3.6.2 Embedding values

Learning objectives for this chapter:

By the end of this chapter, we would like you to be able to:

  • Define and exemplify SMSC values, equality and diversity, and British values in a UK education context
  • Consider the place of anti-extremism initiatives such as the Prevent strategy
  • Reflect on the worth of embedding values into subject-based education
  • Appreciate the role and mission of education in the development of an open, democratic, equal, and progressive society

Explaining the concept of each value (equality, diversity, key skills, 'British values')

This section defines and examines each of the four sets of values introduced above. As one might imagine, to some degree there is overlap between some of these areas.


A key initialism when discussing values in contemporary education is SMSC, which stands for Spiritual, Moral, Social, and Cultural values (Department for Education, 2014). These components are defined by Ofsted in their schools' inspection handbook documentation in the following terms (Ofsted, 2016):

Spiritual development: learners' spiritual development is indicated by their capacity for reflection on their own beliefs, their attitude and perspective towards human life, and their regard for the religion, feelings, and perceptions of others.

Moral development: learners' moral development is indicated by their ability to understand right and wrong, and to reference this to their own lives, to understand where legal boundaries exist, and so respect civil and criminal law.

Social development: learners' social development is indicated by their using social skills in a variety of contexts, including socialising with other learners, including those from different cultural, religious and socio-economic backgrounds.

Cultural development: learners' cultural development is indicated by their appreciation of the range and diversity of cultural influences that have shaped other people's heritage, as well as upon their own background and culture.

SMSC is a current (2016) priority area for schools' inspection under Ofsted.


A working definition might be that equality is the enjoyment and promotion of equal rights, and being equal to others, and so being treated with the same respect and importance as others, and being deserving of the same treatment. The Equality Act 2010 consolidated, and to some extent simplified, already-existing legislation; schools cannot unlawfully discriminate against pupils because of their sex, race, disability, religion or belief, or their sexual orientation. New protections were extended in 2010 to pupils who are pregnant or who have recently given birth, and to those undergoing gender reassignment.

The elements against which it is unlawful for a school to discriminate against are referred to as 'protected characteristics'. In addition, it is unlawful to discriminate against a pupil because of their associations (because of their friends, or family, for example). It is also unlawful to discriminate against someone because of a perception of a protected characteristic, even if the discriminating person is mistaken.

The 2010 Act goes on to outline provisions at four levels of unlawful behaviour:

  • direct discrimination
  • indirect discrimination
  • harassment
  • victimisation

From the standpoint of the individual educator, it is good practice to consider all of one's own resources, worksheets, lecture notes, classroom displays and other teaching tools from an equality perspective.


Where equality is concerned with the equal enjoyment of legal rights, and the protection of that equality through legislation and devices such as the Public Sector Equality Duty, diversity is concerned with valuing and respecting the differences that individuals and groups may have. Diversity may relate to the protected characteristics outlined in the Equality Act 2010, though may have other attributes too (secular vegetarianism and veganism, for example).

Where learners do not experience diversity in their own lives, or in their own schools, it is important to prepare them for life in a diverse society; both formal teaching and the wider life of the school should work towards making that preparation seamless and natural. This can mean initiatives and activities which foster diversity, present difference as opportunity, and treat people's individuality - and their expressions of their personal and their cultural and other identities - in respectful and celebratory terms.

Community cohesion agendas, such as might be addressed by the anti-sectarian work exemplified above, were introduced by Act of Parliament in 2006, with the passing of the Education and Inspections Act of that year. The Act imposed a duty to promote community cohesion on schools. By 'community cohesion', the Act and its associated guidance refers to the working towards a UK society where there is a sense of belonging for all communities, a common vision of the country as progressive and mutually-supportive, and where life opportunities for all are supported by equality and diversity drives. Community can be conceptualised at a series of levels: the school as a community (its pupils, their parents and families, staff and governors, community users of school facilities); the community within which the school is sited (its geographical location and the communities who live and work there, including those outside the catchment area of the school); and community in the senses of the UK, and of world-wide links (as European Union and/or global citizens, for example). Other sorts of communities may be supported, such as clusters of schools in a town or city, or those within the same Academy chain.

