Schools should aim to instil “character and creativity” in pupils, as well as teaching academic subjects, according to Labour’s shadow education secretary.
Tristram Hunt today rejected the traditional idea that character is best taught through adversity, and said research had identified techniques for teaching it in the classroom.
In a speech to the education charity AQA in London, he called for teacher training to include methods for helping children to develop “grit, determination and the ability to work in teams in challenging circumstances”.
His comments came after a report this week from the All-party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility, which said schoolchildren should be taught character and given the resilience and determination to overcome setbacks in life.
“Character is not best taught through adversity – its study belongs in the supportive, dedicated and aspirational communities that the best schools provide,” he said.
Character and creativity were at the heart of his vision for schooling in the 21st century and schools should not leave them to chance. They were “vitally important” qualities in preparing young people for the economy of the future, he said.
“But most of all they are important because they are valuable in terms of the type of education we want our young people to enjoy in order to reach their fullest potential.”
The shadow education secretary cited research by Professor James Heckman at the University of Chicago and Professor James Arthur at the University of Birmingham, which suggested that character can be taught.
He urged teacher training providers to make character and resilience education part of their courses and said schools should “embed character education and resilience across their curriculum”.
“This is about more than bolting on some music lessons or sports clubs to the school day,” he said.
Hunt said research had shown that vulnerable and disadvantaged young people were far more likely to deal with the consequences of failure and setbacks in a negative way.
“By prioritising character, moral purpose and the education of well-rounded individuals as well as academic attainment, the Labour Party is demonstrating its commitment to taking some of those deeper cultural challenges head on,” he added.
James O’Shaughnessy, managing director of Floreat Education, a charity which plans to open primary schools with teaching character at the heart of their philosophy, welcomed Mr Hunt’s remarks.
Mr O’Shaughnessy, David Cameron’s former head of policy at 10 Downing St, said: “Hunt seems to understand that you can teach character in schools and how it can be done.
“The key is to build it into academic education, into the curriculum, and not see it as a sort of bolt-on. So in history, for example, you get children to think about the character of the great figures, assessing their strengths and weaknesses and forming a set of values for themselves.
“And it works. If you learn about good character, think about good character and practice good character than you will develop good character. This is the classical view of education dating back to Aristotle.”
Research by Populus had found that 87 per cent per cent of parents wanted schools to teach character, O’Shaughnessy added.
Reporting by David Harrison