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A place at the table: values education in the Australian Curriculum

Julie Mitchell
Julie Mitchell is an education writer, consultant and lecturer in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne.

As work begins on implementing phase one of the Australian Curriculum, school leaders will be looking for ways in which they can support their teachers and school communities in translating the new curriculum into effective practice and real learning for students. Among all the guests sitting at the table of the Australian Curriculum, values education occupies a particular and unique place which connects with all the others, even though values education is not to be found as a discrete entity in the new curriculum. While implementing the values education dimension of the Australian Curriculum may seem challenging for schools, much work has been done over the last ten years that can ably support this work.

Between 2003 and 2010 the Australian Government funded the national Values Education initiative. The outcomes of the multiple projects within this initiative have provided a solid foundation for implementing values education within the Australian Curriculum.

Two key documents are guiding the development of the Australian Curriculum: the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (2008) and the Shape of the Australian Curriculum (v.3, 2011). Commonwealth, state and territory Ministers of Education have endorsed both these documents as the key frames for defining Australia's curriculum road map. Both documents signpost the core place of values education within that road map.

The values education focus is explicit throughout the Melbourne Declaration. In the preamble it declares that 'Schools play a vital role in promoting the intellectual, physical, social, emotional, moral, spiritual and aesthetic development and wellbeing of young Australians' (Melbourne Declaration, 2008). It speaks of the school sectors supporting all young Australians to become people who:

  • 'develop personal values and attributes such as honesty, resilience, empathy and respect for others'
  • 'have the knowledge, skills, understanding and values to establish and maintain healthy and satisfying lives'
  • 'act with moral and ethical integrity'
  • 'are committed to national values of democracy, equity and justice, and participate in Australia's civic life'.

These aspirations for young Australians closely reflect the National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools (Department of Education, Science and Training) that emerged from the first phase of the Values Education initiative and was endorsed by all Ministers of Education in 2005.

Values education and the Australian Curriculum

The Australian Curriculum has emerged from the principles and broad framework of the Melbourne Declaration. The discipline areas form the central pillar of the Australian Curriculum; however, seven general capabilities and three cross-curriculum priorities are to be taught within and across these disciplines. The general capabilities encompass skills, behaviours and dispositions that students develop and apply to content knowledge. A values-focus is highlighted in, and integral to, four of the general capabilities: Ethical Behaviour, Intercultural Understanding, Personal and Social Competence, and Critical and Creative Thinking; and is central to each of the cross-curriculum priorities: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Asia and Australia's engagement with Asia and Sustainability.

The Australian Government's national Values Education initiative (2002–2010) provided a broad agreement about the 'what, where, how and why' of values education in Australian schooling. It produced an agreed National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools which described the values to be fostered in Australian schools and the general principles of good practice in values education. Through three rounds of 'Good practice schools' projects the principles of good practice were further elaborated and defined through evidence-based research in diverse school contexts. The Values Education initiative also created a wide range of resources for values education in learning areas in specific and general curriculum contexts; it provided professional learning resources for teachers and school leaders, and finally it provided models of practice for effective implementation. All of these assets are available to curriculum leaders and teachers to support the implementation of the 'values' aspects of the new Australian Curriculum.

The advent of the Australian Curriculum with its General Capabilities signals a significant shift in the position of values-related education in the school curriculum. Until this time many have viewed values education as belonging either in the domain of the personal; for example, in subjects called 'Personal Development', or in the realm of Civics and Citizenship education. While one would expect, for example, national values of democracy, equity and justice to be studied in the civics and citizenship learning area, the integration of a values perspective into curriculum disciplines via particular general capabilities, positions values as an essential and relevant aspect of every part of schooling. This accords with a view of education that has been in place in the modern period since the pragmatist philosopher, John Dewey, was writing in the early 20th century. In Dewey's thinking 'moral' education should not be separated out from the 'regular' subjects in the curriculum, rather it was to be an integral part of every learning experience of the child (Dewey, 1916, p.411).

Locating general capabilities within disciplines highlights one of the core principles established in the findings of the Values Education Good Practice Schools Project Report of 2008 At the Heart of What We Do: Values Education at the Centre of Schooling. Good practice in values education requires schools to see values education as a whole curriculum concept that informs all teaching and learning across the school. Values education is not a discrete program or part of an implicit hidden curriculum; it is a central principle underpinning the school curriculum offerings, the curriculum design, pedagogy, content and assessment.

