The Royal Masonic School for Girls leads the way in fostering greater understanding across schools in Europe.
Values in Our Lives (V.I.O.L.A), a 2 year Comenius project was coordinated by the Royal Masonic School (RMS). It was based on the RMS Values Programme, which had developed from the original aim of making the traditional values of the School more overt and meaningful within the lives of all those who work in the RMS community. There are nine core values, one for each month of the school year and these include Respect, Participation and Compassion in the first term. Courage to Challenge Oneself, Responsibility and Perseverance in the second term and Honesty, Commitment and Tolerance in the third term.
The Values In Our Lives Project (V.I.O.L.A) comes at a time when Values in many organisations are under scrutiny and when the development of character is becoming a focus for all schools. We believe that this has always been key for the independent sector and that the social and personal development of young people is an exceptionally strong feature of our schools.
Young people require integrity to make good decisions in life, based on positive values such as honesty and respect. To assist this, we need to adopt a Values based approach to education that spans both the academic and personal aspects of school life. Resilience and reciprocity in learning are complemented by cultivating commitment and participation as aspirational goals for pupils in their personal lives.
At a time when schools are expected to teach British Values, this Europe-wide project has assisted all those involved to understand what values we share and how different societies interpret core values slightly differently. The project has given staff and students a deeper perspective on values and enriched all those involved.
The Comenius Programme itself is a European Initiative and has two main aims:
- to develop knowledge and understanding among young people and their teachers about the diversity of European cultures and languages, and the value of this diversity and
- to help young people to acquire basic life skills and competences for their personal development, for future employment and for active European citizenship
The V.I.O.L.A project proposal was submitted to the British agency, the British Council. As a European initiative, schools across Europe have the opportunity to link together and work on projects. Seven schools were accepted by their own agencies to be part of this V.I.O.L.A project, making it a large project and receiving total funding of €175,000. It was ambitious as it required a whole school approach, rather than being subject specific. To make a Values programme successful, it has to be embedded into the school ethos and be adopted by all.
The funding for each school has enabled staff and students to share ideas and visit the partner schools over a two-year period.
Our partner schools are all different but we have come together as one. Our partners have been schools in Vienna in Austria, Taarstrup near Copenhagen Denmark, Crotone in Italy, Murcia in Spain, Le Beausset in France and Prague in The Czech Republic. For each visit staff and students have been hosted by the partner schools. Visits have involved values based activities, cultural visits and students experiencing life with host families. The experience has been sharpened by current events such as the Charlie Hebdo atrocity.
All the schools involved have learned from the RMS experience and adopted their own version of a Values based education programme. In each institution this has been adapted according to the needs of the school. Religion, beliefs and historical traditions have influenced the values selected and this individual approach is the key to success.
The list of outcomes is extensive but some of the highlights have been how staff and students from across Europe have worked together collaboratively, sharing ideas and learning from each other. Teaching resources have been developed to assist. For example, a Values based project using artworks, a Values based project looking at historical figures, the development of a Values Top Trumps game, Open Badges and the culmination of a Values Manifesto for Europeans to make a pledge to the values of the V.I.O.L.A. project.
The V.I.O.L.A Project has been awarded a British Council eTwinning Quality Mark and has won a British eTwinning Award for the best Comenius project in a British secondary school. This means the project can be submitted into the European Awards in 2016.
Although the project has technically come to an end, the Europe – wide links will continue as will our commitment to educating young people to understand that ultimately, true success and happiness depend on making the right choices in life and academic achievement is only one piece of the jigsaw.