#Unlocking Education: Character, Character, Character!

Adrian McLean is a former Head Teacher who has worked in a range of Secondary Schools. As a member of the Central Team for the Severn Academies Education Trust, Adrian works with staff, students and parents to understand the importance of personal values and character and how these influence success, both in and out of the classroom. In this blog, Adrian discusses his participation in the #UnlockingEducation roundtable discussion organised by 7 Billion Ideas on 16th June 2020.


As a 2nd year student of the Jubilee Centre’s MA Character Education (University of Birmingham) and a school leader responsible for the development of character across a Multi Academy Trust, I was delighted to be invited to participate in #UnlockingEducation. This was a virtual roundtable event which brought together leading specialists and experts across the education sector to discuss the future of education in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges on the individual and society on a global scale. Equally, however, this has granted education an opportunity to re-define activities and value propositions – a change many have been seeking for decades.

I saw this event as an opportunity for character education, something I have been passionate about my whole teaching career, to be at the forefront of the discussion for change. The other panellists shared in this view. Former Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, began by championing the teaching of character in schools. Nicky Morgan stated that character education was an important area moving forwards in supporting children to flourish. She mentioned that now more than ever, young people need to garner self-belief in assisting them to develop character, referencing the character traits of resilience, grit, honesty and integrity.

I felt that this set the tone for the rest of the panel to go on and highlight the importance of developing character within their respective settings. Sam Twiselton discussed the importance of being guided by ‘moral purpose’ in moving forwards, stressing the importance of school leaders using their ‘moral compass’ to steer the direction of education following the pandemic. I felt the passion and a desire for change from someone who not only has a long-standing track record in education but helps to shape government policy. However, I did not have long to digest Sam’s words, as I was next up to speak.

My time was short, however, my message to all listening was clear. COVID-19 and the rapid adaptation and innovation education has had to make, has highlighted the importance of making character development the foundation of education as we move forwards. With time to reflect during lockdown, many have returned to the notion that education is about more than simply academic achievements. I have always been most proud of the young people who have developed strong character, feeling they can go out and conquer the world.

The pandemic, along with current world issues, has highlighted the need for character education to be made a priority in schools, and not just a nice-to-have. Equipping young people to develop positive character traits such as kindness, empathy, determination and self-regulation enables them to lead flourishing lives. I, along with many on the panel, believe that we have an opportunity to improve society by deliberately crafting this process, embedding character through explicit, as well as implicit, teaching. By explicitly teaching children positive character traits that are important, and often vital for success, they gain an understanding of the ‘why’ and accept responsibility for developing them.

The recent framework guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills’ (Ofsted) change to include Character Education in the latest Education Inspection Framework are a positive starting point which we need to build upon. Headteachers and school leaders must decide on which character traits are important in their school context and build them into the fabric of their school. However, to reach the vision of developing the whole child and putting the building of children’s character first, many headteachers find themselves facing a dilemma: there is no magic wand which will see this happen overnight, and progress may be slow, like any meaningful change… time, unfortunately, that some school leaders do not get due to the high stakes nature of accountability measures.

After I spoke, the chair of the panel, Alastair Stewart, summarised the theme that had run through the discussion with the following: “Character! Character! Character!” Whilst ‘back stage’ I was reading the comments of the attendees, to which this message resonated loudly. There was a huge swell of support for greater implementation and focus on character in schools from parents, practitioners and academics alike. The most important take-away from this event was the clear desire for change: character education should be central in the reform of the English education system. My pledge is to continue to be resilient in my work and to work alongside many others to influence and strive for this to become a reality.

You can listen to a podcast recording of the #UnlockingEducation event here.

Adrian McLean


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