Key skills

'Key skills' is a catch-all term which has been used over time to characterise a series of initiatives to boost learners' literacy, numeracy, information technology, and other competencies, usually in a work-related context. Terms have varied over time and geography; the most common terms used at the time of writing (2016) are 'functional skills' and 'core skills'. 

These skills have some relevance here, not least because they may provide opportunities in which to investigate questions of diversity, equality, and community cohesion and the like in a schoolwork context. More than this, they indicate the responsibilities of the school beyond the delivery of a subject-specific education towards contributing to the development of children and young people as active, engaged and useful members of society, who are equipped with the relevant contextual skills to take a full part in life and work.

British values

Section 78 of the Education Act 2002 relates to the requirement of schools to promote, as part of a broad and balanced curriculum, to promote the SMSC development of their pupils; aligned with this is a requirement to actively promote British values in schools. These values include democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, the mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs; DfE guidance suggests that by promotion of such British values, schools can demonstrate their commitment to embedding SMSC in education (Department for Education, 2014).  

The advocacy of such values also means that positions oppositional to them should be challenged. Working to uphold such values may occur naturally in the curriculum and in wider school engagements; part of the duty here is to record and to celebrate the good work which is already being done, rather than to necessarily create a separate an artificially-inserted set of moral and political imperatives into teaching. 

The Prevent duty

The 2015 Counter-Terrorism and Security Act placed a duty on public bodies in respect of their responsibilities in working to prevent (hence the name) people from becoming attracted to and involved in extremist terrorism. The Prevent duty is intended to support education and childcare providers in meeting their obligations in making an active consideration of the protection from radicalisation they can offer children and young adults. It should be acknowledged that the Prevent duty is not uncontroversial. Critics assert that there is the potential to demonise or essentialise some sectors of the community through misuse of the Duty; others see a civil rights issue; others still observe that the Duty puts teachers in an uncomfortable position of surveilling their learners for extremist political or criminal potential rather than supporting them in their educational endeavours (Khaleeli, 2015).

What is 'embedding' and how can we achieve this?

Embedding in this context means to integrate seamlessly into the ordinary taught curriculum. Values-based educational content is not to be treated as an add-on, or only to be discussed in isolation from subject-based teaching and learning, but instead needs to be incorporated into everyday lessons and into the wider ordinary life of the school.

Learners of all ages are sensitive to when a topic is not being treated seriously, or if it being delivered artificially or out of a sense of obligation; a box-ticking approach to values in education does the subject and the learners a disservice, and goes against making such input meaningful and relevant to learners.

A fully-embedded approach involves more than the production of teaching materials which are reflective of a multicultural and progressive society though, and educators should question their assumptions and biases wherever relevant to do so. Schools will have a lead point of contact on diversity and related values-based issues, and they will not only welcome enquiries, but may well offer training and ideas for more cohesive integration of appropriate values-based concepts and processes into teaching.

Ways in which ideas related to diversity, equality, SMSC, and core British values might be embedded include the following (Department for Education, 2014):

  • Demonstrating democratic principles by engaging in student democratic processes such as an elected school council, or mock elections to chime with parliamentary or other electoral cycles
  • Provide for extra-curricular activity, and support that which is student-led and initiated, which may promote positive values
  • Incorporate into syllabuses as appropriate material which fosters direct engagement with ideas related to diversity, equality, and fundamental British values
  • Contrast these ideas with those from other countries where such core values are not respected, and where tyranny and/or oppression is the consequence, so that learners may appreciate the value of British values and law

Use teaching resources and learning contexts which integrate diversity and equality into subject areas where these may not occur naturally.

Why is it important to embed certain values?

From a compliance perspective, there is an impetus to work to proactively and successfully embed the kinds of positive values considered in this chapter. Ofsted currently considers SMSC provision at the school level through its inspection and grading processes. As with other criteria, SMSC provision is graded on a 1-4 scale, with 1 referring to outstanding provision, and 4 being deemed inadequate. Provision assessed to be outstanding will have "a thoughtful and wide-ranging promotion of pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development" whereas an inadequate school will be seen to have "serious weaknesses in the overall promotion of pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development" (Citizenship Foundation, 2015).

