Should character development become an addition to the UK education system? As an educator for the past 14 years working in the UK I have thought long and hard over this time about how our education system could benefit from teaching our children the importance of developing key skills needed for a flourishing life.  Skills such as perseverance, determination, passion, self-control and delayed gratification, teaching students to sacrifice what they want now in order to get what they really want in the future.  Through my own experience some teachers teach these skills in their classrooms every day but you’d be hard pushed to find a school that has this at its core as their fundamental principles.

KIPP Charter Schools Network

While studying my MAPP I developed a greater interest in ‘grit’ and the work of Angela Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania.  Angela Duckworth teamed up with David Levin of the KIPP charter school network and Dominic Randolf of Riverdale Country school, who both taught students from New York city at opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum.  Both David and Randolf however, believed in the importance of character development in schools and set about to find the impact this has on student’s achievement and success.  They created character development report cards and for the first time their schools reported children’s character growth to parents.  These reports scored children on the seven performance character strengths of self-control, zest, grit, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence and curiosity.  Yet, I have to question how teachers effectively assess these strengths in their students. For example, one measure of self-control is to ask staff how well prepared a child was when he came to class.  A teacher’s perception may be very different to the child’s.  One child turning up on time may be a vast improvement of self-control and highlight this students growth in that area yet another students growth may be completely different – their growth may only come if they arrive early to class, have all their homework complete and have their book open ready to work.

Would this work in the UK?

This is why I question whether this would work in the UK and would this be a welcomed addition to the UK education system from parents and teachers?  I fear not.  I want my children to learn skills such as the seven performance character strengths named above and it is my hope they will learn these skills through good parenting and good schooling, but what if a child doesn’t have good parenting? The onus therefore rests with the schools to get it right, yet this part of the curriculum is the least prescriptive of any.  Some schools do it very well and others don’t – leaving it a lottery as to whether your child has the opportunity to develop these key skills that could help them to have a flourishing life.

All children deserve the right to this education

What we need in the UK education system is for these key skills to be interleaved through everything we do.  The UK education system is often criticised for its relentless testing from a very early age and we are constantly told we should be looking at how they do things in Sweden, for example, because they are so much better than we are.  Instead, why can’t we be grateful for our education system and instead of constantly criticising it look at what it does right and build on that?  I am an avid believer that we should teach students these fundamental key skills named above and that this character development will lead inevitably to students succeeding and achieving more which is ultimately what schools want and how they are measured.  All children however, deserve the right to this education and since we cannot rely of good parenting for every child, our education system needs to change and leaders need to sit up and take notice of the power of character development.


About the Author: Katie Small graduated with a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of East London in 2014. Katie’s passion is to teach teenagers about the power of positive psychology and how it can enable human beings to thrive. Katie is an Assistant Principal at Liverpool Life Sciences UTC.


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