Is character education headed to the UK?

According to shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, there is “growing evidence that character can be taught” in UK schools.

Addressing the AQA’s Creative Education conference in London last year, Hunt revealed that in the wake of a more competitive and global job market, character education should be integrated into the curriculum to prepare students for the future. This teaching style believes that formal education should encompass more than just arming students with academic skills – it should also help shape their character, and develop immeasurable skills that can help them inside and outside of the workplace in the future.

“Emerging research, from people like Prof James Heckman at the University of Chicago and Prof James Arthur at the University of Birmingham, clearly demonstrates that character can be taught,” said Hunt. “What is clear is that this is about more than bolting on some music lessons or sports clubs to the school day. No, this is about learning from the rigorous academic discipline that is character education and implementing a holistic approach that goes beyond extra-curricular activities and into the classroom.”


Why teach “character”?

According to Hunt, character education is “vitally important in preparing young people for the economy of the future”.

This type of education seeks to reinforce traits such as:

  • Responsibility
  • Self control
  • Perseverance
  • Integrity
  • Conscientiousness
  • Accountability
  • Honesty

These skills can help students outside of the classroom, especially those that are disadvantaged. Character education can motivate students to react positively to negative or stressful situations, rather than with anger or violence. In fact, studies have shown that students that have been taught resilience skills such as conflict resolution and self-discipline have better responses to challenging situations than they did beforehand.

Character education can also be useful for student motivation. Students that want to work hard and do well purely for a grade or for praise may not be truly motivated to work if either of those things are not attainable. A child that enjoys learning, and who wants to work hard and do well regardless of whether they will be assessed, will be motivated to do exactly that.

This type of education can therefore serve as motivation for students, as it places the onus and responsibility to work hard on their own shoulders. These students will take pride in their work, enjoy problem solving, and be mindful of consequences without being inhibited by them.

Beyond just encouraging an exemplary code of conduct, character education can play a significant part in helping students perform well in school and beyond, and can be key in motivating students to learn independently.