Growing in Justice

We have four school values – wisdom, justice, integrity and compassion. At our September INSET day, we spent some time considering what justice at school means for children as they move from the nursery, through the primary & secondary phases and into our sixth form. We wanted to capture what justice looks, sounds and feels like in the classroom.

This was also a fantastic opportunity for colleagues who teach in different phases to get together to consider one of our core values that underpins everything we do. After a brief introduction, colleagues shared what justice meant to them in cross phase groups. We captured and shared some of the main ideas that emerged. Colleagues then worked on practical examples of justice at work, posting them on a timeline from ages 2 to 18.

Emerging themes

Content analysis of these responses revealed Three main themes:

1. Individual Needs. Justice means meeting individual needs, rather than doing the same with every child. However, visible consistency and fairness are crucial in establishing the concept of justice for children. Clear expectations and consistent routines are important from the outset and justice in its most basic sense is about maintaining a safe & secure learning environment. An understanding of the different needs of others can then develop within this context.

2. Expanding Concept. The concept of justice expands as the child’s understanding of the world increases. For the youngest children, it is mainly about individual interactions with family, friends and members of staff. This extends to groups, their class, the school, local then wider community. With pupils in KS4 & Sixth Form, social justice encompasses society as a whole, as well as how we treat the people we are with day-to-day. With this increasing understanding comes questioning of the status quo. For some students it is hard to find the balance between the exercise of their increasing independence while still extending justice and fairness to those around them. Several colleagues commented that a cry of “It’s not fair!” is most likely to be heard in EYFS and Year 9! This transition requires the move from mere compliance with rules to an internalization of the values behind them.

3. Increasing Contribution. In parallel with their expanding concept of justice, the extent to which children contribute to justice in classroom / school / society increases. Early on justice is evident in taking turns, sharing and using ‘kind hands’. These prosicial behaviours are encouraged between individuals through increasingly cooperative play. Later on negotiation, cooperation, and empathy for the needs of others are developed through group and class work. Older children take on responsibility for justice, working together to contribute to, for example, Year group assemblies, House competitions, or whole school fundraising for good causes. Our oldest students will engage in formal volunteering, mentoring of younger students, or in organising charity events – often requesting that the school responds to current social issues.

The main strength of this session was the opportunity for colleagues who teach in different phases to work together on something so fundamental. We will now be giving further consideration to the language we use with children of different ages, developing a planned progression of age-appropriate terms that fosters the development of justice in our all-through school community. One key element is the extent to which what we say and do merely requires compliance with rules or encourages the development of understanding and internalisation of the values behind them.

As always, I welcome any constructive comments and would love to hear about work going on in other schools.

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