The constant pressure on finite resources, such as time and money, inevitably leads to having to prioritise and choose what is of most value under the circumstances. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has accentuated the value of physical and mental health, relationships, community cohesion and the beneficial effects of connecting with nature.

The topic of values is becoming increasingly significant throughout the world as people better appreciate their effects on thinking, decision-making and actions and how shared values bind people together, particularly when the going gets tough, and help with operating consistently, effectively and in sustainable ways.

Are young citizens gaining relevant knowledge, skills and values that enable them to thrive throughout their school days, maximise their potential and when the time comes, embark on careers and work in settings that resonate with their own core values?

The education landscape is changing

The intense focus on academic outcomes has tended to narrow the curriculum in many schools and also led to concern about the mental health of countless teenagers and even children in primary schools. However, a rebalancing of the scales towards social and emotional learning, underpinned with positive values, is taking place.

Values Literacy and Values Education

The concept of Values Literacy can be considered as individuals’ understanding and knowledge about a wide spectrum of values, and their ability to choose and skillfully apply appropriate values within different settings in real-life situations. The learning process, Values Education, is expansive, enlightening and empowering for everyone involved.

Global research shows that good, systematic values education:

  • is essential to effective schooling
  • positively impacts all the important educational measures
  • is a worldwide, contemporary phenomenon
  • fits well with updated brain and pedagogical research, and
  • is a means to holistic student and teacher wellbeing.

Experts consider and school inspectors have commented that teaching is most effective and learning is most successful when the growth of the whole child – social, emotional, moral, spiritual and intellectual, is the pedagogical target.

Although we are not conscious of them all the time, we are constantly using values throughout our daily lives and in all contexts. While many values we choose to live by can bring about uplifting consequences, it is important to recognise that others can have the opposite effect. For example, consider what values have motivated key workers during the coronavirus crisis, and then those that lead to someone setting off a bomb in a public place, or being part of a group that regularly carries a knife.

Values Education helps drive school improvement, is cross-curricular, and promotes social, emotional, moral and spiritual growth – elements found to be present where intellectual advancement and academic achievement are being maximised. By its nature the subject sparks high quality discussion in school staffrooms and all classrooms because ultimately, individuals want to arrive at meaningful core values that reflect what is important for them in life. The fabric of society is likely to benefit when quality values education becomes an integral part of the learning experience of all members of a school community.

The place of values in schools

For some years schools have promoted five or six values that help to define their purpose and culture.  In 2014 the teaching of a set of fundamental British Values became compulsory.  This move was designed to “tighten up the standards on pupil welfare, to improve safeguarding, and the standards on spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils, to strengthen the barriers to extremism”.   

Schools are well placed to develop young citizens’ repertoire of relevant life competencies through mastery of knowledge, skills and values. Such blended learning progressively empowers the emerging generation with information, strategies, techniques, attitudes and a bank of life-enriching, well-considered values that enable young people to blossom, maximise their potential and make consistently good choices as they face the daily challenges of life, online and offline.

During the 2020/21 academic year, schools in England are expected to start teaching a statutory Relationships, Sex and Health Education curriculum. Explicit values education will ensure today’s pupils can think deeply and confidently make informed choices as they work through different aspects of the topics about relationships, physical health and mental wellbeing, and delve further into living successfully in the wider world. Values are useful tools that provide stability and shape the direction of the individuals’ lives, their lifestyles, mindsets, pastimes, participation in their communities and aspirations.

Values Education – an exciting prospect

Currently Values Education does not feature much within initial teacher training and continuing professional development programmes and therefore few school leaders and teachers have the opportunity of advancing their expertise in this wide-ranging, stimulating subject. Many adults in schools may not be aware of how, as role models, they are constantly transmitting values. Training enhances leadership, deepens teaching and learning, extends skillsets, and helps with handling social and emotional situations in classrooms. Those facilitating values literacy, along with parents, carers and children themselves, delight in its empowering, transformational effects.

A whole-school approach to systematically embedding Values Education creates an ongoing, exciting, dynamic, liberating learning experience for everyone in the school community. It has the potential to enhance school policies, the learning environment, collaboration, engagement of key adults at home in their children’s education, everyone’s thinking abilities and achievement levels, interpersonal skills and the capacity to live authentically. The gradual exploration of values being applied by schools, families, governments, international bodies, businesses, public services, and so on, and learning more about them in safe, supportive classrooms, opens up journeys of personal discovery, builds character, encourages reflection and self-care, and develops the breadth of 21st century skills considered crucial for young citizens to have the prospect of leading happy, healthy, ethical, fulfilling lives.