Neil Hawkes
13 min readApr 12, 2024

Value-based Education — the beating heart of Primary Education

Printed by NAPE in Primary First, the Journal for Primary Schools Issue 39

Thank you, the National Association for Primary Education (NAPE), for asking me to give this year’s Christian Schiller lecture. I consider it a great honour. I am acutely aware that I follow in the steps of so many great educators, such as Sir Peter Newsam, who gave the first Schiller lecture in 1977 and the amazing Nancy Stewart who gave last year’s.

Schiller’s, In His Own Words, has been a constant companion of mine for many years. I find both his life and work inspirational. A great number of his words of wisdom I have adopted, making me feel as though they are mine! For example, as a Headteacher I would often remind teachers that Primary Education, ‘is not a preparation for something to follow, but a fulfilment of a stage of development’. And that we wouldn’t achieve this fulfilment, ‘by securing certain standards of attainment, but by providing an abundance of such experience and activities as will enable all the children to develop to the full at each phase of growth’. A far cry from the dominant rhetoric of today’s leaders of English State Education.

Schiller, along with other insightful educators, such as Len Marsh at Bishop Grosseteste College in Lincoln; education advisers Peter Lerway (Buckinghamshire) and John Coe (Oxfordshire), passionately argued that children should explore first-hand experiences, learning the skills of being real artists, scientists, authors and mathematicians. They expected pupils to produce quality work and be given time and space to do it.

It is perhaps worth noting that great educators abroad were recommending a similar philosophy. One, Vasily Sukholmlinsky whose book, My Heart I give to Children, profoundly influenced education in his own native Ukraine, as well as the USSR and beyond. Reading his book helps to underscore the fact that we are a part of nature, not merely detached onlookers. Therefore, we must use all our senses to experience to understand our world, taking this knowledge into all aspects of the curriculum, informing our thoughts and actions.

Such insightful thinkers are still influencing good primary practice but perhaps their voices are muted by the dominant rhetoric of those who control ‘the system’. One is Richard Howard, Principal Adviser for Oxfordshire, who gave the 25th Schiller lecture in 2001. At the time I had the pleasure of working with Richard who was very supportive of my work. In his lecture, he wrote that, “The development of values education in a school provides the underlying principles that can underpin the school’s curriculum, thereby creating a positive school ethos.”

This brings me to the school we are in today — Bannockburn Primary School in Plumstead, London — a values-based school. I have visited the school three times before today. Once to give a talk to staff about Values-based Education (VbE) and the other two were to conduct audits for the Values Quality Mark — the last being for the Enhanced Quality Mark.

I am sure that Christian Schiller would feel very much at home visiting Bannockburn, as he would recognise that the school, now working in a vastly different context and educational climate, still was placing the pupil’s needs and education at the centre of its life in the community. Last year, I wrote in the school’s audit report that the school is an outstanding values-based school. It reflects a growth mindset, looking for ways to enrich the learning experiences of all pupils. This can be observed in the way that teachers inspire children through their enthusiasm and commitment.

On my life’s journey, I have always thought that to inspire children to enjoy learning is a core responsibility of the teacher. This was made so clear to me during my final, term long, teaching practice at South Stole Primary School in Oxfordshire. The role model was Peter Long, the Headteacher. On leaving his school I hoped that one day I would be as good a teacher as I observed him to be. He truly was an inspirational role model for the children, influenced, as I was, by the current thinking about good education that was embraced by The Plowden Report (1967). Its words, ‘at the heart of the educational process lies the child,’ has always reminded me that education is not about the bureaucratic nightmare, of unnecessary data collection, inspection results, testing, and endlessly justifying that what you are ‘delivering’ to pupils, through the curriculum, can show measurable impact.

After the life-enhancing experience at South Stoke, I pursued my career as a primary school teacher. I was lucky enough to be appointed to two headships, which really deepened my understanding about children’s learning and how to create an environment in which they would flourish. County Advisory positions followed, but it was when I was a Principal Adviser that I had a ‘road to Damascus’ moment that spurred me on to returning to a Headship. The question on my mind as an adviser was, ‘Does what I’m telling others really work? I had to find out, so I became Headteacher at West Kidlington Primary and Nursery School in Oxfordshire. Working very closely with colleagues at the school, parents and community we explicitly introduced pupils to an ethical vocabulary in the form of values words. We devised a systematic method for thinking about and living a set of universal, positive, human values. I worked closely over ten years, with Professor Richard Pring and his colleagues at Oxford University to research the impact of this unique initiative. My research question was, ‘Does teaching values improve the quality of education in primary schools?’ My gut feeling was that pupils would be more empowered to be effective, critical learners, growing in their altruistic awareness of themselves, others and the planet — research showed that I was correct in my assumptions.

My small-scale research findings were further confirmed by a large study of values education in schools in Australia, led by Professor Terry Lovat. A book was written by author and journalist Frances Farrer about the living experiment at West Kidlington, titled, A Quiet Revolution.

