do that.

P:            And the books they read?

D:            Er… teachers again.

P:            Hmmm. How about planning how and when they learn. Is that all constrained as well.

D:            They have study periods.

P:            This is more like it. Times when they can decide what they learn, and they have to take responsibility for planning how they do it. Excellent. How many do they have?

D:            One

P:            One a day… that is really forward thinking and really gives scope for student responsibility.

D:            It is one a fortnight actually.

P:            Oh very good. That solves that one then.   Let’s move on to the teachers who are taking responsibility for their teaching. They can choose to teach the courses they are really interested in can they? If you want to teach Fractal Geometry, or Astronomy or History of Art, you can?

D:            Er, no. History of Art is a problem anyway, because who would teach it? The History department or the Art department?

P:            They could cooperate (Dud shakes head). No obviously not. OK so the teachers don’t take responsibility for what courses are taught, but someone must. Why are you teaching the courses you are teaching this year.

D:            Well … basically … it is what we taught last year.

P:            And why did you do them last year? Don’t tell me, it was what you taught the year before (Dud nods). Does anyone remember why they were chosen in the first place? (Dud shakes head). OK so the course titles are chosen back in the mists of time, but the teachers must have the responsibility for what actually goes into the courses surely.

D:            That would be two reputable organisations known as the  Cambridge International Examinations Board and er Edexel.

P:            Edexel! sounds like a spreadsheet for teachers. Who are they? A statutory body, a teachers collective, a group of schools?

D:            They are a private enterprise owned by Pearson Educational, a private profit making company that publish books …

P:            … for Edexel courses. Look I am struggling to find anywhere in your curriculum that students or teachers take any responsibility for teaching and learning. Is there anywhere that they do?

D:            There is the IE award. Students have completely free reign to take on a project that they are really into and to pursue it during a two year programme.

P:            They must love that.

D:            (Nods unconvincingly)… Oh there is one other thing.

P:            What’s that?

D:            Well

P:            Go on.

D:            We don’t have bells.

P:            OK let’s see if you are any better on any of your other values. What comes next?

D:            Well I am on safer ground here. The next one is the pursuit of Excellence, and we are really good at that. You should see our GCSE results. Absolutely stunning year after year.

P:            But surely not all your students are geniuses and get A*s in every subject. The school isn’t selective is it?

D:            No excellence is defined by the individual student, their passion, their determination. Excellence will mean different things for different students. Certainly not all students are suited to aim for A*s. Some will get almost all A*s, and most will be able to aim for As and A*s in several subjects, but for some students three Cs is an excellent achievement.

P;            Yes this makes sense, so you obviously differentiate the curriculum to support both the gifted and the weak to achieve their excellence. If the average students are taking their exams at the end of year 11, when are the gifted ones doing it?

D:            At the end of year 11.

P:            …and the weak ones?

D:            At the end of year 11.

P:            I am sorry, you have lost me. How can all students be striving for their own individual excellence if they all take the same hurdle at the same time. Surely the really excellent students must be capable of taking these earlier than the others. By forcing it to happen at the same time, aren’t you actually preventing excellence?

I have to say I really cannot see how you are promoting either responsibility or excellence with the curriculum you offer. You constrain all the students to the same curriculum and make them take the same subjects, examined in the same way at the same time regardless of their differences. For the teachers, you prescribe what they teach, when they teach and how they teach it. There is no scope for them to show their own personal enthusiasms and skills. You treat everybody like the same size peas in the same pod. What is your other value?

D:            Individuality.

P:            You cannot be serious. Individuals – do they all look different or something?

D:            Well they all wear a uniform.

P:            You are having a laugh! (walks off)