9 tips on using values-led leadership to craft school culture

April 27, 2018
Abi Brown

Abi Brown

Headship Programme Manager at Ambition School Leadership

Another way of thinking about school culture is “how we do things around here”.

At the first residential training event of the Headship Programme, we explore the importance of values-led leadership and how if you embed values successfully throughout your systems, processes, language, behaviours and artefacts, they will drive the crafting of your school culture.

I wanted to capture some footage of headteachers from amazing schools within the Ambition network who are really leading the way when it comes to the consideration of values-led leadership.

Inspired by the videos from Dixons Trinity Academy, I hoped to demonstrate to our participants that there is not one model or context for great school culture.

I’m hoping that over the next year we will capture more stories from headteachers working in different contexts. It is inspiring to have them share their journey and reflections on the reality of leading by values and embedding them into every aspect of school life.

The first stop – Surrey Square Primary

To start this journey, I had the pleasure of visiting Surrey Square Primary School and doing some filming of co-headteachers Nicola Noble and Liz Robinson. Their values are respect, responsibility, perseverance, excellence, enjoyment, compassion and community. To bring these values to life the school have given each value a character so that students can easily talk and connect with them.

The children were keen to talk to me about what the values meant to them. They spoke about how ‘Percy Perseverance’ has helped to guide their choices and supported them to learn and always ‘give it a go’. The children spoke so naturally - it wasn’t guided or scripted, it was real and personal. It was incredibly powerful.

From my time at Surrey Square, I gained an insight into not only the challenges associated with really leading by your values, but their huge relevance in shaping and driving every decision made and system embedded in the school.  

I saw the impact of living by the value of ‘community’ on the morning I was there, when the parents of children from Surrey Square came and surprised the staff. The parents had worked together to organise an awards ceremony. It was incredibly special to hear Liz and Nicola relate the kind words the parents had to say about them as they received their awards. It was clear the parents appreciated the staff of the school.

It provided further evidence to demonstrate the fundamental role and impact that living by your values can have not only on the children but on the community, who are clearly such an integral part of the school. 


The second stop – Balham Nursery School

Balham Nursery School is led by the wonderful Emma Williams who was on cohort 13 of the Future Leaders programme. Having recently received their fifth ‘outstanding’ Ofsted, it was great to see the different approach to values driving forward an effective culture in an early years setting.

At Balham, the child is firmly placed at the centre and there is a huge respect for individuality. Children are encouraged to learn at their own pace and decision-making is consistently driven by what is in the best interest of the child.

Their values include creativity, nurture and respect. From my short time there it was clear that these were deeply embedded, from the creativity shown in the approach to curriculum delivery, to the nurture shown from the supportive ‘family’ of staff.

From my time with Liz, Nicola and Emma – as well as listening to other heads who have spoken in this area – I have drafted some reflections on the key questions and considerations for leaders to help guide their thinking around values and culture.

  • Reflecting on the work of Simon Sinek, ensure you know, understand and are motivated by the ‘why’ that sits at the heart of your school – does it really resonate with you and do you know your role in delivering the vision?
  • Do all staff not only know, but understand what you are trying to achieve and why? Is everyone on the same bus going to the same destination?
  • What are the core values that support the delivery of this vision? Are they relevant to the context in which you are working and are all staff aligned and upholding these values – even the support staff? How do you know?
  • Are you leading by these values in your daily practice? When you are faced with difficult decisions, do you use them to drive how you act and what you do? Do you use values to help you prioritise?
  • Consider how you are using the language of values every day with everyone - staff, students, parents and governors.
  • Do your artefacts, systems and processes in school align and reflect your values? How you do things at your school? This should be able to be traced back to your values and subsequently support your vision.
  • Leading by your values will be challenging. There will be tension, expect it. Are you really willing to be punished for your values if necessary?
  • Consistency of approach and simplicity in message is key: if anything, over-communicate it.
  • Context is everything and culture will look and feel different in every school. ‘Copying and pasting’ best practice you have seen may not work – you need to consider why it works in that school and how it links to their culture. Use that to inform why it might or might not work in yours.  

The Headship Programme is an 18-month programme for senior leaders looking to achieve headship in 12 to 18 months and become great leaders of schools in challenging contexts. We are the only NPQH provider with an explicit focus on closing the achievement gap for disadvantaged children.

This article originally appeared on the website of Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019, the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.

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