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Author: Dr. Neil Hawkes, Founder: Values-based Education International


Ofsted's new curriculum framework proposes to give schools in England a fresh chance to consider the nature of their broad and balanced curriculum. Leaders are expected to adopt or construct a curriculum that is ambitious and designed to give all pupils, particularly disadvantaged pupils including pupils with SEND, the knowledge and cultural capital to succeed in life. Judgements will be made under four headings: the quality of education, personal development, behaviour and attitudes leadership and management. Is this to be welcomed or feared?


I remember having a similar debate as Head teacher of West Kidlington School in Oxfordshire in the middle of the 1990's. How could we hold on to our convictions about how children best learn; create a school culture that supported this, whilst ensuring that we demonstrated to Ofsted the legitimacy of our pedagogy. Under the framework of 1997, I was relieved that Ofsted reported that we were a very good school with outstanding features. So what had we achieved and is this still relevant in 2019.  


I had come to West Kidlington School from being The Principal Inspector/Adviser of the Isle of Wight Education Service. I had a yearning to return to headship (I had had two previous ones), to explore whether what I believed and understood about transformational leadership of a school community, actually would work in practice?


I came to the school with a passionate belief in the prime importance of good relationship; that a school should never have a hierarchy of relationships, only of roles.  I understood that education is a conversation between generations about matters of significance.  That the role of the leader is to release the creative dynamic of everyone in the school and adults should help children to take the lid off their potential.  


Pupils should be guided to develop a meaning and purpose for their lives; that this is achieved by them having a deep understanding about universal, human values, such as respect, empathy, compassion, justice, happiness, quality, responsibility and altruism.  That these words, forming an ethical vocabulary, set in the context of stories and real life experiences should be reflected upon so that they impact on the way pupils live there lives.


Thus was born an educational philosophy and practices now known as Values-based Education (VbE), which has both implicitly and explicitly adopted by thousands of schools worldwide. (Please see for information about VbE and how you can become involved in this transformational movement for positive change.)


During my Headship I submitted the school's methods to the rigour of my doctoral research degree at Oxford University. I wanted to find out if values education improved the quality of education? (Hawkes, 2005). The research showed without doubt the impact values education has on the academic and personal development of pupils and staff!  The research was further endorsed by a major piece of research in Australia (Lovat et al 2009).


The culture of the school was calm, safe and purposeful, giving pupils the opportunity to be the best people they could be.  A proportion of time was given to reflective activities such as silent sitting.  This was modelled in Assembly and practiced in the classrooms.  Although I could see the profound effects of this work, I had to wait a few more years for neuroscientists to confirm that what we were doing was having a profound effect on children's abilities to re-pattern the neural wiring in their brains, so that they had more self control and resilience - profoundly affecting their wellbeing and sense of self. 


In recent years my wife, Jane (a psychotherapist) and I have looked in detail at what pupils and indeed adults need in school to support the healthy development of their internal world's.  This research has led us to the conclusion that each school needs to develop what we term an Inner Curriculum, as well as a curriculum that introduces children to the wonders of our world, in terms of subject and dimensions of learning.


The Inner Curriculum (IC) is now one of the seven pillars of Values-based Education (VbE). It is being recognised as one of the powerful transformational aspects of VbE, which we now understand to be both a natural outcome of schools that embrace VbE, and of profound importance in its own right.


The IC is a developmental program of experiential activities and adult support, which helps children and young adults to have a clearer knowledge about their internal world of thoughts, feelings and emotions. It creates a safe and secure environment in which students develop self-esteem, trust and a sense of belonging. The purpose of the program is to help them to understand themselves in terms of their motivations, dispositions and character, which leads to a more secure sense of Self and ability to take a constructive role in the world.


In essence, The Inner Curriculum teaches us how to be aware and in control of our internal world of thoughts, feelings, sensations and emotions, enabling us to respond appropriately to others without hurting them or damaging our own sense of self.


In values-based schools the Inner Curriculum nurtures a secure sense of our authentic self, the spiritual essence of who we are, profoundly enhancing our feeling of wellbeing and our ability to be resilient. The Inner Curriculum brings together Education, Interpersonal Neurobiology, Psychotherapy and the wisdom of humanity in a new dynamic relationship that enhances both learning and wellbeing.


