Over many years I have participated in a number of discussions, presentations and even workshops on the theme of character. It is clear that in selecting people for roles and vacancies, that character is one of those hard to measure and define qualities which nevertheless is a great deal more sustainable than skills which can fall into misuse or stop being relevant, and knowledge which must be constantly refreshed and updated. It is possible to gain a grasp of character through conversation and action, but like the mist it is very hard to take hold of. Ultimately character is tested and demonstrated over time and through different circumstances, often when the person no longer feels scrutinised.
One of the on-line dictionaries defines character as:
Whilst others may find different ways of defining the term character, it seems clear that character is not something that one can measure using superficial tests. Unless of course one wants to enter the territory of glossy magazines and newspapers as part of a coffee break or lunchtime alternative to a crossword. It is vital that all of us do what we can to assist young people to develop their character and Schools undoubtedly have a role to play. However developing character is at the opposite end of a spectrum from the impartation of knowledge that can be learnt through rote. Arguably Character comes as part of the development of critical thinking and reasoning, the very elements that the coalition under Mr Gove appeared to despise until the latest reshuffle. It seems bizarre that Nicky Morgan as Michael Goves immediate successor at the Department for Education within the same Government has decided that Schools that are particularly successful at developing “well rounded” pupils will be given awards by a panel of education experts. Whilst experts in education are well placed to measure all sorts of things, the evidence of a well rounded young person will come as a result of their actions in various settings, well away from the hot house environment of a School being assessed by an educational panel.
According to todays Telegraph Mrs Morgan has allocated almost £5 million of our money on eight projects in England to help pupils learn resilience, self-confidence and respect. These pupils will apparently be taught the value of “grit” and “determination” under plans to use former soldiers to strengthen the “character” of the nation’s schoolchildren. I have a great deal of respect for some members of the British Army who take risks on behalf of our nation, and I am sure that a few of them in ‘retirement’ from their role as soldiers have a great deal to impart that would benefit some children in some Schools. However character is found and developed through many contexts and this idea is nonsense. The £5M would be much better spent on reducing some of the grit that children in our nation already have to deal with than paying ex-soldiers to teach and experts to measure something so hard to define in the first place. The way to strengthen the teaching of character is to send a strong message to teachers that Mr Gove’s experiment is finally over and perhaps to show real character, that the Government is sorry for the mess it made.