Coffee House

Schools can teach good character and the 3 Rs

22 January 2013

Education debates are riddled with false choices, as Michael Barber notes in his recently published essay Oceans of Innovation. It’s academic or vocational; it’s best practice or innovation; it’s the three Rs or character development. These are the choices, we are told, that must be made.

It plays well for those in pursuit of the politics of dividing lines but it is detrimental in policy terms. I want to see rigorous academic and vocational routes for young people in 14- 19 education. That is why Labour will bring forward a Technical Baccalaureate, with a strong focus on technical education and with Maths and English to 18 for all. If we are to succeed as a nation, we need to equip young people with the skills, knowledge and resilience for the jobs of the future.


Tomorrow, Anthony Seldon – Master of Wellington College – will deliver a speech on the importance of character in education. By character, he means education that builds young people as active citizens; who want to play their part in society. Character means resilience, courage, leadership and developing in young people the capacities to make decisions. These are the attributes that our young people need, if we are to get ahead in the world.

Shortly after the Olympics, I met Ben Cox from London Youth Rowing. As a teacher Ben has taught in independent and state schools. With LYR he is championing a programme to get more young people from state schools in disadvantaged communities into rowing. It requires long hours and discipline. In engaging young people in this way, LYR is educating young people not just how to row in a regatta, but how to be leaders and take control over their own lives. Young people today, he told me, are constantly incentivised in pursuit of ‘instant gratification’, driven by media portrayals about what it means to be successful. Schools have an important job to do in instilling in young people the character traits for long term success.

There are schools – across both the state and independent sectors – leading the way. Using the flexibilities that they have over the curriculum to be innovative in providing character education, schools like Paddington Academy in north London (serving a high proportion of children from low income backgrounds) are getting their pupils ready for the challenges and opportunities of an uncertain world. In Paddington, their enterprise programme allows pupils the experience of running a start up business. A strong focus on Maths and English (with excellent and improving GCSE exam results) and a strong focus on developing rounded and grounded young people. That’s the rigour of the future that we need to see in our schools.

We should reject the false choice presented by Michael Gove who says that it’s the  three Rs or character development in schools. The evidence from schools like Paddington shows that a strong focus on character development pays dividends when exam results come in and sets young people up for success in later life.

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  • fantasy_island


    If, as you state, you wish to see rigorous academic and vocational routes for pupils then how do wish to select who follows which route?

    Also what is this nonsense of maths and English to 18 for all? Why on earth don’t you promote a thorough education from 5 – 16 as traditionally taught, with the option of further education for those who chose it?

    It may come as a shock to you Stephen but character building is a job for parents, based around their own values. It is not a job of the state or its agents.

    • Hornblower

      So true , but its too late .I have observed the deteriation of social behaviour since the 60`s , principally caused by over generous welfare payments that have destroyed the work ethic in thousands and thousands of homes and all that is associated with it.

      As a consequence polarisation is well advanced ,

    • tomjol

      I completely agree that it’s a job for parents but the reality is that many parents are simply not doing it. How we can manage to instill some kind of citizenship (and in many cases basic humanitarian) values into those without any meaningful parental influence while maintaining the independence of thought of those who do, I have no idea.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Is this article more Twiggian self-promotion?

  • Bill scott

    No mention of respect and manners…… but I forgot that politicians are often devoid of these attributes so no place for them in any school curriculum eh.

    • Dimoto

      “Character” when mouthed by Twigg or Blower, is code for teaching Labour doctrine and prejudice to young and impressionable minds. In other words – Continuity Labour “Education”.

  • 2trueblue

    Remind me, this is from a member of the government who ran the most corrupt parliament and downgraded most things in this country. Who would have thought of it?

  • BorderlineFascist

    This really is a bit rich coming from one of Blair’s babes. I have never read such a stream of complete hypocracy and bullshit.

  • Rhoda Klapp2

    You had it thirteen years and didn’t fix it. Now you reckon you know how? Doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny, does it?

    Rhoda’s usual observation that when an MP posts here it is a drive-by is going to be correct once more, isn’t it? (Yes, this is me, having a little trouble with disqus)

    • Russell

      .Indeed, Mr Twigg, I believe you have only written this piece to test the water and get a feel for what the electorate think of you and more particularly Labour. You seem to have got your answer very clearly, Labour are still detested by a large part of the electorate and we will not forget or forgive the mess you made of this country, in every area of Government, including Education.

  • Chris lancashire

    Hang on a minute Twiggy, just where has Gove said it’s a choice between three Rs or character development? You made that up didn’t you? Or don’t you know your Rs from your elbow?

    • 2trueblue

      Yes, I would also like to know when, where, and to whom Gove made this statement. I simply do not believe he said it.

  • UlyssesReturns

    I am afraid Mr Twigg that you have nothing to say about education in this country that is remotely credible and I want to hear. Listening to you about how you will improve educational outcomes for our children is akin to employing a known poisoner as a chef. You and your ilk in the labour party and teachers’ unions have presided over 5 decades of destruction of the finest education system in the world and replaced it with a risk-averse, pupil-centric, politicised culture of under-achievement and banal, meaningless slogans. The only beacons of hope are: the remaining grammar schools, our excellent independent public schools, and the outstanding efforts being made by the likes of Michael Gove and Toby Young. You should be ashamed of yourself.

    • Colonel Mustard


      • telemachus

        Excellent indeed Mr Twigg
        We laud your moves to bring sensibility back into moulding our tender young minds
        The sooner we see the back of the destructive forces of the hated doctrinaire Gove the better

        • Fergus Pickering

          Who is this we?

    • dalai guevara

      ..and the Gove/Young stance has exactly what to do with our inferior system of vocational training? Did they bother study the outcome of the Hanseatic League on modern continental society, and their superior skills base? Do you know a single decent cabinet maker in Britain? There are tens of thousands in countries as tiny as Austria or Switzerland…

    • Fergus Pickering

      Should be ashamed of himself? You jest, sir. No Labour politician is ever ashamed of himself whatever he is caught doing. Think of Denis McShane.

    • RBcritique

      Spot on, Ulysses. Of course, we all know what “character building” means to the PC brigade.

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