As you read through the broad descriptions of the general capabilities of Ethical Behaviour, Intercultural Understanding, Personal and Social Competence, and Critical and Creative Thinking, and the three cross-curriculum priorities, it becomes clear that the extensive work and findings of the Values Education initiative of the last decade have been embraced and found expression in, indeed embedded in, the new Australian Curriculum. The synergies that exist between a values-centred approach at the heart of everything that a school is and does, and the framework of the Australian Curriculum, are both extensive and significant and represent an exciting challenge for students and teachers in the classroom.

Resources for values education

New curriculum often requires new resources, and there will undoubtedly be much activity in publishing houses – indeed there already has been in the four first-phase discipline areas – to produce support materials for the Australian Curriculum. It is timely then to remind curriculum leaders and teachers that the suite of values education materials available to every school in Australia provide ready-to-use material to integrate general capabilities and cross-curriculum priorities into English, mathematics, science and history, and professional learning modules to assist teachers in reviewing and reconceptualising their thinking about curriculum approaches and implementation advice around issues such as auditing and curriculum integration. The teaching and learning units were written by subject area experts with a brief to make explicit and to integrate the values aspect of the given unit topic. As such, these materials are closely aligned with the philosophical approach that underpins the Australian Curriculum. They are all available online.

The most useful resource to begin your exploration of the existing Values resources in relation to specific aspects of the Australian Curriculum is the curriculum map, Values Education and the Australian Curriculum (www.valueseducation.edu.au/verve/_resources/ValuesEducationAustralianCurriculum.pdf). This tool maps key values education resources, both teacher and student materials, as well as research reports, against the Australian Curriculum's learning areas (predominantly the Phase 1 areas), general capabilities and cross-curriculum priorities.

For example, if you are seeking to include discussions of ethical behaviour in a year 10 science class you may find useful the unit 'For the Greater Good?' from Supporting Student Wellbeing Through Values Education: A Resource Package: Secondary. The mapping document provides information on the context for the unit: 'Based on an international pharmaceutical case, this dilemma asks students to consider the values, ethics and beliefs that shape actions that pose risk to few for the good of the many'. In this example, links to specific content descriptions in the Australian Curriculum are provided (code: ACSHE 191, 194 and 230) including the relevant general capabilities.

Values Education and the Australian Curriculum provides an extensive overview of World of Values. This online resource links with the three interrelated strands of English: Language, Literature and Literacy. It can be used with students from years 3  to 12 and features the use of texts in the form of digital resources: excerpts from films, documentaries and animations; photographic images; and art works. These texts create the context for the exploration of values around five key themes: Communities, Peacemakers, Boundaries, Future makers, and The big questions. The activities involve students in consideration of many situations, questions, and viewpoints, all of which have values at their core. The content of this online resource supports the general capabilities of Literacy, Intercultural understanding, Critical and Creative Thinking, Ethical Behaviour and Personal and Social Competence. There are also significant links in this resource to the cross-curriculum priorities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, and Asia and Australia's engagement with Asia. 

Also helpful is the way in which Values Education and the Australian Curriculum constructs the links between the three elements of the Australian Curriculum and the cluster projects that are showcased in the three major reports:

1.      Implementing the National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools, 2006.

2.      At the Heart of What We Do: Values Education at the Centre of Schooling, 2008.

3.      Giving Voice to the Impacts of Values Education: The Final Report of the Values in Action Schools Project, 2010.

It is clear that the focus on values and values education in the first decade of the 21st century has laid the foundations and shaped the framework on which we can now build in order to implement the values education dimensions of the Australian Curriculum.

There are rich resources available that will support you and your school community to realise the values education goals for young Australians expressed in the Melbourne Declaration and shaped by the Australian Curriculum.



Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, Australian Curriculum, (v.3.0 2012) http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/

Australian Government, National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools http://www.valueseducation.edu.au/values/val_national_framework_for_values_education,8757.html

Australian Government, Values Education and the Australian Curriculum http://www.valueseducation.edu.au/values/val_values_and_the_australian_curriculum,33705.html

Australian Government, Values Education for Australian Schooling, http://www.valueseducation.edu.au/values/

At this website the following resources can be accessed:


Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and Education, Harvard University, MacMillan.

Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) 2008, Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, www.mceetya.edu.au/mceecdya/melbourne_ declaration,25979.html



Subject Headings

Values education
Curriculum planning
Education policy