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The School Ethos

Some schools are happy schools. The children work well and willingly, respect their teachers, and
are not often absent. Teachers and students smile a lot.
Some schools are unhappy schools. There are many discipline problems, absenteeism and drop-out
is common, homework is not done, the students do not pay attention in class. Nobody smiles.
So what makes the difference? There is no simple answer. There are many factors involved, many
of which have nothing to do with the school itself. But schools can do something - they can work to
improve their "ethos".

ETHOS = the moral nature, set of ideas, or beliefs of a person or group

This paper is a brief guide to the components of a 'school ethos' and it offers some clues as to how
it might be improved.
There are some self-test questions along the way to help you think about the ethos of your own
school. You should write the answers to these questions on a separate sheet of paper.

Contents:
1. The components of a school ethos
2. Discipline
3. A well structured curriculum
3.1 The Physical Domain
3.2 The Psychological (Cognitive) Domain
3.3 The Emotional, Spiritual and Social Domains
4. A stimulating, stable and caring environment
4.1 Buildings and grounds
4.2 Resources
4.3 Organization
4.4 Staff
4.5 Support Services

George G Clark
clark@srds.co.uk
Curriculum Consultant
Curriculum Development Unit
Ministry of Education
Belize, Central America
August 1988

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1. The Components of a School Ethos


The main aims of a school in terms of its ethos should be to provide;
1. Discipline
2. A well structured curriculum
3. A stimulating, stable and caring atmosphere

Each individual student in the school should be enabled to grow and develop towards the
achievement of his/her fullest potential.
This potential can be seen as being made up of five parts or domains:
A. Physical
B. Psychological (cognitive)
C. Emotional
D. Social
E. Spiritual

In the sections which follow the three aims will be considered in turn and, where appropriate, it will
be noted how the three aims relate to the five domains.

2. Discipline
Discipline involves a system of rules and a structure within which the child can learn to operate in a
socially acceptable and individually rewarding manner.
In the early stages the child can be guided towards acceptable patterns of behaviour through being
made aware of the rules and structures and being guided towards adherence to them through a
system of rewards (praise, good marks in reports etc) and punishments (getting demerits etc).
The ultimate aim is to have the child internalize the positive attitudes (ie to develop self-discipline)
such that external systems of reward and punishment are no longer necessary.
The two main outward signs of good discipline are in relation to respect and pride:
a) Respect for property
your own property
the property of others

b) Respect for People


for yourself
for family, community, culture and nation
for peers and people of other ages
for people charged with authority
for members of other races and religions

c) Pride
in yourself
in the quality of your work
in your school
in family, community, culture and nation
in the progress of humanity as a whole

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Self-test
2.1 From memory (ie don't look them up) make a list of the school rules.
2.2 Explain the system for making the students aware of the school rules.
2.3 What system of rewards and punishment exist in your school.

3 A Well Structured Curriculum


A well structured curriculum will help to develop the potential of the student in all five of the
domains. These will be considered in turn:

3.1 The Physical Domain.


The school curriculum should promote:
a Physical well-being through healthy eating and good personal hygiene
b Physical exercise through engaging in physical activities (sports, drama, dance)
designed to develop games skills, self expression, inventiveness, and
also to help develop folk and cultural consciousness
c Leisure time pursuits through enjoyment of individual and team games and sporting
activities

3.2 The Psychological (Cognitive) Domain


This is the traditional 'school learning' domain and should be designed as so to facilitate the
acquisition of key ideas, concepts and skills, and also the acquisition of positive attitudes towards
the world of learning in general.
The knowledge objectives can be wide ranging and will not be mentioned here but some of the
basic skills which should be developed are as follows:
- listening - observing - playing - critical thinking
- talking - counting - experiencing - hypothesising
- reading - measuring - creating - experimental design
- writing - classifying - musical - problem solving
- drawing - estimating - computer - decision making

3.3 The Emotional, Social and Spiritual Domains


In these domains we are concerned with attitudes, beliefs and values which are "caught" rather than
"taught" ie to a large extent they form part of the “hidden curriculum” of the school.
When engaged in activities aimed primarily at development of the physical and psychological
domains, the child has plenty of opportunities to "catch" aspects of these other three domains. This
is why the concept of the teacher as a "role model" to the student has such great significance.
In the next section it will become more apparent how the student's development in this domain can
be facilitated.

