Schools that fail to work out with young people what they stand for run the risk of creating "ghetto communities".
Mike McCabe, education director in South Ayrshire, last week warned a national conference in Stirling that schools could only establish the strong ethos they crave by involving young people in discussions about core values.
Schools wanted to trade ideas and philosophies and engage with teachers in setting the pattern for their school. But they did not want to do that through personal and social development (PSD) which they regarded as "mince and a waste of time".
Mr McCabe, who has drawn his vision for values-based education from a study trip to Maine on the East Coast of the United States, cautioned: "If you do not adopt this approach, you end up with the boys' toilets smokers' corner which becomes a no-go area. The ethos and atmosphere of the school does not extend into parts of the building where the negative minority view prevails.
"You create ghetto communities where the communities have lost the belief that they can set the values of the school."
Mr McCabe said that establishing the values that underpin the national priorities in education was a whole-school strategy. Individual teachers could not run their classrooms independently of the school consensus. It was important that all staff, including classroom assistants and other professionals such as health workers, knew what to expect.
Staff had to listen to young people, react to their views and be accountable to them. "We need to open up this exciting development of saying, 'you're part and parcel of this, you're not having an education imposed on you, you're helping to shape it, you have an investment in it'," Mr McCabe said.
But he ruled out traditional PSD routes. "Young people are saying to us, 'this is mince and really is a waste of time because teachers aren't actually comfortable in sharing and opening up. It's sterile, come on, do something about it'."
Schools in South Ayrshire were not delivering, but were probably no worse than anyone else.
Following his visit to Maine, where the focus on values education runs across the state, Mr McCabe has invited all South Ayrshire school clusters, their school boards and parents to sign up to the process of establishing a set of values, which will vary from school to school. Directorate visits will check the progress schools are making.
Mr McCabe admits that he was "an agnostic" on the issue before he saw at first hand how collective discussions could begin to transform the climate in schools.