Schools should abandon their anti-bullying programmes because they make children more "thin-skinned" and less resilient, according to the head of a thinktank.
Speaking in a debate on "character education" at the London Festival of Education today, Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas, said schools should focus on teaching core academic subjects, rather than "grit".
"I think young people need to be more self-critical and less self aware," she said."They should stop worrying about themselves.
"If you want to encourage grit in schools get rid of anti-bullying programmes. We are taking the grit out of kids and we could do with backing off.
"We have a generation of cotton-wool kids afraid to take risks."
But fellow panellist Peter Hyman, head of School 21 in London, strongly rejected the argument.
"In my school you would not see cotton-wool kids but kids from difficult backgrounds showing true grit by coping with what's going on in their family, and we are trying to get their minds in a place where they can gain skills and academic success."
Judith Suissa, a reader in philosophy of education at the Institute of Education, said to suggest abandonig anti-bullying programmes was "ridiculous".
Earlier in the debate, she questioned why schools focus on building "grit and resilience" in pupils.
"To me, the emphasis on grit and resilience is sending the message to teachers that their main role as educators is not to challenge society but to prepare children to compete in this sytem; not to get children to think about what's wrong with society but to give children grit and resilience to cope with poverty. It's deeply troubling."
Writer and educationalist Martin Robinson said it should not be the teachers' job to build character.
"Instead of teachers teaching we have education professionals delivering," he said.
"The teacher is reduced to a frontline functionary; grit and resilience have replaced sweetness and light."
In December, education secretary Nicky Morgan said England was to become a “global leader” in teaching character, resilience and grit to students.
The government is to make £3.5 million available to schools and other organisations that are already offering activities promoting character in young people.
It is hoped the move will place character education on a par with academic learning.
England to become 'global leader' in teaching character and grit - December 2014