I took the message about creating a values-based school to several countries. I wrote a book, From My Heart, transforming lives through values, about what West Kidlington and other schools worldwide were doing to embrace the transformational power of values. Several years later, my wife Jane and I wrote a book to emphasise how our inner worlds impact on us as people and learners. It is called, The Inner Curriculum, how to nourish wellbeing, resilience and self-leadership. In 2022 the international Values-based Education Trust (IVET Foundation) launched a book about values in the subjects of the Curriculum, called, The Value of Values… and the of subjects. These three books I would recommend to schools and settings considering becoming explicitly values-based.

I would now like to illustrate some of the key tenets of a values-based school such as Bannockburn Primary.

Most importantly, a values-based school focusses on quality education that is research based. By so doing it creates a positive climate for learning in which good relationship are paramount. It sees children for what they can become, when given a nurturing and supportive environment. You may recall the words of Goethe, which I have adapted into the following form: If you take a child as they are, you make them worse. If you take a child as they could be, you make them capable of becoming what they could be. This educational philosophy, which is heart centred, creates a culture with an ethos, spirit, that gives a clear focus, enabling children to develop altruism. Aristotle said that education should be a moral pursuit: values-based education is the practical example of Aristotle’s words in practice.

The routines and structures of the school are aligned with the explicit values of the school. Staff agree to actively model the values — children first imitate and then understand why the adults behave in the way they do. An example of this, is when a teacher deeply listens to a child, giving the process space and time so that they connect with each other. Staff consciously model, unconditional positive regard, genuineness and empathy, to quote the psychologist Carl Rogers.

As a teacher, one of my greatest learnings was that I needed to give pupils adequate space and time to reflect on what they were thinking and feeling. Hence, West Kidlington was one of the first schools to introduce quiet reflective moments into school life, modelling the process during assemblies. This understanding of pedagogy led me to encourage the observation of pupils, whilst they are engaged in learning — remembering not to inappropriately interfere. I recall what a headteacher remarked to Schiller: “I always say to teachers, leave the children alone until they need help; but remember that they probably won’t come and tell you when that moment comes. To seize that moment is the art of teaching young children.” I recently saw this being effectively modelled by Lee Batstone and his colleagues, at Madley Primary School in Herefordshire, where they were giving enriching and meaningful experiences in their outdoor school in a forest. Each class spends a day a fortnight (in all weathers) there. Not all schools are lucky enough to have access to such a natural environment, but here in London I have seen school roof gardens that nurture a child’s sense of the natural world.

In a values-based school, pupils are inducted into the meaning of values. They are given a simple definition, which the school can use as a mantra. As a Year 1 pupil at Zouch Primary Academy in Wiltshire said to me, ‘A value is a principle that guides our thinking and behaviour.’ Children are helped to understand that there are two main types of values: those that enhance our lives, giving personal/cultural stability; those that limit them by creating personal/cultural entropy. They are encouraged to make wise choices in their lives, based on enhancing values such as respect, honesty, trust, peace, justice, cooperation, and compassion.

You may now be wondering, what exactly values-based education is? Simply put, a values-based school is one that underpins every aspect of school life with a set of universal, life-enhancing human values. It gives pupils access to an ethical vocabulary, which develops what I call ethical intelligence. This is the ability to ethically self-regulate our behaviour. As is currently so apparent, the world desperately needs ethical leadership, so I am proposing that an aim of education, at all stages, is to enable children and young people to develop the dispositions needed to be ethical leaders, in whatever roles they play in life. Ethical leadership should, in my opinion, be at the very heart of the curriculum and its outcome.

How does a school introduce values-based education to its community?

Ideally the school holds a forum of parents, carers and other stake holders to discuss what dispositions (values) they want their children to develop. This gives the school the opportunity to explain the importance and role that values play in our lives and in society. Sitting in groups people can delve into the meaning s and purpose of values and to come up with some key values on which they want the school to focus. A list is produced that is then shared with all parents to ensure agreement. If a primary school has chosen 22 values, then they can be introduced monthly, over a two-year cycle — no value in August! Some schools choose a few core values which are supported by a variety of additional values. An important point is that you are giving pupils enough values, so that they have a wide ethical vocabulary on which to draw. Another is not to short circuit the process, by issuing a list of values to the school’s community without going through the process of consultation.

When the pupils have this ethical vocabulary, then they can be introduced to ethical dilemmas — situations where there is no quick and easy choice; circumstances which really make the children consider the appropriate values to use. The process also gives them time to practise the elements of philosophy for children (P4C). Staff at St Peter at Gowts Primary School in Lincoln have created a set of dilemmas, which give their pupils ample opportunities to think about values that they should use in given situations. For example, your teacher has left the answers on her desk to the science test. Your friend wants to copy them and share them with you. You find science challenging. What do you do?

Let us remember the importance of all school staff, teaching and those in support roles, who create a values-based school. The school’s values are explicitly used to think about in lessons and staff use the values implicitly as they interact with pupils. For instance, they may say, ‘Well done everyone for showing each other such consideration and respect.’

