Learning core values like respect, honesty and compassion, is just as important as the Three Rs, says Dr Neil Hawkes.
Dr Neil Hawkes has started a “quiet revolution” – to see more UK schools embrace core morals and values, like kindness and honesty, and place as much importance on them as maths, English and science.
Most parents want their children to grow up with a strong set of values, and become ‘decent’ adults, and Hawkes believes that school life plays a crucial part in this.
Nurturing things like compassion, respect, honesty, truthfulness and caring for others, is just as important as learning the Three Rs – and, according to Hawkes’s research in the UK and Australia, 87 per cent of parents agree.
“Our values should underpin everything in our lives. Children need to be taught about values in the same way they are taught boundaries,” he says.
“The balance in society is tipping, The materialistic side has gathered pace and we are increasingly influenced by a ‘me’ culture.
“All of this decline has happened in our lifetimes, and it’s up to us now to tackle the problem and reverse the trend.”
It was while working as a headteacher in a primary school that Hawkes began to recognise how these elements were lacking, and developing his Values-based Education philosophy, during the 1990s.
One in 10 UK primary schools are now values-based, but Hawkes now feels the time is right to involve more educators and parents.
He’s set a target of reaching 50 per cent of children in the next five years, and explains it all in his new book, From My Heart: Transforming Lives Through Values.
“My mission now is to expand the concept to more and more schools. The prize is that it will help us and our children to enjoy happier and more fulfilling lives,” he says.
“Values-based education’s not a quick fix, it’s a culture change which has a hugely positive impact on those who practice it,” he adds.
In order for it to work, it’s not just a question of teaching about values, in the tradition sense – Hawkes explains that universal positive values (like compassion, respect, honesty, truth, trust, perseverance and care for others in lessons) should be taught and demonstrated in practice by teachers, as a thread running through every aspect of school life.
“You can’t teach about values from a board,” explains Hawkes, “they have to be seen in practice.
“Our behaviour is shaped by what we see. If children are surrounded by bad examples, what chance do they have to formulate good practice?”
And it’s not just about schools, he adds – parents need to accept their role in developing values too, and it’s a philosophy that could be embraced by communities and workplaces as well.
While most, if not all, schools will already cover character and morals to some extent, the difference for Hawkes is that he believes it should underpin everything.
“We want our children to be good learners and lovely people at the same time,” he says, adding that embracing the concept can have wider benefits too, like increased attentiveness and more harmonious classrooms and playgrounds.
Pupils also have a greater sense of belonging fairness.
“If you create a school atmosphere that has good relationships, you’re more likely to have better academic outcomes,” he says.
“I agree we need high academic standards, but academic diligence is improved, and that leads to batter standards, when you have a values-based atmosphere.
“Start looking for the positive and using positive psychology, and you’ll find standards are raised quite naturally.”
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), stresses that values-based approaches have never been off the agenda.
“All schools give considerable focus to the values underpinning their curriculum and their ethos,” she says. “Primary schools in particular focus on the social and emotional aspects of learning as core work.”
From My Heart: Transforming Lives Through Values by Dr Neil Hawkes is published by Independent Thinking Press, £14.99.
Fast growth of movement
Values-based education is a fast-growing movement set up by a former Oxfordshire headteacher, Neil Hawkes.
The ethos embraces qualities such as respect, courage, honesty, compassion and integrity among the school community, underpinned by high expectations.
Its proponents believe that this ethical vocabulary creates the ideal environment for learning by promoting a peaceful and calm atmosphere. There are now 2,000 schools teaching it throughout the UK.