A league of their own

Our boys start school this year, a major milestone in their lives. Also, one of the most important decisions we’ve had to make in their relatively short lives. We are fortunate to live in Keynsham, Bristol, which has a good selection of schools to choose from, particularly if you draw your conclusions from OFSTED reports.

Performance is not just academic

I wrote my yoga teacher training thesis at Bristol School of Yoga on how yoga in the national curriculum can help children realise their potential. My research found that there is a need for greater prominence being given to wellbeing-related activities as part of the National Curriculum. The focus by government and schools over recent years on academic attainment and league table positions has been detrimental to pupil wellbeing.

A healthier curriculum

It’s reassuring to hear that since writing my thesis, the government announced the introduction of a health curriculum that will coincide with my boys starting school in September. Children will learn about good physical and mental health, how to stay safe on and offline, and also the importance of healthy relationships.

Only time will tell whether this achieves the desired outcomes. In particular, the way in which it helps to tackle the increasing incidence of children being diagnosed with a mental health condition at an earlier age, and how this materialises into adulthood.

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Top of the league?

There are underlying issues with the education system that concern me. Most notably, the education system continues to be based upon a culture of competition. Recently published league tables are a perfect example of this. It’s easy to fall into a trap of believing that a school’s league position reflects the learning environment on offer. But of course the scoring is only based upon children meeting the expected standard in reading and maths tests, and ‘working at the expected standard’ or better in writing

I’m not saying that reading, writing and maths should not underpin a successful education. However, this focus on a narrow set of metrics to reflect performance, not only adds to a competitive learning environment. It is highly likely that schools direct their limited resources towards achieving the highest marks in these subjects, to the detriment of subjects that are not considered as high a priority and their league position.

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A safe and secure learning environment

What I want to see is a learning environment that encourages children to be satisfied with who they are and what they are able to achieve within a safe, secure and supportive environment. Providing opportunities for children to look inwards rather than towards their external environment for gratification and a benchmark of self-worth

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A values-based approach

There is a growing movement for a values-based education system. Creating a teaching and learning environment that is based on positive values such as respect, honesty, compassion and care. Promoting an educational philosophy based upon valuing self, others and the environment, through the consideration of a values vocabulary – principles that guide thinking and behaviour – as the basis of good educational practice.

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Values-based education is a practical approach that changes behaviour. When children return home, they express the values concepts and behave in values-based ways. It inspires families, who in turn, inspire their neighbours. The combination of awareness and environment equips students to develop their capacity to live in harmony with others, their compassion, emotional intelligence, togetherness and sense of self-worth.

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Inclusiveness is at its heart

What I particularly like about this approach is its inclusiveness. A process that begins with the adults and teaching staff establishing values they hold most strongly, such as peace, trust and love. Enveloping pupils, parents and governors into this process helps establish a common set values, where all have a stake in their application at the school.

By introducing a value each month, and the teachers leading by example, children access a value in a variety of ways. By integrating values throughout the day reinforces the message and embed its principles. By becoming aware of the value, and experiencing it first hand cultivates a sense of togetherness, creating a supportive environment for all.

Creating space to reflect

This supportiveness is apparent through its reflection component. Creating a safe space for pupils to be present with their thoughts, feelings, sensations are at the centre of the environment I create in my adult classes. By integrating anywhere from 60 seconds to 30 minutes in the school day, equips children with the tools to deal with different situations.

More broadly, through VbE’s Inner Curriculum, this teaches children how to be aware and in control of these internal thoughts, feelings, sensations and emotions. How they can be empowered to act in a positive way and take control of the destiny of their lives.