Values-based Education (VbE)

Neil Hawkes
20 min readMay 3, 2019

The purpose of Values-based Education is for ‘the school to think about positive, universal human values and the ways to develop and express them; inspiring pupils to live expressing positive values in their lives’.

Neil Hawkes, National Values Education Forum Report, Australia (2006 p25).

I have written this article to inspire you to embrace Values-based Education (VbE) in your life and also if you are a teacher or school leader in your school. My aim has been to give you enough detail to enable you to both understand VbE and be in a position to apply its transforming practices.

The purpose of Values-based Education is for schools to think about positive, universal values, such as respect and honesty, and to consider the ways to develop and express them through the school curriculum; that this process will inspire pupils to express positive values in the way they live their lives. I think that what society currently lacks is a shared values vocabulary that is initially explored, understood and modelled in schools; that without it children cannot fully develop their moral, ethical thinking. Traditionally, ethical thinking came from families and religion, but this can no longer be assumed to be generally the case. In a values-based school, students develop a growing understanding of the meaning of words such as respect, empathy, justice, humility and altruism, and look for ways of adopting them in their lives. For some, this experience may act as a foundation on which to build religious thinking, whilst for others it forms a secular code of ethics, which promotes the foundation of an ethically based society. Frances Farrer described this method in her book A Quiet Revolution (2000), which was endorsed by the former Archbishop of Canterbury in the UK, who wrote:

‘The book is wonderful, and should be compulsory reading for anyone who is serious about education. At a time when we need a lot of wisdom about what leadership in education looks like, this is a rich resource.’

Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury — A Quiet Revolution Edition 11 (2005 p3).

My experience, as a headteacher and researcher, would suggest that Values-based Education is the key to improving the quality of education in schools, and could positively affect the ethical nature of society. There is an accumulation of evidence (Report of the Australian Values Education Good Practice Schools Project, 2006) that there is a strong link between what Lovat (2007) describes as ‘Quality Teaching’ and the provision of what I describe as ‘Values-based Education’ (Hawkes, 2005). Indeed, quality education cannot exist without these two fundamental components. Evidence from Australia (Australian Government, 2006), suggest that Values Education has had a positive effect on school culture in terms of healthier relationships and better learning for students. There is growing evidence, too, of the significant impact of Values Education on teachers — i.e. powerful collegiate sharing, changing teaching practice and staff morale.

In this article, I argue that education in positive human values, in the form of Values-based Education (VbE), is fundamental to the purposes of developing quality education. I also maintain that explicit Values Education (VE) enables pupils to internalise and act on a code of personal ethics. This article promotes the argument that VbE has positive qualitative effects on the attitudes and behaviour of adults and pupils in schools. Furthermore, I consider whether the methods and pedagogy of VbE can be an effective means of encouraging the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils.

What are values?

In everyday speech, the word value may be considered as an umbrella term for things that are approved. For example, people seldom distinguish between different types of values (the goals towards which we strive and those that constrain our actions, e.g. truth/freedom) and virtues (the dispositions that enable us to live up to our values, e.g. prudence, fidelity, honesty and courage). People’s values constitute what they believe to be important. For example, to value truth is to believe that truth is something to strive to attain. The word values may be linked to numerous words, all with a range of meaning, that create different sorts of values: aesthetic (e.g. beauty), social (e.g. democracy), moral (e.g. honesty), intellectual (e.g. understanding), spiritual (e.g. hope) etc. There are instrumental values (things we value for the sake of something else, e.g. money) and intrinsic values (things we value for their own sake, e.g. love). The ability to value things for their own sake, together with the ability to formulate abstract concepts, appear to be two abilities that are unique to human beings.

