Two reports from the University of Birmingham’s Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues argue that it is possible to focus on developing moral character while also improving performance in the classroom.
They urge schools to focus on cultivating “good moral virtues” in children, such as honesty, self-discipline, fairness, courage and gratitude.
The first of the reports – Character Education in UK Schools – surveyed 10,000 students and found that more than half failed to identify “good moral judgements” when responding to a series of moral dilemmas.
The students were presented with a range of theoretical situations and asked what action the person involved should take and why. These were then matched against preferred responses selected by an expert panel.
On average, the students had a 42.6 per cent match with the panel. Notably, boys (37 per cent) faired much worse than girls (47 per cent).
The research also finds that 80 per cent of 255 teachers questioned feel that an academic focus hinders character education, while only 33 per cent said they had had specific training in moral or character education.
Meanwhile, a second report – The Good Teacher – finds that 37 per cent of the 500 teachers involved in the study feel they do not have enough time to focus on teaching moral virtues because the “focus is always on meeting Teachers Standards and on the technical aspects of teaching practice”.
Professor James Arthur, director of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, said: “While it has been hugely encouraging to see both major political parties in Britain back the need for character education in recent months, more needs to be done to empower teachers to achieve what they came into teaching to do: to develop the whole child.
“Academic attainment is, of course, important, but the moral character of a child matters more. Research shows that a good grasp of moral virtues, such as kindness, honesty and courage, can help children to flourish as human beings and can also lead to improvements in the classroom.
“And that level of understanding doesn’t just happen; it needs to be nurtured and encouraged, both in school and at home.
“That is why the Jubilee Centre is recommending a review of character education within teacher education courses and is calling for more time for teachers to pay attention to issues of character in the classroom.”