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. Superficial, specious, vacuous – to use three adjectives that seldom appear in the mission statement. In the context of education, there is perhaps a caution that narrows the range of the values chosen to define schools. Even the most ambitious of schools might feel it a little Slytherin 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 and govern actions; by which all of us in school may judge ourselves and be held accountable.

At The Abbey our values are courage, honesty and kindness. What makes the combination powerful is the tension between them. To be honest and to be kind may be separate imperatives, and reconciling them may indeed take genuine courage. As a set of principles they are active, not passive. In her novel Wonder, RJ Palacio popularised a quotation that acts as a powerful call on human decency: ‘when given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.’ What I admire in the values of The Abbey is that they present a harder dilemma. The choice between them is seldom clear-cut, and the balance is for each individual to strike.

A good example is the challenge we have set ourselves to improve in the area of diversity and inclusion. The discussions this involves are tough. If we are to be honest 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 kind, we must do that with generosity and consideration for every individual in our community. Both require us to be brave.

Most of all our values present us with a quiet, simple, overwhelming challenge: to test 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 Abbey student to leave school with the courage to face up to every dilemma; the honesty to judge fairly; and the kindness to choose the path that winds, no matter how tortuously, towards the common good.

Will le Fleming