Nicky Morgan has said schools that do not teach character are "only doing half the job we need them to do".
The Conservative MP, who was sacked from her Cabinet job as education secretary by Theresa May last year, said many state schools were already teaching character, but that every school should be.
Ms Morgan said many employers were now putting an ever greater focus on character traits such as resilience, persistence, grit, leadership, self-awareness and self-efficacy, in addition to academic qualifications.
Ms Morgan said: “I had one of the best jobs in the cabinet as education is all about our future. Many of our schools are.
“Yes, we need our students to be taught knowledge and acquire knowledge in their time at school but they also need to have character development and to learn about character. For politicians, talking about morals is a dangerous place to be, so it is much easier to talk about performance virtues.”
‘Resilience and persistence, grit and determination’
Ms Morgan said one school had described teaching character to children as "stickability". “I came to this after seeing as a lawyer, a member of Parliament and as a parent, that those young people that have the skills of resilience and persistence and of grit and determination were the ones that were able to cope with all that life throws at them," she said.
"Let's not leave it to chance, we should do explicitly, and our schools play a huge part in the life of our children.
"I also think it is important that values in schools – and it is values in schools that go to make up someone's character – actually benefit everybody working in the school as well."
More than just league tables
The MP told the Cheltenham Literature Festival that character should not be measured by performance, such as in school league tables.
“Only some schools, and it is often in the independent sector, have done this and continue to do this,” Mrs Morgan said.
“That to me as a One Nation Conservative is not the right thing to do, it should be all of our schools because education sets everybody up for the future.
“This is not about asking teachers to do lots more or spending lots more money. This is about saying that this is happening in a lot of schools, let's have it happening in all schools.”–
She also called for closer ties between state schools and the independent sector. “Why would we expect less of the state system then we do of the independent system?” she asked. “What I do not want to do is leave anyone with the impression that the independent sector has got it right and the state sector hasn't.”
“There are fantastic state schools, where frankly, the independent sector could learn a lot from them.” She added: “Going back to One Nation Conservatism...why would we accept as a country that only some of our schools and some of our pupils are getting those skills and not all of them?”