Values may be simply defined as the principles that inform judgments as to what is morally good or bad (SCAA, 1996). I often describe them as principles that guide our thinking and behaviour. Another clear, yet more encompassing, definition appears to be offered by Halstead and Taylor (see below), because implicit in their definition of values is the assumption that only positive values are being considered. They avoid the complication of differentiating between types of values, being guided by the criteria of what is worthwhile. In my experience, their definition is more likely to be considered by schools when looking at their culture. They state that values are:

Principles and fundamental convictions which act as general guides to behaviour, enduring beliefs about what is worthwhile, ideals for which one strives, standards by which particular beliefs and actions are judged to be good or desirable. Examples are love, fairness, equality, freedom, justice, happiness, security, peace of mind, truth.

Halstead and Taylor, 2000

Values not only constitute goals, they also constrain the pursuit of other goals. For example, to the extent that truth is valued, it is believed that it is wrong to lie, even to achieve something else that is required. Values make demands as they are ideals and thus living up to them can be difficult. Often the values, to which people officially subscribe, as documented in school policies, are not necessarily those values that actually inform their behaviour. Values that are deeply instilled through discussion and experiential lessons are more likely to inform behaviour.

The values of an institution (e.g. a school) play the same role in the life of that institution that people’s values play in their lives. Thus, the values of a school encapsulate its goals, constraining its pursuit of other goals. The adoption of institutional values relates to the fundamentally different educational philosophical positions. For instance, a school that has its philosophy rooted in the ideals of Froebel (child-centred education) will interpret values education differently from a school based on Wesley’s principles (the founder of Methodism; child is inherently sinful). One way of differentiating values in schools is therefore to ascertain whether there is agreement between a value and its associated behaviours. An example would be a school that had kindness as a value and yet condoned its staff speaking sarcastically (unkindly) to pupils. Anecdotally, I was recently informed about a school that had applied for the quality mark in VbE in the UK; the assessor found that all the right boxes had been ticked on the assessment form, but that staff relationships were openly hostile.

What is Values-based Education?

Having considered the term values, what is Value-based Education (VbE)? VbE is a convenient term for a wide-range of activities devised to help pupils develop as moral, caring, authentic, altruistic and self-led members of society. It comprises all aspects of a school’s life and work. The term includes efforts to promote personal and social education and the spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) aspects of education. It includes different ways of developing values through all aspects of the curriculum. Both the formal and informal curricula include values education. Values education is also an important feature of the so-called hidden curriculum. This is comprised of what pupils learn through customs, conventions, routines, structures and role modelling by adults.

VbE is an umbrella term for a range of experiences that are used to develop a values base to the curriculum (Taylor, 1998). These include the institutional values espoused by the school, its policy on inclusion (as exemplified in its equal opportunities policy towards all members of the school, adult and pupil), its assemblies, relationships and school ethos. I use the term VbE to distinguish these elements from the more specific use of the term values education (educating in values). Schools that develop VbE ensure that values such as respect are conveyed in the teaching and learning processes, and are embedded in the school structures, management, policies, language and relationships. Values are both explicit and implicit in the life of the school.

Values-based Schools: the hope for the future?

What appears to be missing from many schools, and indeed from society as a whole, is a shared vocabulary based on common positive human values, which can provide a sense of direction and vision about how to create a stable, sustainable and moral society. The UK’s former Chief Rabbi described this as follows:

A society holds together through the quality of its shared values (virtues), which are produced through a shared conversation.

Sachs, 1997

My own experience, based on leading a values-based school (West Kidlington School, Oxford) for seven years, is that teaching about positive human values (e.g. respect, honesty, compassion, care, humility and responsibility) improves the quality of its education. I wrote about this experience in Values Education and Quality Teaching — The Double Helix Effect (Lovat and Toomey, 2007). Also in my own book, From My Heart transforming lives through values (Hawkes, 2013).

