Values-Based Education – or Multiple Intelligences?

There’s an article about education in the Guardian this week that we can hardly let pass without comment. However, in order to do it proper justice 3Di readers should take a few minutes to read it for themselves before moving on to our own comments. Regrettably the article has a terrible heading –

Schools revive ‘touchy-feely’ approach.

This is bad in so many ways it’s hard to know where to start. The type of learning the article focuses on is anything but ‘touchy-feely’: it’s down to earth, it’s practical and it’s crucial for children’s wellbeing.

A growing number of schools are seeing the benefits of adopting ‘values-based’ learning in a fightback against the current competitive culture in education

Having read the article please go on to sample the readers’ comments beneath it, since they give a flavour of what schools and headteachers are up against in terms of suspicion, misunderstanding and prejudice.

This is a good article about what is clearly a very good school, but it’s tempting to wonder whether there really is anything new or original under the sun. Surely the “values” this school sets out to promote are as old as the hills, and underpin all the work of all decent schools?

It’s tempting to ask which schools and which teachers do NOT set out to “promote a peaceful and calm atmosphere” where “respect, courage, honesty, compassion and integrity” are valued and promoted, where they “build character” along with “confidence and self-respect”.

However, whilst there’s little that’s new in these aims and aspirations, it’s always good to hear about schools that put these matters at the very heart of what they do instead of simply paying lip service to them. Presumably this is what’s meant by “values-based education” – an education that begins with the individual child and with the need to develop what might be called “spiritual intelligence” based on positive human values and their associated virtues – respect, courage, etc. “Social intelligence” and the development of empathy and human relationships are also essential, and should be seen as complementary to the development of spiritual intelligence.

This school, Tower Hill, has made it clear that their approach is not linked to any religion, let alone a cult, which is important and as it should be. If only all schools could be free from control or undue influence by religious bodies and organisations, for the sake of all of their pupils. Religion should be a matter for families and individuals, and not schools – apart from helping children to learn about the whole panoply of religions around the world. The development of “spiritual intelligence” must be secular and it must be based on an understanding of human values and human virtues, if we’re to have worldwide peace and respect for one another.

That said, Tower Hill school would perhaps do well to move away from its adherence to a particular “brand” of “values-based education” and move towards a home-grown “multiple intelligences” approach which encompasses spiritual intelligence and social intelligence, amongst several others.

The Guardian article somewhat confuses the main issue by bringing in other aspects of what the school does well, such as promoting “a creative approach” to learning and teaching. Whilst this is absolutely essential – as essential as the need to “instil a love of learning”, which the article also mentions – it’s difficult for the average reader to unpick these interwoven strands within the confines of a short article. Is the article about the overall success of the school? About its adoption of “values-based education”? About involving children in setting learning agendas and in monitoring and assessing progress? About a particular approach to pedagogy?

Success for any school that sets out to do more than simply raise attainment in timed tests and exams is complex and multi-faced. A single newspaper article can’t possibly do justice to what the school does that makes such a difference.

Perhaps we should just congratulate the school for all the work it’s done to promote wellbeing and raise achievement, and praise the Guardian for highlighting and promoting enlightened leadership and good practice, regardless of how well or how sketchily these ideas and issues are presented in a single article.

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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2 Responses to Values-Based Education – or Multiple Intelligences?

  1. igardett says:

    Very interesting. I hadn’t heard of this specific approach, but I like the idea. Ask any college professor (myself and my husband included) what they think would improve their courses, and they will tell you that they wish some of their students had learned more of precisely the kinds of personal discipline that are the focus of this approach. The students who hand in work on time, take responsibility for mistakes and lateness, and are able to handle criticism effectively who always do well, whether they understand the material quickly and easily or not. I think there’s a misunderstanding that focusing on these kinds of skills will take away from the “basics” (math, reading, etc.), whereas in fact without these skills, little self-directed learning will ever happen–and without the ability to direct one’s own learning, college and professional life will be very difficult (once the constraints, supports, and requirements of elementary and high school are taken away). An interesting post!


    • 3D Eye says:

      Thanks for this comment. It brings to mind the thought that we’re looking here at a combination of skills, attitudes and disciplines which cluster together under a heading that we [3Di] call an “Intelligence” – for want of a better word – or more precisely a cluster of intelligences. ‘Personal’ intelligence is the capacity to really know oneself, and to have a realistic picture of one’s strengths and weaknesses, interests, drives and aptitudes. Such self-awareness must also involve being able to deal with and indeed invite the opinions of others. ‘Social’ intelligence is a combination of skills and attitudes that encompass empathy and the ability to communicate, negotiate, compromise, and work cooperatively and collaboratively. ‘Spiritual’ intelligence is made up of a set of values that we personally subscribe to and which guide our journey through life, and also a set of virtues that we voluntarily subscribe to and try to adhere to as we face life’s challenges and opportunities. The combination of these intelligences enables us to successfully manage our destructive emotions whenever they arise – which is what some people call ’emotional intelligence’.

      I believe it’s important to use the word ‘intelligence’ and to talk about multiple intelligences because all of these things should be seen as being on a par with ‘intellect’ – which is usually seen as a kind of ‘gold standard’ by non-educationalists and all those who assess learning according to academic attainment first and foremost. I believe the kinds of words and language we use in the fight to make learning and schooling address the holistic needs of children and young people (rather than the needs of academia and business) are very important, and we can’t afford to let the types of learning we’re advocating (as the basis for all other learning) fall into the category of mere ‘skills’, etc. Our amazing brains operate a number of different intelligences and we still need to work hard to raise general awareness that schools need to develop all of those intelligences equally and properly.


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