The six Cs of character education

Written by: Phil Parker | Published:

The concept of character education is in the news with a number of high-profile supporters emerging. Phil Parker looks at the key tenets to building students’ character and how this might fit into your school's CPD programme.

The issue of character development has certainly hit the headlines of late. It began with the Pearson-sponsored report by Professor Michael Fullan – A Rich Seam: How new pedagogies find deep learning. Then, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Mobility published its Character and Resilience Manifesto, before Tristram Hunt, shadow education secretary, called for character to be taught in schools and “not left to chance”.

Let’s take the manifesto first. It states: “Cognitive skills do not develop in a vacuum ... educational attainment develops alongside crucial character abilities ... in a mutually reinforcing process.” It goes on to say that too many schools in Britain are “exam factories” that focus on narrow indicators of success .

A key point is the assertion that attainment is significantly improved when this “mutually reinforcing process” is truly embedded within the curriculum. The APPG states that there are direct and reliable links between character development, soft skills and attainment. Furthermore it increases young people’s employability.

In welcoming the manifesto, Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said that it shouldn’t become an extra layer of work for teachers to address in their lessons. She’s right. I’d contend that the process of learning should be explicit enough to enable learners to realise they are developing their character while they are learning. This is what I understand by the term “mutually reinforcing process”.

So to Prof Fullan. His work has taken Ontario into the premier league of education and in A Rich Seam he states that character development is central to this transformative process. So, bearing in mind Ms Blower’s criteria, how can it be done in Britain?

Prof Fullan defines character as six elements. As you read them think about how they can be made more explicit to your learners, so that they become a language shared between teachers and students.

  • Character education: building resilience, empathy, confidence and wellbeing.
  • Citizenship: referencing global knowledge, cultural respect, environmental awareness.
  • Communication: getting students to apply their oral work, listening, writing and reading in varied contexts.
  • Critical-thinking: designing and managing projects which address specific problems and arrive at solutions using appropriate and diverse tools.
  • Collaboration: working in teams so students can learn with/from others.
  • Creativity and imagination: to develop qualities like enterprise, leadership, innovation.

Prof Fullan states them to be “attributes parents and public value and that employers seek”. I don’t think any of us would disagree. He says: “In the old pedagogies, a teacher’s quality was assessed primarily in terms of ability to deliver content in their area of specialisation.” However, “new” pedagogy is about “the teacher’s repertoire of strategies and different styles of relationships with their learners”.

In my view, this “relationship with learners” begins with the shared language I’m emphasising. Surely, if students appreciate their learning experience is a character-building experience too, no extra work is required. Good relationships are founded on solid communication – but this shouldn’t be only from teacher to student. Students need a vocabulary to communicate with teachers and each other.

Could the six Cs form part of that language, used by every teacher with every student in your school? What might this language look like? How would it be given status and value? These questions might be useful points of enquiry for your next CPD session?

  • Ex-senior leader Phil Parker is a director of Student Coaching, which helps schools to develop rounded young people. Visit


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