Character Education in the UK

Character Education in the UK

Ill-defined, misguided and poorly targeted but not a total waste of money.

Character is important. It’s important in achieving personal goals, building relationships, obtaining employment and avoiding problems. In fact it defines how we live our lives.

The problem is that whilst everyone agrees that character and therefore character development is important there is no agreement on what character education actually is.

Ill-defined – The difficulty in defining character education has led Ministers to encourage people and organisations to use their own definition. However, having a thousand definitions is a useless as having no definition at all. People can do any activity and call it character education. This affords providers a great deal of freedom and means that there is no real way of differentiating quality from dross.

Misguided – People often confuse process and outcome. None of us are the finished article and therefore all character education supports a process, a journey, a work in progress.

The role of the educator in character development is to facilitate, to encourage, to question and to challenge so that the student can find what works for them in their lives. It is not to make them more honest, loyal, resilient or British. These are outcomes which may or may not come from the character development process. A skilled educator/facilitator can guide a student to find what works in their life.

Poorly targeted – Because there is no single definition, resources are often targeted at ‘positive activities’ such as sports, volunteering, uniformed organisations, outdoor pursuits etc. But how do we know that this is money well spent for character development any more than art, bridge, fishing, meditation or circus skills? All these things have positive attributes (that’s why they are called positive activities) none are a waste of money and they may be character building opportunities but that does not make them character education. A divorce can be character building but it is not character education.

People have been trying to find a way of measuring the outcome of character education for years (i.e. what character development took place) for years but this quest is not made any easier by the lack of definition in the subject matter.

Imagine if someone came up with a definition for character education that everyone could agree on.

Character education  would be as fundable as other strands of education. Practitioners could be trained and recognised for their skill set. Researchers would know what they were measuring. Character education would be distinguishable  from something that was just a  positive activity.

With a Unifying definition, character education can be targeted, refined and impactful. It would lead to a revolution in the UK’s education system, not structural change, not curriculum change, we have had far too much of that already but cultural change. Change that would ensure the UK had the strongest social fabric in the world. It is of its time and…………… I have found such a definition.

It is concise, meaningful and it has the potential to bring accord.

Are you ready?

Here goes:

Character education is when we support people to ‘align their actions with their considered values’.

Regardless of the activity or environment, if you are doing the above you are doing character education and if you are not, you are not.

If everyone reading this blog can use and promote this single definition for character education we will move it from the fringe of the education system to its rightful place: front and centre.


Paul Oginsky