Original publication: April 2017
Authors: University of Humanistic Studies Utrecht: Wiel Veugelers, Isolde de Groot, Vincent Stolk
Authors case studies: Antoine Bevort, Gert Biesta, Maria Rosa Buxarrais, Emilian Colceru, Isolde de Groot & Wiel; Veugelers, Inken Heldt & Dirk Lange, Pavla Karba, Anastasia Kesidou, Barbara Malak-
Minkiewicz & Jerzy Wiśniewski, Dana Moree, Heidi Paju, Kirsi Tirri
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2kd6Bes
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Teaching Common Values in Europe

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The European Union has always stressed the relevance of the values of democracy and tolerance for Europe as a community as well as for its Member States. This research focuses on the policy of teaching the common values of democracy and tolerance in secondary schools, and how this policy is implemented in practice. Further, it covers how teachers, local communities and NGOs influence the teaching of common values. Data on the formal education policies of all 28 European Union Member States has been collected by national academic experts, and in-depth curriculum studies have been performed in 12 Member States.

We distinguish three components of democracy: participation, democratic politics, and democratic society; and three components of tolerance: interpersonal relations, tolerance towards different social and cultural groups, and an inclusive society. Further, a distinction is made between a national and an international orientation.

A review of existing relevant studies shows some evidence that the value development of students is stimulated by a whole school approach that incorporates the teaching of values in four ways: a specific value-oriented subject; integration into related subjects; crosscurricular activities establishing links with the community; and a democratic school culture involving more dialogical methodologies of teaching and learning, and inclusive education bringing together different groups of students and teachers. In this research, we investigate if these elements are part of the education policies of the EU Member States, and if schools and teachers can realise them in practice.



  • Greater attention to the teaching of values, including democracy and tolerance, is evident in the education policies of all EU Member States. Though Teaching Common Values (TCV) is fairly important in half of the EU Member States, compared to other topics and subject areas, attention given to TCV is still lacking.
  • Analysis of the practice of TCV in 12 EU Member States shows that there are only a few Member States where the different components of teaching for democracy and tolerance receive systematic attention across schools.
  • TCV is often not strongly implemented in education policy in terms of concrete curriculum instruments and supporting measures. This results in practices that do not always give real attention to TCV. Moreover, the EU Member States differ in the extent to which they steer TCV policy.
  • In several EU Member States, there is a strong tendency to separate students into different groups based on different learning capacities. This reduces possibilities to learn about social and cultural differences. A second element that limits diversity amongst students is the prevalence of private or religious schools.


  • In most EU Member States, there is a focus on political participation. However, attention should also be given to democracy as a process of deliberation and consensus-building, and to the creation of a democratic society that is just and inclusive and values freedom of speech and equality. Strong education practices that relate to all these different components of democracy are scarce.
  • Tolerance is mostly addressed in education at the interpersonal level and to a larger extent at the level of cultural groups, but very little at the level of an inclusive society.
  • While national orientation gets abundant attention in education policy, attention given to the international dimension is not very strong, although it is growing. Teaching about own nations is often susceptible to an uncritical approach.


  • Both the EU and each EU Member State has to take responsibility to support democracy and tolerance as common societal values and to support the sustainability of such a society. An intensive dialogue in society on what constitute the common values and the role of education in promoting them is an expression of a lively democracy, and is a challenge for tolerance. EU Member States and the EU should support such dialogues.
  • Education policy steering should target aims, guidelines for content and subjects, as well as activities. Further, education policy should challenge schools to use their relative autonomy to demonstrate their own vision and practice of TCV.
  • The EU can challenge its Member States to develop their own educational vision on Teaching Common Values like democracy and tolerance, stimulate the development of innovative practices, promote teacher and student exchange to help them experience different political and educational practices, and stimulate comparative research.


  • Greater attention should be given in education policy and practice to all three components of democracy. TCV also has to address all three elements of value development, namely knowledge, skills and a democratic attitude.
  • Besides tolerance, concepts with more positive attitudes such as appreciation, pluralism, and respectful engagement should be used. All three levels of tolerance (interpersonal relations, social and cultural groups, inclusive society) need more attention in education policy and practice.
  • Learning democracy and tolerance can be strengthened by social and cultural diversity in schools and classrooms. Education policy should stimulate diversity in education (amongst both students and teachers).
  • Each country has to find a good balance in education between national and international orientation, so as to strengthen democracy and tolerance both nationally and internationally and address both levels in a critical way.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/585-918

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Further reading: The briefing “Teaching common values in Europe – Key conclusions” summarises the conclusions of this study. [short link: http://bit.ly/601-986]

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