My research showed that Values-based Education has a profound effect on staff; how they work with each other as a team because the process raises values awareness. Everyone in the school is invited to check that their personal values are in alignment with the school’s — crucially that their behaviour is aligned to their and the school’s values. When this is achieved trust results and harmony is experienced. Policies, routines, school events, signage, display and curriculum are also rigorously considered against the school’s values. Sometimes, people who have not thought deeply about values and their impact, initially think that VbE is a bit cosy and fluffy. The opposite is true, as the process challenges us at a deep level about the values we live, who we are as people and how we relate to ourselves, others and our planet. It instils in children a moral compass that impacts on their character by nurturing their innate enhancing values.

There is no doubt in my mind that by focussing on an ethical vocabulary we help to nurture our values. These can be accessed through a process I call PAUSE to be. PAUSE happens when staff call a brain break — a time to be still, to check-in with yourself and monitor what thoughts, feelings and emotions are being experienced. The five letters stand for Peace (breathing more deeply and slowly we feel peaceful), Attention (we give attention to what’s going on inside), Understanding ensues (about what we need to do to act in a calm and peaceful, considered way), Self-energy (our authentic self, resets our internal system) and Ethical Leadership (is the result). I have written extensive notes for teachers to explain how to work with PAUSE in the classroom. It is a wonderful way to nurture mental health and wellbeing in children and adults.

Values-based schools testify that parents, carers and the community give them full support. It encourages families to consider their values too. I have seen values displays in homes and values badges on fridges that encourage family values awareness.

A question I have at the forefront of my mind is, where is the future leading my grandchildren? Our world is degrading at so many levels, as we observe the effects of climate change, social instability, war, economic turmoil, and the vast array of other complex challenges faced by humanity. What can we do as educators to contribute to the healing of our planet and give hope for our future?

My vison for education is that the curriculum in schools will in future give an equal emphasis to the development of children as human beings, balanced with what children need to know and experience to be educated to live in harmony with our planet. You can read more of my thoughts on this proposal in an article that Professor Marco Tavanti and I wrote for the G20 Summit leaders, titled Empowering Education for Sustainable, Global and Ethical values that achieve the G20 priorities for people, planet, and prosperity.

My hope for schools is that all will be explicitly values-based nurturing the altruistic qualities that will give humanity a bright future. I am reminded of a discussion I had about the assessment of the curriculum, with the Professor of Education at Tartu University in Estonia. She reminded me that the only way to assess the impact of an education system, is thirty years later, when we observe the behaviour of people and the way they contribute, or not, to society’s wellbeing. I am filled with excitement, as I can see a future in education, where the understanding, nurturing and wellbeing of the internal world of the human being is seen as equally important as areas of human knowledge. That these two elements really do educated children holistically, enabling them to navigate complexity and contribute to the sustainability, regeneration and flourishing of our world.

Let me conclude with the optimistic words of Christian Schiller:

“We don’t know the future, but we need to have a direction, a distant star… It is very difficult to see ahead. It will be difficult without any doubt. We’ve got a long, long way to go — a very long way to go. All sorts of new problems will come. I have been voyaging a long time, but I never thought that I could live to see the voyage get so far forward as it has. So may it be with you. NOT FAREWELL, FARE FORWARD, VOYAGERS.”

So, the question I leave with you today is: What future are you choosing for our children?

Heartfelt thanks for all that you are being and doing for our children. I hope the following references will support you.


The full text of Neil’s article is printed in:

The full text ion the article is printed in:

Farrer, F. (2000). A Quiet Revolution. London: Rider

Hawkes, N. (2005). Does Teaching values improve the quality of education in primary schools. Unpublished doctoral thesis. Oxford University, Oxford.

Hawkes, N. (2013). From my Heart: Transforming lives through Values. Independent Thinking Press imprint of Crown House Publishing.

Hawkes, N and Hawkes, J (2018). The Inner Curriculum: How to nourish wellbeing, resilience and self-leadership.John Catt Publication.

Hawkes, Tavanti. (2021). Empowering Education for Sustainable, Global and Ethical values that achieve the G20 priorities for people, planet, and prosperity.

Knight, B (editor), Chater, Hawkes, Waters (2022). On the Subject of Values…and the Value of Subjects. John Catt Publication

Lovat, Terence J., Toomey, Ron, Dally, Kerry and Clement, Neville (2009). Project to Test and Measure the Impact of Values Education on Student Effects and School Ambience. Report for the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations by the University of Newcastle Australia. Canberra: DEEWR.

Marsh, L. (1970). Alongside the Child in the primary school. A and C Black Ltd.

Sukholmlinsky, V. (2016). My Heart I give to Children. EJR Language Service Pty Ltd.

PAUSE notes. Please contact dr.neilhawkes@gmail

The Plowden Report (1967). Children and their Primary Schools. A Report of the Central Advisory Council for Education (England) London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

Schiller, Christian. (1979). In His Own Words. A & C Black

UNESCO. 2015b. Rethinking Education. Towards a Global Common Good.

UN (United Nations). 2021. SDG4 Quality Education.

For information about transforming society through Values-based Education see:

Neil Hawkes

Dr. Neil Hawkes is well known as an inspirational speaker, educator, broadcaster, author and social commentator. He is a popular TEDx presenter.