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 Author: Dr. Neil Hawkes, Founder: Values-based Education International


Recently, staff of two schools shared with me how their primary schools are adding to the stress levels of pupils and staff.


The first told me that Year 6 children in the school were out of control and continually challenging staff. The other school has decided to substantially increase the levels of required Homework. If it isn’t handed in on a Tuesdays then pupils miss their Wednesday lunchtime break having to report to the ‘homework room’.


Both situations, though different, point to an area of school leadership which if ignored creates challenges to wellbeing. This is school culture — how things are done or not done around here.


Within a few minutes of visiting a school it becomes clear what kind of culture is being created. Do people feel safe? What is the tone of interpersonal relationships? Are aspects of the culture imposed on unsupportive staff? Is the leadership of the school, open, clear and consistent and create a harmonious school where all flourish?


If such questions are never asked then a existential vacuum is created, which the behaviour of the challenging behaviour of pupils in the first example fill because they, and possibly their families, are not held in a positive culture of values awareness — where respect for others is the norm.


In the homework example staff told me that the leadership of the school were only interested in being seen by their Trust and Ofsted to be raising standards and were consequently deaf to their pleas concerning the negative and unintended consequences of the policy on young children who were unsupported at home. Because of the policy children were being shamed and self-esteem being negatively affected and motivation of both staff and pupils had declined.


The key for me as a leader is to grow a positive school culture, which encourages all to flourish. I ask the question: How do children best learn and how then should our school culture support all pupils and resource teachers appropriately? 


My worry is that many schools are not sure of the answer to the question, as they have been subjected to a period in education where such thinking has largely given way to the imposition of a pedagogy that gives little regard for a deep understanding of child development. There are, of course notable exceptions, as can be seen at Ledbury School in Herefordshire which is illustrated in the photo above. Yours may be one too.


As a headteacher, I was passionate about creating a quality school where good relationships were central to the school’s culture. Where real standards included the quality of relationships, the confidence and respect that pupils showed when speaking to each other and staff. Crucially, the key skill to help children to develop is self-control. This is critical, as research shows that the degree to which children gain self-control is the biggest predictor of their mental health, pro-social skills, agency, adjustment and mental wellbeing as adults.


To help schools grow the capacity in children of self-control, I propose that every school has an Inner Curriculum, which contains the learning which both staff and pupils need to experience so that they can gain the most from the school’s formal curriculum.


The process I recommend will help you create a quality learning environment where children will behave well and where fear of external accountability does not determine policy.


If you would like to know more about how to create a positive school culture that will help you live and work in a school that doesn’t stress you out, where teacher retention is high then please follow the link below...

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