What Jane and I have observed is that if the principles and practices of VbE are naturally, without coercion, embedded in culture, whether in a home, school or other system then the conditions are naturally created, which nurture and nourish our internal worlds. This gentle healing process gives us greater self-awareness, emotional literacy and ethical intelligence. For instance, if children have the opportunity to think about the value of respect, by practicing showing respect in real situations in their lives, then gradually this concept of respect is embedded in their brains and emerges as one of their character traits, habits, which can be described as one of their virtues.


An aim of VbE and its Inner Curriculum is therefore to promote a school and home ethos that nourishes children's innate positive qualities from an early age. VbE nurtures the development of a child’s pro-social behaviour, creating a mindset that is more likely to be prone to compassion and altruism.


We all need to learn how to keep our internal world healthy, despite what is happening around us. We learn through the Inner Curriculum that we can be an objective observer of the drama of life, which we observe and in which we are involved. Helping children to understand that they have a choice in their responses is key to them understanding how to self-regulate their reactions to thoughts and attendant emotions in order to stay mentally calm and healthy. 


The Inner Curriculum contains the processes for helping us to appreciate our innate spiritual qualities and to manifest them in our lives, thereby experiencing wellbeing. In doing so, we focus on our core self that can remain stable during the ups and downs of daily living.


May I draw your attention to our working definition the Inner Curriculum, which Jane and I hope will be useful to you in school, home or other settings. Some of the language may, at first sight, appear unfamiliar: 


"The Inner Curriculum teaches us how to be conscious about and in harmonious control of our internal spiritual world of thoughts, feelings and emotions, enabling us to respond appropriately and altruistically to others without hurting them or damaging our own sense of self. Indeed it supports the development of a strong and secure sense of self, which develops the disposition of self-leadership, which sustains wellbeing."


"We define self to be the innate essence of human consciousness, the ‘you’ who is observing, a healing energy that creates the space for the nurturing of wisdom. When we experience self-energy we are accessing our authentic nature"


‘We argue passionately that a core objective of education should be to nurture self-energy, in the context of thinking about and applying human values such as empathy, courage, resilience, altruism, peace, generosity and justice. Such dispositions (virtues) are often evident when there is a natural disaster or major catastrophe, but sadly these are not universally seen during normal life. We think that VbE schools and others, which care deeply about the character development of people, bring such traits into consciousness."


"The Inner Curriculum evolves in a calm and purposeful environment, one that allows the authentic self to flourish. When our self-energy is leading our internal world then we, and others, have the potential to experience wellbeing and release our innate creativity and connectedness. Self-energy is contagious as it makes it safe for this quality to emerge in others. As humanity shares this simple yet profound wisdom, we hope that it will produce leaders with the new intelligence to solve the complex problems we face in our world."


In summary, a knowledge and understanding of the elements of the Inner Curriculum enables each one of us to respond appropriately to others without hurting their feelings or making us feel unhappy by damaging our own sense of self. Indeed the Inner Curriculum supports the development of a strong and secure sense of self, which develops a disposition we have called self-leadership (agency), which sustains wellbeing. As we have more self-energy we naturally become less judgemental, are more compassionate and are able to feel a greater connection with others.


In the context of growing mental health issues for children and young adults, the outcome of The Inner Curriculum is wellbeing and the development of extended personal competence (EPC), which is the ability to be Self-led, having the knowledge skills and competences to cope more effectively with life's stresses and complexities with comparative ease and confidence.


When combined with the ethical vocabulary, which develops ethical intelligence, learned and experienced in values-based education, the IC gives an understanding of our capacity to expand the clarity of our consciousness so that we can be more aware, thinking and behaving for the greater benefit of ourselves, others and the planet.


I realise that in this short article I have introduced a lot of concepts that you may want to explore. May I suggest you have a look at our book, The Inner Curriculum (Hawkes N & Hawkes J, 2018) or click the link below to find out more...

Inner Curriculum

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