Most schools and many institutions lay claim to a set of values. At their worst, these can be absurd: well-meaning or virtue-signalling boasts that bear no apparent relation to the actual business in which the organisation is engaged. Even the most ambitious of schools might feel it a little superficial and specious to include ambition among the terms that define them.
And yet values do matter: in part because the choice of them is revealing in itself; but mostly insofar as they are lived qualities, rather than empty words – principles that guide choices, inform thoughts, and govern actions; by which all of us in school may judge ourselves and be held accountable.
At Northampton High School, we embody the four GDST values: We always put girls first. We are forward-thinking. We are fearless. And we are a family of schools. What makes the combination powerful is the tension between them. To be forward-thinking and to be fearless may be separate imperatives and reconciling them may indeed require us to unite as a family and put girls first. As a set of principles, they are active, not passive. What I admire in the values of the GDST is that they present a harsher dilemma. The choice between them is seldom clear-cut, and the balance is for each individual to strike and to filter in and filter out choices based on values.
A prime example is the challenge we have set ourselves to improve in the area of diversity, inclusion, and real change through the GDST’s Undivided Charter for Action. The discussions this involves are tough and sensitive. If we are to be forward-thinking and fearless, we must address squarely those times we have excluded others and failed to live up to the standards we set ourselves. If we are to be undivided in our commitment to putting our girls first and in our sense of family, where every individual is valued, respected, and included, we must do that with generosity and consideration, both require us to be brave.
Most of all our values present us with a quiet, simple, overwhelming challenge: to test and verify every decision we make in their light. Words themselves, and the choices they imply, always matter, whether they are painted on the sides of buses or uttered as vows; but the actions they prompt are what define us. We want every Northampton High student to leave us knowing that they are confident to show what they can do, fearless to face up to every dilemma, and have a forward-thinking approach to trust their own abilities and choose the path that winds, no matter how tortuously, towards the common good. Our school mantra, we believe in our girls, and they believe in themselves, may just inch just a little closer – to the benefit of us all and for our school to set off as a beacon of inspiration and aspiration.
Values are extracted, lived, and felt – not scripted. They come from what is shared and often unwritten; they create identity and belonging; and, together, they change minds and act as a compass.
Dr May Lee