OPINION: Suffolk's young ambassadors showing the right values

File image of children in school

Young people in Suffolk are taught and practise values like compassion and tolerance daily, writes Clare Flintoff - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Values are a hot topic. Politicians are suddenly talking about their values again as if they're a new phenomenon - or perhaps buried so deep they’ve almost been forgotten.

Apart from ‘integrity’ very few people are actually naming them, they just know that they are no longer aligned and that leadership at the highest levels is in crisis because they have been sadly lacking. 

Values like compassion, tolerance, understanding and collaboration are taught and practised daily in our schools.

They were evident in abundance last Friday when 200 children from 30 schools across the county gathered at the University of Suffolk to demonstrate how ‘youth social action’ is making a difference in their communities.

Supported by Volunteering Matters and some amazing #iwill ambassadors from the #iwill movement, these young people were clearly focused on delivering their own projects designed to make life better for others or the environment.

The adults who were invited to witness the event were left in no doubt that our ‘Suffolk Young Ambassadors’ are driven by their values, demonstrating leadership qualities, and have huge energy and motivation to make the world a better place.

Values are reliable and unwavering. They guide our decision making and they challenge our thinking.  They shouldn’t be compromised and they shouldn’t be forgotten.  

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Anyone who works for the public benefit, funded by the public purse, knows that the ‘seven principles of public life’ (also known as The Nolan Principles) - selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership - should be adhered to, not because we have to, or we are made to do it, but because we want to.

We should want to behave with integrity, to be respected and trusted, and this should be expected and demanded of us.   

Values don’t come and go - they are built up over time and over generations.  They are held by individuals, families, communities, organisations and countries.  

Our family of schools have identified core values - excellence, empowerment, engagement and equity - that guide how we work together, what we prioritise and what we do.  We are always talking about them, making them explicit so that they become implicit in everything we do.  

How can we empower our staff and children? What does it mean to fully engage with our communities? Does every child get the same chance?  How can we be better and what does that look like?  Leadership that is values-driven provides security and stability because people know what they are buying into and what is expected of them.

So far this academic year we have had four secretaries of state for Education. Last week, on the day that Nadhim Zahawi was moved from Education to be Chancellor of the Exchequer,  I gave a talk to our local Eastern Region DfE team saying that I believed there was some confidence on the ground that the minister who delivered on vaccines might actually deliver on education.  

But by the evening he was gone and we are left, two Education Secretaries of State later, not knowing where we are going or what to believe.    

We will fill this vacuum in leadership and values by continuing to do what we have always done.  

On the ground, in the world of education, there are many adults, and young people, doing great things in the interests of others, learning to be better people and demonstrating integrity every day.  

Hearing about the ambitions of the Suffolk Young Ambassadors - their dreams and aspirations - reminds us of the responsibility we have to be the adults that our young people deserve.  

That means that we must promote and teach values, we must keep talking about them and explain how they shape our decisions and actions.  Most importantly we must live by them and we must demand that our leaders do the same.  

- Clare Flintoff is CEO of ASSET Education, which runs a number of primary schools across Suffolk.