Giving Voice to the Impacts of Values Education – The Final Report of the Values in Action Schools Project
This article is an edited and abridged extract from the Executive Summary of the report Giving Voice to the Impacts of Values Education – The Final Report of the Values in Action Schools Project. The article provides a sample of the impacts of effective values education on students, teachers and whole school communities that were identified and highlighted by the evidence and outcomes of the project.
The Australian Government has provided Australian school systems and school communities with the National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools (DEST 2005); a series of national forums and conferences for sharing professional expertise; partnership projects with parents, principals and teacher educators; teaching and learning advice; curriculum and professional learning materials; and a strong research base.
The Values in Action Schools Project (VASP) was a schools-based element of this corpus of values work. It was the third stage of the Values Education Good Practice Schools Project (VEGPSP), which aimed to discern, articulate and disseminate good practice in values education for all Australian schools. The VEGPSP directly involved thousands of teachers, students and parents in 395 schools operating in 66 clusters across all systems and sectors of Australian schooling. Clusters were funded to design, implement and report on purpose-built action research projects in values education.
Giving Voice to the Impacts of Values Education – The Final Report of the Values in Action Schools Project, October 2010 (DEEWR), gives an account of findings from the VASP. The findings show how a systematic and planned approach to values education can improve students' engagement with schooling and promote better learning outcomes, and enhance their social and emotional wellbeing. In addition, the VASP demonstrates, through the voices of the participants themselves, how values education can transform classrooms, relationships, school environments, teacher professional practice and parents' engagement in their children's schooling.
Five key and interrelated impacts of the VASP have been identified. They are summarised in the report under the following headings:
An important impact of the values projects on students, teachers and parents was an increased consciousness of the meaning of values and the power of values education to transform learning and life. This increased awareness of values, and values education was developed through various forms of reflection, dialogue and communication, and personal story.
Many of the teachers' reflections on the impact of the VASP focused on students' potential and their capacity to demonstrate the kind of thinking, creativity, ethical and intercultural understanding, and social competence advocated in the design for a 21st century Australian Curriculum by the Australian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (ACARA 2009, pp 12–14).
Values education was found to have improved student wellbeing. This is an important outcome, as research has shown that the social and emotional wellbeing of Australian students decreases from primary to secondary school (Bernard, Stephanou & Urbach 2007). International research conducted by UNICEF (2007) has described the 'changing ecology of childhood' (p 39), whereby the lives of young people in developed countries, such as Australia, are shaped by forces that do not necessarily assist them to learn and apply values that optimise their personal lives and the pro-social behaviours important in navigating the complexity of the contemporary, global world (see Fraillon 2005). The sustained improvement in student wellbeing forms part of the Australian Government's Social Inclusion agenda (DEEWR 2010).
An important impact of the VASP on students, as facilitated by teachers and supported by parents, was the development of various forms of agency. Agency refers to the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make choices and act on them. In this way the outcomes of the VASP align with the Educational Goals for Young Australians, outlined in the Melbourne Declaration (MCEETYA 2008), which aim for schools and communities to assist students to become active and informed citizens; to play an active role in their own learning; to participate in Australian civic life and work for the common good; and to become responsible local and global citizens.
The evidence of strengthened student agency in the outcomes of the VASP also resonates with Sandel's (2009) view that values are learnt and acted upon in communities for the 'common good', whereby moral and ethical integrity help to develop social cohesion and solidarity. Working for the common good involves students in what Noddings (1992) describes as an 'ethics of care', often developed through engagement with complex global issues (see Noddings 2006). This outcome of the VASP highlights the importance of values education programs involving various forms of giving, outreach, community development and service learning.
The VASP was found to have contributed to positive and wide-ranging connections between teachers, students and parents. The relationships forged between students, teachers and parents in many of the clusters supported student engagement in learning; improved parent engagement in their children's learning; and allowed teachers to develop new relationships with their students, each other, and the parents and families in their school community.
Change and transformation was the heart of the VASP in that all clusters implemented their values projects using an action research cycle, and were encouraged to apply the principles of good practice in values education (Curriculum Corporation 2008). Teachers and students were urged to engage in continuous reflection on the action they implemented in their schools (Schön 1983).
It is worth emphasising the unique contribution the VASP has made to reflective practice in values education, both through these reflection activities and the inclusion of the reflections of parents and students in the evaluation of project impacts. Evidence indicates that these transformations were supported through the momentum and opportunities for change provided through the values projects. The transformations reported by clusters centred around changes in professional practice as well as personal attitudes, behaviours, relationships and group dynamics. Transformations were experienced and observed by teachers, students and parents alike.
These are significant outcomes for all Australian schools. Together with Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the VEGPSP, the VASP has made a major contribution to our understanding of what good values education is, how it can be implemented and what sort of difference it can make for students, teachers and whole school communities. The evidence has come directly from the voices of the hundreds of VASP and VEGPSP project participants. These voices form a chorus of testimony to the fact that values education, when given the time, focus and application of the good practice principles identified in VEGPSP, can yield profound outcomes for school communities.
The VASP provides all Australian schools and the entire education community with additional insights and more evidence of how values education can contribute to the whole purpose of schooling and how it so well serves the goals for schooling as expressed in the Melbourne Declaration.
ACARA (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority) 2009, Curriculum Design, ACARA. Available at www.acara.edu.au
Subject HeadingsValues education (character education)