virtue insight

conversations on character


October 2016

A multi-component view of gratitude

In this vlog, Research Fellow at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, Dr. Blaire Morgan, explores the moral value of gratitude and how it contributes towards a flourishing life. Examining gratitude within an Aristotelian framework, Blaire talks about the intrinsic value of being grateful and the multiple components that make up the virtue of gratitude.

The Jubilee Centre has been engaged in an examination of gratitude since 2012 and has explored, through the ‘An Attitude for Gratitude‘ research project, how gratitude is conceptualised by the British public. As part of this project a new measure of gratitude, the Multi-Component Gratitude Measure, which Blaire explains in this video, has been developed.


From functioning to flourishing: an ambition for special needs education

“A few years ago, I was speaking at one of my very first autism conferences, and a parent came up to me with one question: ‘What will happen to my child when I’m gone?’ For me, this became the million dollar question in our autism community. While this father was crying, asking me this question, while his son was just right there, non-verbal, I thought to myself: this is why I do what I do. When these kids become adults, I want to see them live the best lives possible and to go after their dreams, just like me.”

Autism advocate Kerry Magro gave this TedTalk: “What Happens to Children With Autism When They Become Adults?” in February. Magro was non-verbal at two-and-a-half years old and diagnosed with autism at four. He attributes his remarkable professional achievements (award-winning speaker, best-selling author, film consultant) to the support of his parents and the 15 years’ of occupational, physical and speech therapy he undertook following his diagnosis.

As Magro acknowledges, every single parent asks the “million dollar question”: “What will happen to my child when I’m gone?” Typically, this is followed by: “Will they have support? Will they progress? Will they be able to live their dreams?”

The ultimate aspiration of any parent is that their child will realise their ambitions; and education should ensure a successful preparation for adulthood so that children with special needs can lead happy, independent and fulfilled lives.

As the Government places an increased emphasis on life outcomes in the latest Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice, the requirement for educators to prepare special needs and disability (SEND) pupils for life after secondary school has never been so pertinent.

So how can we help these young people reach their goals?

Developmental disorders such as autism are unforeseeable and the onset of the condition represents a transition in a child’s development over which the parent has little or no control. Access to integrated provision through the newly-introduced Education and Health Care Plans (EHCPs) can give parents and carers greater scope in choosing and funding the provision that best meets their child’s needs, but the “million dollar question” still speaks of uncertainty and the fear of disempowerment.

Perhaps we underestimate the role children can play in shaping their future. As Magro reminds us: “…we need to teach these kids as they grow into adults how to advocate for themselves.” External interventions are only one aspect of SEND provision; and while they are valuable in training pupils to function within the social and moral frameworks that govern society, it is arguably only through internal empowerment that we may enable all children to flourish.

Department for Education statistics suggest pupils with SEND are struggling to meet national benchmarks of attainment at primary and secondary levels. We can interpret these findings in two ways.

First, we need a different approach to SEND interventions: namely, one that explicitly seeks to empower children. There is an emerging view that social skills interventions should seek to foster “self-awareness” and developing this capacity is linked to social motivation, social awareness and mental health. Literature suggests character skills such as social motivation are a principal determinant of adult outcomes.

Second, we might interpret the DfE’s statistics as giving too much weight to standardised measurements of attainment. Research by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues (The Good Teacher: Understanding Virtues In Practice) suggests character strengths such as motivation and determination predict academic success better than cognitive indicators. Such findings not only call for educators to reconsider their neglect of non-cognitive factors; they also support the need for SEND interventions that explicitly target the affective attainment of pupils.

It is not good enough to make character education implicit and believe pupils with SEND will simply absorb abstract notions. It is important that teachers and teaching assistants are educated in delivering and differentiating a character curriculum through interventions that focus explicitly on developing character strengths.

Empirical evidence from a small pilot project I conducted for the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues (Reflection and Practical Wisdom in Special Needs Education) suggests children with SEND, particularly those with autism, struggle to acquire a virtue vocabulary. For example, a SENCO suggested virtue language was “too abstract” for autistic pupils. She suggested explicit pre-teaching of individual virtues – perhaps with a speech and language therapist – prior to attempting any larger integrated character-based intervention.

If, as the literature above suggests, character skills are vital to flourishing in later life, then deficits in these skills has a profound impact on attainment and impedes children with SEND. Arguably, it is only by giving equal importance to the affective side of learning, by concerning ourselves as special needs educators with who the child is and what they might become – and not simply measuring what they know, can do and understand, as the National Curriculum dictates – that we may enable these young people to realise their dreams.

Kyle Davison, Teaching Fellow (2016), Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues. Kyle has a professional background in Special Educational Needs in secondary schools


Thank You Letters Awards targets record entries from children

The dying art of letter writing and the simple act of saying “thank you” are being revived in a national award scheme for children run by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues.

The Thank You Letter Awards encourage primary and secondary pupils to put pen to paper and express gratitude to an inspirational group or individual. In the past, youngsters have chosen to write to Harry Potter author J K Rowling, football star Lionel Messi and actress Angelina Jolie as well as medics, relatives, the armed forces and a pet dog.

Last year, more than 200 schools across took part with pupils aged five to 16 contributing 41,000 letters. As the scheme gets underway for 2016-17, the Centre hopes to build on the success and sign up many more schools, generating more than 70,000 letters in a huge outpouring of national gratitude.

