Whole school values

Whole person virtues

If you are conducting a review of your school values and philosophy, Roger Sutcliffe suggests that you should do so philosophically.

Conducting a rigorous review of school values

The disruption to education as a result of Covid19 is sadly continuing. But the commitment of teachers to running their schools despite the ‘second wave’ is impressive and admirable. Even before Covid19 had struck, however, there were other challenges looming for us all to think about: climate change, environmental degradation and inequalities of health as well as wealth – not to mention cultural conflicts and political polarisation.

How do your school values and ‘guiding statements’ relate to these 21st Century issues? Do they offer any guidance to your community?

Some schoolchildren themselves, led by the likes of Greta Thunberg – and many activists for many causes – were calling, pre-pandemic, for responsible adults to acknowledge the challenges and take significant steps, personally and professionally to meet them.

I have no doubt that many teachers responded positively to such calls, at least in their personal capacity. But I have had increasing doubts about whether the apparatus of the educational system itself – the curricula, timetables, inspections, etc., that condition most of what happens in schools and colleges – is changing fast enough and fully enough to do justice to the young people it is meant to serve, let alone to deliver ‘climate justice’.

Indeed, the focus on Covid19 may, in one way, have reduced the impetus for such change.

The urgent need for change

All the more reason, then, for a re-evaluation of the prime purposes of schools and their ‘values’. Such a re-evaluation is not only urgent but may also be vital for the future health and well-being of young people, if not human civilisation itself. Indeed, health and personal well-being should now be the top priority of schools – and perhaps civility, if not civilisation, should be among their listed values.

Using P4C as a starting point

As a long-time proponent of P4C (Philosophy for Children), I believe that using a philosophical framework is the best way to conduct such a task. Originally presented, over 50 years ago, as a ‘thinking skills programme’, P4C has established itself as an educational intervention that does much more than improve intellectual prowess. Through the deliberate building of ‘communities of philosophical inquiry’, it develops a whole range of virtues – conceived of as personal and social, as well as intellectual, strengths. Not the least of these virtues are patience, empathy and open-mindedness.

In my view, the least that schools should do as part of their values development plan, is to give their students regular access to inquiries using the P4C model. Training in P4C is simple to arrange, and its implementation involves minimal disruption.

A more fundamental approach

But I would like  to make a bolder proposal: that teachers themselves need to engage in philosophical inquiry in order to review and refresh their school values effectively. Too much thinking about ‘values’ or ‘school guiding statements’ lacks the rigour that philosophical thinking can provide. This is a less daunting undertaking than it sounds and could begin with a small group of staff tasked with the review of a school’s values – an accreditation committee, perhaps. Instead of relying on their own subjective views to inform their work, a properly robust framework should really be used. My contention is that this kind of examination of a school’s ‘philosophy’ should be conducted, well, philosophically.


The need for clearer thinking

There is a need for clearer thinking about ‘values’ – not least the vital role that virtues play in the attainment of other, less personal, values such as democracy, diversity, equality, justice, peace, etc.

In the process of this inquiry conducted by and with faculty, the values that matter to the school will emerge naturally. These ideas then need to infuse the planning process, and finally infiltrate the culture of the school so that the modelling and use of school values in personal and social virtue become ‘part of the way we do things here’.


Review of school guiding statements

Most accreditation processes require schools to demonstrate the process whereby values statements are regularly reviewed. What better way of doing so than conducting the process in a truly philosophical way?


Roger Sutcliffe  is one of the world’s leading authorities on P4C and philosophical education. He was a founder and President of SAPERE, the UK charity promoting P4C, and President of ICPIC, the International Council for Philosophical Inquiry with Children. Roger is now the President of Dialogue Works, which provides a range of training in the use of philosophy in schools







Training for a values review

Dialogue Works have now teamed up with Values-based Education (VbE) to offer a new series of short courses for teachers engaged in the appraisal of school values:  ‘Whole School Values, Whole Person Virtues: a philosophical approach to school and personal development’, consisting of three 2 hour online modules:

  1. Clearer thinking about values
  2. The basic principles of whole school values development using VbE’s 7 Pillar ‘MIRACLE’ model used by VbE schools in 30+ countries.
  3. The role of individual teachers in clarifying, modelling and promoting virtues

Their next course runs in November (Nov 12th, 19th and 26th )

There will be two ‘sittings’ to suit where you are in the world

09.00 – 11.00, UK Time

15.30 – 17.30, UK Time

Further information about the course and the training can be found on their website: https://dialogueworks.co.uk/values-and-virtues/.


Feature Image: by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay