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Character, resilience & creativity

Published on isbi School News dated Friday 23rd of May 2014

I was astonished to read last month that Shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt, had spoken out in favour of 'character, resilience and creativity' being taught in England's schools. Dr Hunt, speaking at an AQA Creative Conference (and many teachers might well see an exam board running a creative conference as an irony in itself), cited recent research from the Universities of Chicago and Birmingham which indicated that 'character can be taught' and asked for this to be recognised in education. My astonishment is not that these qualities are important or that character building should be perceived as something that might go on in school. I am instead saddened that this needs to be said at all and is now deemed newsworthy.

Whilst the research may be bang up to date, the concept of personal strength and integrity being taught to the young is as ancient as the origins of thought. Dr Hunt, a respected historian, didn't have to go to Birmingham University for the idea. The Old Testament contains the succinct line, 'Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.' It's a common sense idea that appears in every culture. In classical history Plato had a lot to say about the importance of training the young and he has a long line of successors including Aesop's Fables, Hillaire Belloc's 'Cautionary Tales' and even Roald Dahl's dreadful children in 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'. They all come from a heritage based on an assumption that character can be improved by education and that we need to offer the young guidance in this area.

Sadly, we now live in a world where educational debate has become focused on issues such as funding, testing and the commercial value of individual degree courses. Tragically, we have now moved so far away from any basic sense of education being about personal development that a politician can grab headlines with a self-evident truth. Perhaps I should be congratulating Dr Hunt on bringing the topic back to its roots? However, I have a fear that this is just political ping pong, a deliberate contrast to the Govian rigour and testing of which we are weary. Will this now go before think tanks and advisory groups? Dr Hunt is already seeking 'character education in initial teacher training.' Will we have 'integrity lessons' with teachers graded by Ofsted on the amount of moral improvement delivered in a one hour session?

There is no scheme of work which can guarantee a better person as a result of its delivery. Character is not taught, it is demonstrated. To go back to Dahl, we don't want to be Veruca Salt because she is obnoxious and gets punished. We aspire to goodness because we like Charlie and he is rewarded. Teachers have to live this every day, by the example they set. Schools have to offer role models amongst staff, parents and older pupils, without which they will fail. Therefore, in the same month that Ofsted has been fighting with the Secretary of State and in a period where we have seen unprecedented upheaval in our national education system, I feel disinclined to listen to politicians especially when they are marketing as 'new', and claiming possession of, ideas that have been common sense amongst educators since the dawn of time.
Character, resilience & creativity - Photo 1
Grace Education