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Self Test
3.1 Describe how your school curriculum is organised to achieve the Physical Domain Objectives
of a) physical well-being, b) physical exercise and c) leisure time pursuits.
3.2 Describe how your school curriculum is organised to enable a student to develop the social
domain objective of "being able to address a gathering of more than 10 people."

4. A Stimulating, Stable and Caring Environment


This section contains many activities (notably maintenance) which could absorb a certain degree of
finance - some for materials, some for labour. But the question is not "Can we afford to do this?"
but rather "Can we afford not to do this?"
The return on the investment of for example painting the school buildings may not be apparent
economically but, in terms of improving the school ethos, the return is likely to be enormous.
Five separate environmental factors are identified and dealt with separately in what follows,

4.1 Buildings and Grounds


The buildings and grounds should be bright, clean, tidy and well maintained. This demonstrates a
general attitude of respect for property and offers the students something to be proud of.
I have not been to all the schools in the country so I cannot offer a first prize but I would like to
mention Douglas RC Primary School and Escuela Secundaria Mexico as being outstanding
examples of attractive and well maintained schools. Just to look at them makes you feel good.
(Note that the students themselves are responsible for the cleaning and weeding etc.)

4.2 Resources
All teaching materials should be of good quality which means that they should be well prepared,
well structured and well presented. This would apply to posters, blackboard work, worksheets and
handouts etc.
Such equipment as is available - blackboards, desks, chairs, typewriters, duplicating machines etc -
should be kept clean and in good repair,

4.3 Organization
Classroom furniture should be organised for optimum learning eg straight rows for chalk and talk,
in clusters for group work etc,
Wall displays (of posters, charts, student work etc) should be well presented, tidy, and should be
changed at regular intervals.
Libraries, laboratories, workshops etc should be kept clean and tidy with equipment stored in a
rational manner and returned to its correct place after use - a place for everything and everything in
its place.

4.4 Staff
Staff should be professional, dedicated and reliable. They should have clear and high standards in
themselves and in what they expect from their students - these should not vary. The teachers are
role models which the students will copy - the teacher should be ever-mindful of this.
No member of staff is perfect - there is always room for improvement. Staff should of course
always be aiming at self-improvement through discussion and reading, but the good school will

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help by having a Staff Development Programme made up of well-organised and well-presented in-
service sessions along with a range of individually based, supervisory, tutorial and advisory
activities.

4.5 Support Services


The school will make as much use as possible of such education support services and personnel as
are available. This might take the form of institutions and people in the immediate area of the
school or of various specialists and experts from the Ministries.
The good schools will want to help other schools to improve so as to help with the development of
the nation as a whole. The school will thus take pride in having staff members as part of national
committees, teachers panels, examination boards and so on.

Self Test
4.1 Comment on the state of the buildings and grounds of your school. Make a list of things which
need to be done to improve them,
4.2 Think back over the past six months and list the different staff development activities in which
you have taken part. Do this in two sections a) organised by yourself (reading and discussion etc)
and b) organised by the school.

Source:
Portessie Primary School (1988): Planned Activity Time (PAT) Curriculum
This paper has been adapted from the above mentioned document. (Thanks to the Headteacher Miss
Anne McArthur).
It is interesting to note that planned activity time (PAT) is now written into the contracts of teachers
in Scotland. The idea is that several times per term the teachers are contractually obliged to stay
behind after school to engage in staff and curriculum development activities.
There was a lot of opposition to PAT when it was first introduced - it was linked to a pay rise. But
now it is just part of what a teacher does and most teachers find it useful - and some even enjoy it!