Date Published: 2 March 2015

Reports indicate that over-focus on exams hinders development of character in school children

Recent research leading to two reports from Birmingham University's Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues has found evidence suggesting that the formation and development of 'moral character' is now receiving a lower priority and correspondingly less focus than exam-oriented study in many British schools.

Both reports, namely Character Education in UK Schools and The Good Teacher: Understanding Virtues in Practice, recommend restoring the place of 'moral virtues' at the core of British educational establishments such as primary and secondary schools.

Examples of the 'moral virtues' mentioned in the reports include:

  • honesty
  • self-discipline
  • fairness
  • courage
  • gratitude

Although it is argued that a child's ability to demonstrate these qualities can lead to a successful happy life in addition to improved performance in the classroom, the Character Education in UK Schools report indicates that 80% of school teachers consider schools' focus on academic attainment to be hindering the development of students' characters. The report also claims that many British children struggle to identify good moral judgements when faced with scenarios that require virtues such as honesty, courage and self-discipline.

Over 50% of the school pupils surveyed fail to identify good moral judgements when responding to moral dilemmas, leading to increasing concern that teachers do not have the time or other resources needed to teach students the difference between right and wrong.

More statistics from these reports:

  • The studies considered views expressed by 255 teachers and over 10,000 students
  • 37% school teachers in the study say they do not have enough time to do their job to a standard they believe is right - many mentioned the impact of increasing workloads and the narrow focus on exams and inspections.
  • 60% of British teachers said that they teach a subject that relates to students' personal development and many of those teachers considered moral education to be an integral part of their job, but only 33% of the teachers had received specific training to support students in this area.

Despite some dismal statistics, there is also cause for optimism. The research also found that there is a positive attitude towards teaching moral character within the education sector. Many British school teachers consider moral education to be an integral part of their job. Interestingly, many of the teachers who took part in this research wanted schools to provide more 'free space' where students could be themselves, without having to think about exam scores.

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

Source: Birmingham University, England (UK).

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