The schools can run their own competitions, which can be broken down into year groups or classes. The Jubilee Centre provides book vouchers to schools for taking part.

Schools submit their top five entries to the Jubilee Centre’s national awards and the winners will be invited to a special prize giving at the House of Lords in the summer.

Jubilee Centre Development Officer Vicci Hogan, who co-ordinates the awards, has read hundreds of children’s thank you letters and is always impressed by the dedication of the young scribes. Vicci says the scheme is about celebrating gratitude and developing the character of young people rather than an academic exercise in linguistic dexterity, so it is the substance and tone of the letters that matters.

Vicci says: “We have created age categories taking into consideration literacy levels so we don’t compare across huge age divides. We are interested in what the pupils are writing about and the way in which they express gratitude to others.

“The recipient of the letter might be someone they know well such as a family member or it could be a person in an official position, such as a teacher, a sports coach or a doctor. The range of people and organisations is really varied and we have had letters dedicated to strangers involved in acts of kindness.

“It is always a pleasure to read the letters and it is great to see school children expressing genuine sentiments of gratitude so thoughtfully.

“So what makes a good thank you letter? I think it is just being genuine and giving good examples of things people have done.”

Dr Tom Harrison, Director of Education at the Jubilee Centre, helps to judge the awards.

He says: “The proliferation of digital communication, such as email and text, as well as social media platforms like Snapchat and Facebook, means letter-writing has become something of a dying art. There will be young people at school who have never composed a handwritten letter, let alone a letter expressing thanks.

“Yet anyone who has ever received a thank you letter will know how powerful and enriching it can be. Saying ‘thank you’ to someone is a simple act but it can have such a profoundly positive effect on both the recipient and the person giving thanks.

“Gratitude is one of the key virtues. When a young person understands what it means to give thanks, it also encourages them to start to thinking about what they might do to give back – it is therefore associated with being an active citizen, someone who pro-actively seeks opportunities to help other people.”

Here are some examples of pupils’ thank you letters from 2016


Why our cash-hungry national game needs a slice of humble pie

This year has seen some terrific football triumphs as underdogs Leicester won the Premiership and Wales out-performed England at the European Championships.

But the last week of September 2016 will go down in English football infamy. Newly-appointed national team manager Sam Allardyce left his “dream job” by mutual consent after only 67 days in post, having been caught on camera attempting to secure a £400,000 business deal and touting advice on how to get around player transfer rules.

The story, a shocking example of the greed of the elite in English football, plumbed even greater depths as “Big Sam” took to his doorstep to speak to reporters camped outside his house. Whilst Allardyce admitted that his actions were “an error of judgment,” he blamed media “entrapment” and failed to offer a meaningful apology. Indeed, he later said, via a “source,” that he denies any wrongdoing.

Allardyce took over from Roy Hodgson on a £3 million-a-year contract, reaching the pinnacle of any English football manager’s career as the national team languished at its lowest ebb in living memory following the ignominious defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016.

The former Sunderland boss took over the role at a time when there has never been more money in the English game. The cash washing around the Premier League, the Football Association and professional football generally is so vast it is beyond the comprehension of ordinary football fans. Immense wealth has created such levels of expectation, arrogance and demand amongst managers, players, agents and owners that rather than setting about building confidence in both his players and in fans, changing personnel, or developing a style of play, Allardyce has been caught trying to inflate his salary further – that’s a salary which is already the highest of any national team manager in the world.

A simple deconstruction of the language of Allardyce’s impromptu press conference last Wednesday highlights a lack of humility, absence of remorse, and failure to admit to any serious wrongdoing. Allardyce paints a picture that he isn’t sorry for what he did – he is sorry he was caught and that it cost him his job. Of course he is deeply embarrassed, but Allardyce’s attempts to trivialise the nature of his indiscretions as a “silly thing to do” suggests there has been no serious reflection on his actions. The absence of any redeeming morals or virtues epitomises the amoral word that elite footballers and football managers live in. There was no sense of modesty, of reticence, nor reserve. Allardyce paraded himself and his ego in front of the television cameras at the first opportunity, making sure his words were heard swiftly and finally – departing the role by “mutual consent”, but leaving the country very much on his own terms.

Allardyce is not the only high profile figure caught up in the Daily Telegraph exposé last week, and he is not the only one to have lost his job. In his Financial Times article last week, Simon Kuper writes of the affair revealing “a clash between two views of football”: the view of the “insiders,” those in the game who treat their work like any other “job,” and the view of the fans, who “see football as something rather higher;” an “industry” with a moral purpose, whose leaders are role models of good character for fans.

The idea of “players showing character” is a cliché of managers’ post-match interviews. Usually “character” is used as a synonym for on-field “resilience,” “determination” and “bouncebackability;” in other words, performance virtues, with no moral tether. This is the “win-at-all-costs” mentality. Indeed, elite professional football is so amoral that when instances of immorality are highlighted, it is hard to summon up serious moral indignation at the transgressor. For football to return to truly being “the people’s game” there is a desperate need for a complete re-examination of its values.

For English football to regain any sort of footing on the world stage, it needs to look at itself, long and hard. It needs to realign its character, from top to bottom, from the boot room to the manager’s dug-out.

Aidan Thompson, Centre Manager, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues

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