SSATs recent pamphlet ‘Building on consensus’ anticipates that Character education will be one of the policy themes that will be on the education agenda, post May, whichever party or coalition wins power. That must surely be right. Certainly all the major parties have made recent announcements about the importance of character education and the support for the development of non-cognitive skills in young people , much in demand among employers and HE admissions tutors.
This is what SSAT says:
‘The established consensus, across the major parties and society, is that schools must look beyond just exam passes and make it part of their ‘core business’ to nurture broader individual qualities in young people. It is not either academic or character education; it is both. Teachers play an important role in character education and development. Some form of character education takes place in most schools. But it is important that character education is intentional, planned, organised and reflective’.
But what of the role of teachers? Can they teach character?
SSAT says ‘While character cannot be ‘taught’ in an instructional way, schools have an important part to play in the development of character. Specifically, they can systematically plan, deliver and track experiences and opportunities that will allow students to develop resilience, confidence and other character traits’
So its not about sitting pupils down in a lesson and teaching them about character. (although a look at the life of the explorer Ernest Shackleton would do no harm in this respect ) Its about ensuring that young people are engaged in activities that allow their own and others’ character traits to be revealed. So teachers can help young people become more reflective and self-aware. Learn about character by doing, and by example. But there is also a need for young people to draw from their own knowledge base, for them to have a full understanding of what good character and virtue look like.
Pupils need to be challenged and supported by not only their teachers but also their parents and peers. And a good education strikes the right balance between academic skills and character development, which are mutually supportive.
More research needs to be done on support for character development and the evaluation of non-cognitive skills. But its worth looking in some detail at the work undertaken in this area by Professor James Arthur at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Values, University of Birmingham.