Exclusive: Funding and workload are no barriers to character education, Nicky Morgan tells teachers

1st September 2017 at 16:19
The former education secretary wants her new book to be a 'gentle reminder' to the DfE about the importance of her flagship policy

Introducing character education need not impose huge demands on schools, despite research citing staff time and capacity as the biggest barriers to its provision, Nicky Morgan has said.

The former education secretary, who made character education a flagship policy during her two years leading the Department for Education, talked to Tes ahead of the publication of her first book, which calls for grit and resilience to be developed in children to prepare them for the challenges of the 21st century.

Ms Morgan spoke in her constituency office, situated just off School Street in Loughborough, Leicestershire, which is decorated with photographs of David Cameron, who appointed her as education secretary in 2014, and Theresa May, who sacked her two years later.

She admitted that when researching her book it had been "a scary moment going back to visit my first school after I was no longer secretary of state, but I was made to feel very, very welcome".

Although it is now more than a year since she left the DfE, she told Tes that she was "absolutely going to keep involved" with education, and said that being out of office gave her opportunities to speak on character education and young people's mental health regularly, which she would continue to do.

And she said she hoped that the Commons Treasury Select Committee, which she now chairs, will look at the skills needed for the 21st century – one of the reasons her book gives for the importance of character education.

DfE research published last month showed that only 17 per cent of schools had a formalised character education policy, and said that “the biggest barriers for schools seeking to provide character education centred around competing demands in staff time and capacity”.

And in her book, Ms Morgan writes: "For a school embarking on explicit character education for the first time, the identification of the values and development of the curriculum will be time-consuming and require extra resources and effort. But the resulting more-focused school will be worth the work needed to get there."

'Make character education part of teacher training'

Speaking to Tes, she said that it "does not require direct funds, but it does require direct effort". She added that the schools that had done it showed the benefits.

Ms Morgan played down the extra workload that implementing character education would put on schools.

She said: “It’s not about saying, ‘Here’s another whole strand of work’. The ladies at St James’s [Primary School] in Stourbridge were very clear when they started on it – they did not want it to add to the workload of staff.”

Ms Morgan added: “I give examples in the book of how it can be built into lessons. Talking about maths, you are obviously talking about maths, but you can also just bring in, 'This is also about persistence.'”

She said that schools could have someone thinking, "What are we doing that falls under this banner already? What can we just do a little bit more of, or rev up a bit, or talk about at the next parents' evening?"

And governors could play a role, with someone who was particularly motivated by the issue helping the school to drive character education.

In her book, Ms Morgan calls for character education to be included in teacher training, and “explicitly developed and recognised” in trainee teacher assessment.

Asked whether she thought it was practical to add this to everything else already included in teacher-training courses, Ms Morgan said: “I do, because I think it’s what trainees themselves are saying they want.”

She said that it “doesn’t have to be a long session”, and could run through the course, and trainees would pick up more from seeing character and values talked about in the classroom.

Ms Morgan said her life experiences as a lawyer, parent, constituency MP and employer had shown her the importance of developing children’s characters.

In her book, she argues that schools should not see character education as a distraction from promoting academic achievement, but as something that helps it.

But while she believes it should be a priority, legislation or guidance from the DfE “is definitely not the answer”, and it “needs to be grown organically”.

Almost a year after she left the DfE, Edward Timpson, the minister leading on character education, lost his seat in the June 2017 election

However, Ms Morgan thinks that character education has survived as a departmental priority.

She told Tes: “I see no sign that Justine [Greening, education secretary] or Nick Gibb [schools minister] don’t agree with any of this, but inevitably there are going to be other priorities and other things that creep in.

“If the book can be a gentle reminder of how important this is…”

Taught Not Caught: Educating for 21st Century Character will be published by John Catt on 11 September

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