A values-based school seeks to promote an educational philosophy and practices based on valuing self, others and the environment, through the consideration of a values vocabulary (principles that guide behaviour) as the basis of good educational practice. This process can be further described as:

a way of conceptualising education that places the search for meaning and purpose at the heart of the educational process. It recognises that the recognition, worth and integrity, of all involved in the life and work of the school, are central to the creation of a values-based learning community that fosters positive relationships and quality in education. (Alive, 2007)

My experience as Headteacher of West Kidlington School is that when a school seriously develops the moral and spiritual aspects of the curriculum (those that positively contribute to the inner-world of thoughts, feelings and emotions of the teacher and the pupil), the school community becomes more reflective and harmonious. Individually, pupils take greater personal responsibility (are self-led) for their learning and behaviour. I have since described this as the foundation of The Inner Curriculum (Hawkes Neil & Hawkes Jane, 2018)

Research, undertaken by me at Oxford University (Hawkes, 2005), indicates that the most effective teachers of values are those who work to be more self-aware and take time to reflect on the deeper meaning of the values being emphasised in the school. Self-reflective work by teachers is seen to have a powerful impact on pupils, who make clear connections between what the teacher says and what she does. Such teachers are authentic, seeking to achieve congruence between their thoughts, feelings and actions. They are aware that they have the potential (as we all do) to be consumed by limiting emotion (e.g. anger) and for it to be inappropriately translated into action. Developing reflection (mindfulness, meditation) as a tool to aid self-control enables both pupil and adult to behave in ways that reflect positive human values such as compassion and respect. Interpersonal neuroscience (Siegal et al) now provide compelling evidence to support the need for us to take responsibility for our brain’s development, by strengthening neural pathways which support positive thinking.

Teachers describe their own positive behaviour as walking their talk or living their values. Such reflective work leads to teachers’ developing a deepening understanding of the values words. They also have a clearer perception of their own attitudes and behaviour, and seem willing and able to model the values. Teachers believe that the pupils will learn from their positive example. Therefore an outcome of research is the view that the process of VbE must begin with adults, before introducing it to pupils and making it an integral part of the curriculum. From the evidence of my research (Hawkes, 2005), it would appear that Values Education couldn’t be taught in isolation from the teacher’s own thoughts, feelings and behaviour. It is therefore important for all who work with children to pay attention to looking after themselves, physically, mentally and emotionally. Such wise selfishness enables the adult to be a positive role model, which is a key principle for developing Values-based Education.

Implementing Values-based Education

Teaching about values affects teachers’ thinking and consequently the way that they teach. Teachers are not neutral with regard to values, as values are embedded within their attitudes and exhibited through their behaviour. This implies that, in order for there to be consensus and consistency of staff expectations and behaviour throughout the school, a whole school Values-based Education policy needs to be introduced. It may be based on the following blueprint, which has inspired many schools to become values-based and may be summarised as follows:

1. The whole school community (staff, pupils, parents and community representatives) is involved in shaping the school’s Values-based Education policy.

2. A process of values identification and clarification takes place involving the school’s community (pupils, teachers, parents and stakeholders). A meeting/forum is set up to facilitate this process.

3. Core positive values are identified (e.g. respect, honesty and co-operation). These are chosen through a careful process, which involves thinking about what qualities (values) the school wishes to develop in its community. This is an important process, which ensures that everyone feels involved and owns the process. It is important to have a comprehensive list of values so that they form the basis of an ethical vocabulary, which becomes the dominant narrative of the school.

4. In the light of the values identified, the school decides the principles that will guide the way adults behave. Elements will be discussed to determine these such as:

§ how adults will care for themselves and each other

§ the emotional literacy of adults

§ the needs of the pupils

§ the way pupils are treated

5. Adults in the school community commit themselves to work towards being role models for VbE.

6. The school’s institutional values that determine its culture (i.e. how the school is perceived by the community, through aspects such as how parents are welcomed, school notices, policies) are reviewed to ensure consistency with the VbE Policy.

7. The school considers how it will develop an Inner Curriculum, based on reflective practices that will lead to values-based behaviour. Aspects will be considered, such as knowledge of the functions of the brain, silent sitting, active listening, the consideration of ethical dilemmas and a deliberation about the wisdom of humanity as expressed in literature, the Arts and Humanities.

8. A programme is established for learning about values, which may include:

· introducing core values in a programme of assemblies

· an extended values vocabulary, which support core values is systematically introduced to pupils e.g. Core school value respect: supporting values admiration, regard, esteem, consideration, etc.

