Never underestimate the value of values, even if they differ from one another - Dr Alan Billings

Every school I visit has a set of values. They are often clearly displayed, posted on notice boards or painted on walls. They sometimes pop up on sweatshirts. They vary hugely, though there are some commonalities.

All primary schools seem to have some version of ‘kindness’ or ‘friendliness’. Secondary schools generally have something along the lines of ‘ambition’ or ‘excellence’.

Both primary and secondary will have ‘tolerance’ or ‘respect’, or something that means the same thing. But there are many other values: ‘empathy’, ‘happiness’, ‘resilience’, ‘compassion’, ‘confidence’, ‘fairness’…the lists go on. Whether they are always mutually reinforcing or compatible is not something I stop to think about. I wondered when this need to set out the school’s values so explicitly started. I don’t remember anything like this when I was at school.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

At least that was what I at first thought. But on reflection I realise that my school, and others at that time, did have values. I went to a boys’ grammar school and the grammar schools often captured them in succinct Latin mottos. Mine was ‘Labore et Honore’ – by work and honour. And we sang them in songs that were frequently repeated in morning assemblies. One of my favourites, which I still remember, was called Treasure and the first verse went like this: Daises are our silver, Buttercups our gold. These are all the treasures we can have or hold.

Dr Alan Billings has served as the Police & Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire since 2014.Dr Alan Billings has served as the Police & Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire since 2014.
Dr Alan Billings has served as the Police & Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire since 2014.

I don’t think that was very aspirational. I can see why no headteacher would want it sung now. Though it does commend an appreciation of the natural world, which is very relevant today, even if it also suggested turning away from material things. In those first decades after World War II many values were overtly Christian and, again, sung in Christian hymns every single school day. These hymns were often about putting others before oneself, self-sacrifice and so on. It was thought that these were the values that got us through the war and were needed to bring post-war renewal – unselfishness, sacrifice, hard work, not clock-watching, putting others first.

We sang: Not for ever in green pastures do we ask our way to be; but the steep and rugged pathway may we tread rejoicingly. These were the default values. Fast forward to the present period and we find that the values that people want to speak about now are not these older values of hard work and sacrifice but almost the opposite – and they are not confined to schools.

All organisations have them, including the police. They are about personal well-being, life-work balance and so on. A ‘well-being’ champion in my office summed them up in a wonderful post last week: ‘When you’re saying yes to others, make sure you’re not saying no to yourself.’ That captures the essence of so many of the modern values very well. The new default position.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

And this made me wonder whether the police service is not trying to hold together two sets of different values which will sometimes be in considerable tension – I put it no higher. On the one hand, there is an appeal to those older values of public service: putting the interest of others before one’s own, self-sacrifice. But it is not easy to square that with the values of contemporary society as illustrated in the post above or those of work life balance or even well-being. For policing, if not for society more generally, something has to give.

A shortened version of the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire’s latest blog post.