The function of such inspection protocols is not to act as a stick to punish underperforming schools, but rather to encourage and reward through acknowledgement those institutions who are serving their learners - than their wider community contexts - through innovative and well-embedded SMSC-related provision. One way of approaching this (and, indeed to internal and external inspections is general) is to see them as an opportunity to have one's effectiveness, as an individual educator, and as a contributor to wider school initiatives, validated by others. Schools, after all, may be the only location where children can mix freely with a spectrum of opinions, with people from different heritages and outlooks on life, and with diverse heritages. The experience of school may be very different from a child's home life, or their socialisation out of school hours. Part of the function of the school and all that it offers is to demonstrate through lived examples the array of lives that people live, and that there are systems and values in place that provide for that diversity to peacefully and meaningfully co-exist.


Questions of diversity and equality, of respect for the rule of law and an appreciation of democratic freedoms as well as the responsibility to contribute to an open and civil society which is respectful and tolerant of difference, have all been central to this chapter. It might be considered that tendencies towards presenting partial views of the world, or those which support some values but which disparage others, are ever more available through a spectrum of mass media, online, and lifestyle possibilities that present aspects of the world and not an overview of it. At one extreme, this may mean religious or other bigotry and intolerance, or else the favouring of extremist political ideologies over reasoned debate. Schools represent a set of opportunities to reach not only young people, but the communities and families associated with them. The range of initiatives and public duties incumbent on schools as public bodies emphasises this; the work of developing citizens is perhaps more necessary than ever, and as a relevant part of a wider educational experience for present and future generations.   


Citizenship Foundation (2015) What is SMSC? Available at: http://www.doingsmsc.org.uk/ (Accessed: 6 November 2016).

Department for Children, Schools, and Families (2007) Guidance on the duty to promote community cohesion. Available at: http://www.tedcantle.co.uk/publications/029%20Guidance%20on%20duty%20to%20promote%20community%20cohesion%20in%20school.pdf (Accessed: 15 November 2016).

Department for Education (2014) Promoting fundamental British values as part of SMSC in schools. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/380595/SMSC_Guidance_Maintained_Schools.pdf (Accessed: 6 November 2016).

Department for Education (2015) The Prevent duty: departmental advice for schools and childcare providers. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/439598/prevent-duty-departmental-advice-v6.pdf (Accessed: 6 November 2016).

Equality and Diversity UK (2011) Embedding equality and diversity. Available at: http://www.equalityanddiversity.co.uk/samples/sample-embedding-equality-and-diversity-into-everyday-practice.pdf (Accessed: 6 November 2016).

Grid for Learning (2008) Equality and diversity toolkit. Available at: http://www.thegrid.org.uk/learning/bme/equality/documents/diversity_toolkit/equality_diversity_toolkit.pdf (Accessed: 6 November 2016).

Hadwen, D. (2014) Embedding SMSC, prevent and British values in schools. Available at: https://www.hud.ac.uk/media/universityofhuddersfield/content2013/schools/educationandprofessionaldevelopment/docs/primarypartnershipwebsite/4april2016/Web%20SMSC,%20British%20Values%20and%20PREVENT%20Huds.pdf (Accessed: 6 November 2016).

HM Government (2014) The Equality Act 2010 and schools departmental advice for school leaders, school staff, governing bodies and local authorities. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/315587/Equality_Act_Advice_Final.pdf (Accessed: 6 November 2016).

Home Office (2015) Channel duty guidance: protecting vulnerable people from being drawn into terrorism statutory guidance. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/425189/Channel_Duty_Guidance_April_2015.pdf (Accessed: 6 November 2016).

Khaleeli, H. (2015) 'You worry they could take your kids': Is the prevent strategy demonising Muslim schoolchildren? Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/sep/23/prevent-counter-terrorism-strategy-schools-demonising-muslim-children (Accessed: 6 November 2016).

Learning and Teaching Scotland (2013) Promoting diversity and equality: developing responsible citizens for 21 st century Scotland. Available at: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/Images/Promoting_DE080313_tcm4-747988.pdf (Accessed: 15 November 2016).

Ofsted (2016) School inspection handbook. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/school-inspection-handbook-from-september-2015 (Accessed: 6 November 2016).

Prevent for FE and Training (2015) Prevent duty exemplar risk assessment proforma. Available at: http://www.preventforfeandtraining.org.uk/sites/default/files/Prevent%20Duty%20Risk%20Assessment_Action%20Plan%20template.doc (Accessed: 6 November 2016).

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.