· a value being highlighted each month for detailed contemplation

· each class teacher preparing one experiential value’s lesson each month

· the value of the month being the subject of a prominent display in the school hall and in each classroom

· newsletters to parents, explaining what the value of the month is and how they can be developed at home

· aspects of the curriculum (everything the school does) are identified that could make a specific contribution to VbE. The range of skills, knowledge, attitudes and understanding to develop in the pupils is established. Of crucial importance is to ensure that the process of developing VbE is well planned, monitored, evaluated and celebrated, in order to keep the process alive and constantly under review.

10. The school agrees a Statement of VbE that may be prominently displayed in school and included in the school’s prospectus and on its website.

The blueprint enables a school to create a structure for the development of VbE that fosters a climate for learning that makes the role of teachers enjoyable. Teachers believe this is because VbE fosters good interpersonal relationships, which in turn help to raise pupil self-esteem and confidence. The result is that the pupils produce quality work, respect staff and are naturally well behaved.

Teachers in values-based schools report that teaching about values has a positive effect on what they term ‘the inner, spiritual world of pupils’ (Hawkes 2005, p229). They think that by talking about their feelings, pupils learn to express themselves more clearly, control their behaviour, and empathise with others (all aspects concerned with the development of emotional maturity). The teachers believe that the pupils learn about values by talking about them in the context of good teacher-child relationships. They believe that repetition and reinforcement of the values words, across the curriculum, is important for reinforcing their meaning. The evidence, to show that the pupils understand the values, is demonstrated by their use of them in everyday conversations. Pupils appear more aware of their behaviour in the playground and out of school. Pupils are encouraged to form school action teams (SATs) to look at ethical issues, e.g. the number of cars bringing students to school; protecting the environment. Such student involvement and personalisation of the curriculum contributes to the establishment of a positive climate for teaching and learning.

An important conclusion of my research at Oxford University concerns the introduction and development of an explicit values vocabulary (see blueprint). This acts as the platform on which pupils and staff develop, and deepen, their understanding of issues concerned with ethics and morality. It appears that the systematic introduction of a common vocabulary encourages reflective thinking, which leads to more positive and ethically based behaviour. Frequent repetition and regular discussion about values reinforces their meaning, with the result that they are more likely to be internalised in the sub-conscious. This in turn reinforces the pupils’ positive dispositions and acts as a check on behaviour. It is argued in my thesis that it cannot be assumed that such a vocabulary will generally be introduced to children, unless schools deliberately plan to do it through the curriculum.

Values-based schools aim to encourage pupils to be reflective by teaching a technique called reflection or silent sitting, in which pupils focus their minds, allowing their intrapersonal intelligence (understanding the self) to be enhanced. Pupils are seen to be able to sit still in personal reflection for extended periods. One outcome is that they became more aware of their capacity to determine their own behaviour in a positive way. Religious foundation schools will rightly argue that they encourage this process through prayer. The evidence, based on the author’s research, indicates that the success of reflection as a method is influenced by the willingness of staff to model the appropriate behaviour — for instance, in school assemblies. The pupils therefore model their behaviour on that of the teachers. I have observed many assemblies where teachers appear disconnected and unaware of the negative effect that they may be having on pupils. Students observe the body language of the adults and, if negative, mirror it. By contrast, teachers in values-based schools believe that if they are reflective it helps them to be more effective (Hawkes, 2005 p171).

Teachers consider that they are more careful about how they present ideas to children because of VbE. They maintain positive attitudes that give affirmation and positive reinforcement to the pupils. The teachers believe that the pupils are more likely to reach their academic potential in a class with values-based discipline (Hawkes, 2005, p316).

A key aspect of a values-based school appears to be a greater emphasis on the care of self and others. A values-based school values the person of the teacher and encourages self-care and care of each other. Such an emphasis creates a happy school — one that recognises the importance of a hierarchy of roles (roles: cleaner, headteacher, class assistant) but never of relationships (we are all of equal value). It is a school that has values-based leadership that seeks to release the creative dynamic of all members of staff and takes the lid off the potential of each pupil.

