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Why helping learners explore beliefs and values is more important than ever

Why helping learners explore beliefs and values is more important than ever

Setting time aside for lessons on beliefs and values isn’t easy when schools are under pressure to cover exam content. But, as former RE Teacher Susannah Harlow argues, the benefits for young people can be profound.

It was just before lunch and learners were discussing what makes a good person – their actions or their character. There were no moral absolutes that would be handed down to them, ready-made, even from a wise, old (to them) teacher like me. They had to decide for themselves.

The learners were highly engaged and, intrigued by the subject matter, some of them stayed behind after the bell went, sacrificing precious break time to delve deeper. “What is evil? Does it even exist?” they asked.

The thing about beliefs and values is that everyone has to construct their own. We borrow from one another, our peers and the great faith traditions. Identifying our values helps develop an empowered sense of self, strengthens decision-making abilities, clarifies purpose, and helps you react constructively in difficult situations. Having positive beliefs and values can have profound implications for what comes next in people’s lives. It can keep us on the right path.

Wellbeing issues among British children

The recent publication of the PISA table highlights the need for robust beliefs and values education. The stats show that the UK’s young people are performing well in mathematics, science and reading, relative to other OECD nations.

However they are much less happy than their peers. British children ranked 68 out of 71 in terms of their satisfaction with life. Girls were 17 percentage points less likely to report feeling satisfied with life than boys. Only 57 per cent of children in England agreed that they had meaning or purpose in life. Dr Angela Donkin, chief social scientist at NFER, which carried out the PISA research in the UK, suggests that one implication of these findings is the importance of ensuring young people have the opportunity to explore the big questions of the meaning and purpose of their lives within the curriculum.

Supporting student wellbeing through accessible course

ASDAN’s refreshed Beliefs and Values Short Course is an excellent way to do just that, providing young people with the space they need within the curriculum to explore big questions in a way that will have a positive impact on their wellbeing. The course provides a skills framework to support metacognition, particularly focusing on decision-making skills. Students can see which skills they’re developing with each challenge. Learners’ achievements can be certificated and up to six ASDAN credits (10 hours for one credit) can be put towards achieving ASDAN’s Certificate of Personal Effectiveness Level 1 and 2 qualification (12 credits required).

Beliefs and Values has been updated by Pauline Trapp, an ASDAN Trustee and experienced former RE teacher, SENCO and assistant head at an Ofsted-rated outstanding school. I had the opportunity to feed into the process, drawing on my eight years’ experience as a religion and philosophy teacher. I trained as a teacher under Pauline over 10 years ago. She really inspired us trainees about the potential of every learner and the importance of catering for all abilities within the classroom. Her passion for inclusion really comes through in this course; it’s accessible and the multi-level nature of the course means it can also be used to stretch all students.

Boosting personal development

With the latest Ofsted inspection framework including a separate judgement on personal development, the launch of the redeveloped Beliefs and Values Short Course update is timely. Ofsted defines personal development as, among other aspects, “understanding that difference is a positive, not a negative”. The course provides engaging opportunities for students to consider issues such as climate change and peace and conflict, from a variety of perspectives. SMSC (spiritual, moral, social and cultural) education should be drawn out across the curriculum but this course really brings it into focus. In addition to generating evidence for Ofsted, the course enables schools to meet statutory requirements on SMSC education.

Following my class described above, a parent showed me a WhatsApp thread where his daughter shared with him the themes we had discussed. He told me that she was inspired by the class and the idea of using beliefs and values to guide her decision-making. She had started to reflect on the dangers of following the crowd without having the confidence to think for herself. Every school wants to produce empowered young people – the key is having the right opportunities and structures in place to facilitate this development.

Author: Susannah Harlow, ASDAN Education Policy and Research Officer

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