Citizenship and the character of ‘Character’

The new Character and Resilience Manifesto from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Mobility highlights the need for schools to do more than just get students through exams, helpfully recognising the connection between qualities of character and the ability to succeed in exams and life.

This is of course a most welcome contribution to evidence-based educational progress.

The manifesto turns its attention to what schools can do – drawing from the internationally acclaimed example of Singapore, as Michael Gove has also done in recent curriculum reviews. It notes of their new developments ‘At the core of this will be a new curriculum of Character and Citizenship Education which is being introduced into all primary and secondary schools in Singapore from 2014’.

A fabulous exemplar to note!

The report goes on to make recommendations for the school setting which then completely overlooks the National Curriculum subject of citizenship – so valued in Singapore. In fact, bizarrely, it uses more paper-space recommending the role of private schools than it does a National Curriculum subject.

There has been enough research done on the impact and value of active citizenship experience in the past ten years to know that the same outcomes have been affected through citizenship for quite some time.

But the research never talked in the terms used by the new quest for Character. Such qualities were highly prized incidentals coming from good citizenship education, but not core aspirations.

With hindsight this may be a mistake, failing to future-proof the subject against new political priorities.

But that’s probably because the founders of citizenship education never imagined a government turning its back on democracy education. A government of all people – you assumed they would have believed in politics?

But nobody involved in this Manifesto seemed to have thought of asking what it was about Character and Citizenship that the successful school systems of Singapore had imaginatively connected. They stuck to their own entry points (and had no-one from the citizenship education community at the gathering).

Like many, I would like to think that ‘character’ is not just something that we develop to personal advantage. And whilst I welcome the valuable objective of the APPG to look at how the development of character can further the social mobility of those with less advantage in life, I’d like to think that we don’t divorce it from the civic realm, as has been done here.

Effectively, by overlooking the citizenship connection it has downgraded the value of schools to support democratic flourishing alongside character development and left the definition of Character slightly more subjective – a possible victim of the prejudices of school leaders. It has overlooked the societal benefit of education in favour of the personal in the very same way that Mr Gove has done by his prolonged silence on the value of citizenship education.

Silence that he continues to keep on the release of this manifesto.

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

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