23 SES 11 D, Standardising Education Policy and Practice
Since the introduction of Seligman’s ‘positive psychology’ in the 1980s, happiness has featured high on education policy agendas across the world, accompanied by a reframing of character as a ‘skill’ to be molded through techniques for ‘skill formation’ (Heckman and Kautz 2013). Driven by an ambition to make England a ‘global leader’ in character education, the former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan (2014) asserted that schools need to 'produce' pupils who display resilience, ‘grit’, self-control and a strong work ethic. Amidst concerns about low UK scores in international reports on children’s educational well-being (UNICEF 2010, 2013), the Character and Resilience Manifesto (Paterson et al 2014) emphasizes the importance of perseverance and 'grit', based on an assumption that developing resilient, successful and happy children relies on mimicking adults and deploying ‘positive’ techniques for controlling emotions (Bates 2016a). This paper will evaluate character education in England, guided by two questions: 1. Which models of ‘character education’ are currently deployed in policy and practice? 2. What are the potential pitfalls of character education which relies on children mimicking adult behaviour? Although character ‘virtues’ may be both civic-, moral- and performance-oriented, English education policy foregrounds performance-enhancing character traits (Jubilee Centre 2015). As evidenced in recent Ofsted inspection reports, schools have increasingly endorsed a view of the child as a ‘child-worker’ (Bates 2016b) and focused on children’s performance targets often to the detriment of their developmental needs. For example, Ofsted (2016: 4) inspectors refer to the quality of teaching observed in schools as ‘good’ when pupils: 'become resilient learners. They are very clear about how well they are doing and what they need to do next. As one pupil put it, ‘I meet my targets, then I get new ones’'… This paper will explore how, paradoxically, the ‘child-worker’ is expected to mimic adult behaviours by working on targets, showing resilience and maturity when faced with onerous task-related challenges, whilst adults working for corporations such as Google are expected to engage in childlike ‘fun’ at work involving pirate ships, slides, tree houses or dressing up as favourite animals (Cederström and Spicer 2015). Given the current global search for a ‘unit of happiness’ (Helliwell et al 2015) as a standardized lever for improving productivity at school and in the workplace, simplistic approaches to enhancing happiness and ‘grit’ may stunt both character development in children and expression of negative emotions in adults.
Bates, A. 2016a. The management of ‘emotional labour’ in the corporate re-imagining of primary education in England, International Studies in Sociology of Education. doi: 10.1080/09620214.2016.1175959. Bates, A. 2016b. Transforming education: Meanings, myths and complexity. Abingdon: Routledge. Cederström, C. and Spicer, A. 2015. The Wellness Syndrome. Cambridge: Polity Press. Heckman, J.J. and Kautz, T. 2013. Fostering and Measuring Skills: Interventions that Improve Character and Cognition. Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research. Helliwell, J., Layard, R. and Sachs, J. 2015. World happiness report 2015. New York, NY: Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Jubilee Centre. 2015. A Framework for Character Education in Schools. http://jubileecentre.ac.uk/userfiles/jubileecentre/pdf/other-centre-papers/Framework.pdf. Morgan, N. 2014. England to become a global leader of teaching character: DfE press release. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/england-to-become-a-global-leader-of-teachingcharacter Ofsted. 2016. School report. https://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/inspection-reports/find-inspection-report/provider/ELS/124296. Paterson, C., Tyler, C., and Lexmond, J. (2014). Character and resilience manifesto. London: The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility. UNICEF. 2010. ‘The Children Left Behind: A league table of inequality in child well-being in the world’s rich countries’, Innocenti Report Card 9. https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/rc9_eng.pdf. UNICEF. 2013. ‘Child Well-being in Rich Countries: A comparative overview’, Innocenti Report Card 11.
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