Another aspect of a values-based school is its greater emphasis on the development of good quality relationships between staff and parents. The teachers recognise the vital importance of the role of families in educating children. They emphasise the importance of developing open, sensitive, active, positive teacher-parent relationships. The development of VbE is shared with parents through newsletters and parents’ evenings. This ensures a positive partnership between home and school.

What needs to be done?

This article argues that schools need to understand that being values-based means that VbE underpins everything the school does — its whole curriculum; that this process may well be the foundation for cultural transformation; emphasising, that the future sustainability of humanity and the world depends on the universal adoption of positive human values. It is recommended that school leaders, teachers, teacher trainers, Government and others consider the following recommendations, which are based on my detailed research (Hawkes, 2005). If they are adopted, they will arguably support the development of a caring and just society.

· That Education systems world-wide should seriously consider the vital importance of ensuring that schools develop as Values-based; that this is seen as promoting a fair, just, caring and sustainable society.

· That Values-based schools promote universal human values such as respect, honesty, justice, compassion, happiness, altruism, determination, wellbeing, resilience and cooperation.

· That Values-based schools should be seen as promoting quality teaching and learning, plus ethical behaviour.

· That Values-based schools promote the spiritual, moral, ethical, mental, social, emotional, physical, creative and academic aspects of students, i.e. develop students holistically

· Values-based Education should be considered as an agreed set of principles and practices that underpin all aspects of a school’s life and work, e.g. school policies; staff behaviour.

· Effective VbE should be centred on an understanding that, without appropriate values words, pupils find ethical thinking difficult to do. Therefore, VbE should be based on the introduction of a common values vocabulary, defined by the school and its community, and considered as a vital precursor for the creation of a values-based school community as expressed in a statement of values.

· The Principal/Headteacher should give empathy and full support to the consistent development of the school as values- based

· The key to effective VbE begins with the role and person of the teacher/classroom assistant/support staff. They, in terms of their own identity and integrity, is the prime instrument for modelling VbE. Consequently, teacher education in colleges and universities should consider VbE as integral to its provision.

· Teachers should not only be appropriately trained but also nurtured and cared for, by themselves and each other. The person of the teacher should be considered as key in the context of professional development

· Schools should be encouraged to be values-based learning communities and classrooms should be encouraged to be values-based learning environments, e.g. values made explicit in displays and in the general language of the classroom

· Schools should consider the benefits of reflection, and give curriculum time to it. Reflection helps the individuals to have self-control and determine their own thoughts and behaviour. Reflection helps students by helping them to find a meaning and purpose in life and to develop critical thinking, self-awareness and consideration of self and others. In providing time for reflection, we give pupils the opportunity to be reflective learners. No other aspect of the curriculum is concerned so specifically with the internal spiritual world of the child, and hence with developing this faculty

· The school community should see VbE as underpinning the whole curriculum and life of the school (not just as part of its rules and regulations) in order to improve the overall quality of education

· Schools should develop an holistic view of people (teachers, pupils and others) as thinking and valuable (human beings, not human doings), and should develop an holistic approach to education and schooling, addressing the needs of the whole person

· Schools should see positive relationships as essential for the creation and maintenance of a values-based climate for learning.

The potential benefits for schools of values- based education

My research (Hawkes, 2005) highlights the positive effects experienced by a school following the introduction and development of Values Education. It is to be emphasised to that school cultural transformation through VbE is not a quick-fix solution, but one that needs time to develop and embed. VbE is not an easy option. Its consistent application requires continuing commitment by a school’s community. Above all, adults have to be aware that their own personal values development is the starting point for the successful introduction of VbE. Students are quick to notice inconsistency in staff behaviour; any mismatch between what teachers requires of students and what they require of themselves. Once VbE has been introduced, then the following benefits and impact may be identified, as VbE:

· helps to develop a positive school ethos that is more harmonious because of the direct correlation between Values Education and behaviour;

