Four years ago we set down our Vision 150, setting out the direction for Cranleigh’s future. When a school’s founding houses are named North, South, East and West, it is a reminder that a compass is required for direction setting and so we started with our values, the compass points which help to guide our every day and our future.

In this blog and the series that will follow, I am going to reflect on these values, why they are there, what they could mean and what they suggest for Cranleighans. At their very core is the belief that the pursuit of learning is not a selfish exercise and that at its heart it is about helping Cranleighans come to an understanding of who they are and what their purpose might be.

Writing about values in any sense could be seen as counter-cultural, or out of date even. As the old century moved into the new, I remember one of those fabulous tangential moments that so often occur in a literature lesson, when the discussion pursues a more circuitous route towards a destination. Nick was clearly affronted by something I had said: ‘With respect sir, your job is to teach us knowledge not values; we will make our own values.’

And therein lies a tension. If we hold up the personal integrity of our young people as important, then Nick is right, our students must make up their own minds. We also know that history is littered with examples of indoctrination that have had devastating effects, so there is a potential tyranny in a given values system.

Yet at the same time, values cannot simply be made without any form of context and, I think, that one purpose of education and of parenting is to pass on a strong sense of what is right, wrong, decent and civilised, whilst simultaneously teaching the next generation to question, interrogate, scrutinise….gain an ethical vocabulary. I freely admit to being a product of my Christian upbringing in a British democratic society. That aside, the statement of our values was as follows:

Arising from the School’s Christian heritage and cultural background, at the heart of a Cranleigh education are four central values of Service, Relationships, Leadership and Excellence.

Service: All in the community are encouraged to adopt an attitude of service to each other and the wider community.

Relationships: Strong relationships are fostered as a priority in a predominantly boarding community. Children flourish within safe, supportive environments.

Leadership: Openness, integrity and thoroughness are characteristic of everything we do. Cranleigh aspires to lead thinking and practice in holistic, boarding education. Cranleighans will be equipped with the knowledge and skills to shape future culture.

Excellence: Cranleigh will strive for excellence in everything it does and aspires to be recognised for its educational vision and the personal qualities of Cranleighans.

This is perhaps easier written than enacted, so what do these values look like in practice? That was exactly the point that Cranleighans shared with us this summer when we undertook an audit of how they understood our values. They wanted examples, abstract to become reality.

During my first year at Cranleigh, my office was situated where admissions now is. One morning, I looked left as I walked out of the door and saw something which encapsulated all four values, a moment to take the temperature of the place.

Claire had just come out of the dining hall and was struggling on her own with a tea trolley down the wooden ramp that makes a tricky step negotiable. At the same time, Dan was passing, clearly late for lessons with shirt untucked at just short of running pace. He never saw me. Yet he saw Claire, came to an abrupt halt, put down the folders which were under his arm, gave a cheery greeting and helped her with the trolley before going on his way again, now a little faster.

Sometimes it is not in the headlines – the results, the wins and the grand performances that we catch a glimpse of what we aspire to but in the little things that more often than not go unnoticed.