Learning core values like respect, honesty and compassion, is just as important as the Three Rs, says Dr Neil Hawkes. The former headteacher tells Lisa Salmon why all schools should embrace his philosophy.


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% 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 in Oxfordshire that Hawkes began to recognise how these elements were lacking, and developing his Values-based Education philosophy, during the Nineties.

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% 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."

She says the NUT continues to argue for enough space and flexibility in the national curriculum to ensure teachers have the chance to develop good practice in this "important area of learning".

Blower adds: "Teachers have always sought to use a cross-curricula approach to supporting children and youngsters to develop empathy, understanding and respect."

:: From My Heart: Transforming Lives Through Values by Dr Neil Hawkes is published by Independent Thinking Press, £14.99.

:: For more information on vales-based education, visit valuesbasededucation.com

Ask the expert

Q: "I'm six months pregnant and lately I've really felt the need to tidy up and declutter the house. Is this nesting behaviour, and why does it happen?"

A: Dr Marla Anderson of McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, has just led a study into the nesting behaviour of pregnant women.

She says: "Yes, what you are experiencing may well be nesting.

"From our research we've learned that, much like some other animals, women nest. Cleaning and organising is a big part of nesting, and our work has shown that these behaviours tend to really peak in the third trimester of pregnancy, so you may experience more nesting behaviours in the months to come.

"We believe that women nest because it would have served an adaptive function, or in other words, an important purpose. Nesting provides a safe place for the mother to give birth, and a safe environment for the baby to spend his or her first days.

"Nesting may also help to promote bonding, as feeling safe would allow other behaviours to unfold.

"And it may not only be cleaning and organising behaviours that increase as your due date approaches. Our research suggests that women are also particular about who's welcome in their environment; women prefer the company of family and friends.

"If you find yourself engaging in these behaviours while you're pregnant, know that what you're doing isn't frivolous: you're being a mother, and getting your world ready for your baby."

All wrapped up

:: Ergobaby Sleep Tight Swaddler

A 100% breathable cotton-knit terry swaddler that stretches with movement, providing the soothing benefits of swaddling while allowing hips and legs to move naturally. Features a Healthy Hip Positioner that allows baby's legs to remain in the natural 'frog' position, and arm pockets which position baby's arms in a natural, position. Suitable for babies weighing friom 6-18lbs, £49.90 (www.borndirect.com).

:: Aiden & Anais Swaddling Wraps

Pack of four 100% cotton muslin swaddling wraps, with a light, open-weave soft fabric that helps reduce the risk of overheating. Can also be used as burp cloths, pram covers etc. Suitable from birth, £44.95 (www.adenandanais.co.uk).

:: Swaddle Pod by Summer Infant

Zip newborns into the spandex cotton-blend Swaddlepod, which stretches with movement and recreates the familiar womb-like feeling. For slightly older infants there's Swaddle Me, which has adjustable wings instead of a zip. Swaddle Pod £10, Swaddle Me £12 (www.mothercare.com).