· creates a calm and purposeful environment where everyone can feel valued;

· enables staff to feel valued in a culture of care and support;

· enables pupils to understand themselves, through an awareness of their spiritual inner selves, so that they grow to be self-disciplined, having the ability to observe and determine their own positive behaviour;

· creates personal and school harmony by introducing a moral vocabulary through the explicit and regular consideration of values words (such as peace, co-operation, care and respect), which is learned by hearing, reading, reflecting on, writing about, discussing and practising;

· fosters a school ethos that emphasises quality holistic education with an emphasis on quality teaching and high personal moral and academic standards;

· supports the development of good quality relationship between all who work in the school;

· helps pupils to be in touch with their inner world of thoughts, feelings and emotions so that they can be Self-led;

· encourages pupils to develop their positive dispositions and to choose their attitudes;

· promotes self-knowledge and thinking skills (of adults and pupils) through reflective silent sitting in assemblies and lesson time;

· encourages the skill of active and deep listening;

· develops emotional intelligence: by talking about their feelings, pupils learn to express themselves more clearly, to control their behaviour and empathise with others;

· has the positive support of parents and the community;

· provides a school pedagogy for helping young people to have an understanding of ethics that affects the way they live their lives.

Behind this list of benefits lies an understanding and assumption that VbE is far more than a process of instilling values in pupils. For instance, if young people are given the opportunity to seriously consider positive human values, then these values will in turn help them to develop the dispositions (virtues) to live ‘a good life’. Also, reflecting about happiness, respect and tolerance helps to build the virtue of prudence (the disposition that allows us to think about what is good for us). Activities such as those promoted by Philosophy for Children (P4C) support such a reflective consideration of values.

VbE is concerned with the very meaning and purpose of life, as it challenges students to consider what is of value to them. It may be argued that many of the social problems, such as anti-social behaviour and those concerned with drugs are fuelled by an absence of meaning and purpose in the lives of young people. Values-based Education helps us to find purpose and to make sense of others and ourselves. A values-based school, by its very nature, makes a statement about the quality of education that can be achieved and the impact that this can have on society and the world. With this view of the role and purpose of education, schools that adopt VbE can positively influence the development of positive values, which sustain a civil, caring and compassionate society.

The pioneering values-based Quiet Revolution (Farrer, 2000) by the staff and community at West Kidlington School in Oxford, is now being reflected in the curriculum of thousands of schools worldwide, which see education as the formation of a just, equitable, compassionate and fair society.

I hope you will be as inspired by Values-based Education as I have been.

Dr. Neil Hawkes is the Founder of Values-based Education International (VbE).

For more information about Neil and Values-based Education, please visit: and


ALIVE , The Association of Living Values International. (2007). The vision, core principles and practices of Living Values Education, Vision Statement.Genève: Dr.Hawkes.

Australian Government, Department of Education, Science and Training. (2006).

Implementing the National Framework for Values Education in Australian

Schools Report of the Values Education Good Practice Schools Project, Stage 1

Final Report, Melbourne: Curriculum Corporation.

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

Farrer, F. (2005). A Quiet Revolution, Edition 11. Oxford: FH Books.

Halstead, J. M. and M. J. Taylor (2000). The Development of Values, Attitudes and Personal Qualities: A Review of recent Research. Slough: National Foundation for Educational Research.

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

Hawkes, N (2013). From My Heart, transforming lives through Values. Crown Publishing.

Hawkes, N and Hawkes J. (2018) The Inner Curriculum, nourishing wellbeing, resilience and self-leadership. John Catt Educational Publications.

Lovat, T and Toomey, R. (2007). Values Education and Quality Teaching — The Double Helix Effect. Australia: David Barlow.

Sachs, J. (1997). The Politics of Hope. London: Jonathan Cape.

Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority, UK. (1996). Education for adult life: the spiritual and moral development of young people. London: SCAA.

Taylor, J. M. (1998). Values Education and Values in Education. London: Association of Teachers and Lecturers.



Neil Hawkes

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