28 SES 07 B, Social mobility, Equity and Meritocracy
Recent policy developments at national, regional and transnational level indicate a heightened concern with the development of personality traits or ‘non-cognitive skills’ in children and young people. Over the last years, a range of reports on the impact of non-cognitive skills on educational outcomes, labour market success and economic growth have been commissioned by international organisations, including the European Commission, the OECD, UNESCO and the World Bank (see, for example, Kautz et al, 2014; Zhou, 2016). Although research findings are inconclusive regarding the impact of non-cognitive skills on a range of outcomes as well as their malleability, there is a growing consensus about their importance in the context of changing labour market in the wake of the so-called 4th industrial revolution (see, World Bank, 2017). The most obvious intellectual influences on this discourse come from fields such as behavioural economics, personality psychology and positive psychology, which, themselves, are intertwined with different policy and intellectual agendas related to rethinking economic growth, prosperity, and in/equality.
This paper argues that it is important to trace the manifestations and variations of the non-cognitive skills discourse to the national and regional level. The paper examines the case of England, where the focus on personality traits and skills is mainly associated with a promise of increased social mobility (see, for example, Paterson, Tyler & Lexmond, 2014). Largely subsumed under the banner of ‘character education’, we can observe the emergence of a range of educational programmes and interventions to foster attributes such as aspiration, motivation and resilience. Drawing on interview and observational data from English secondary schools, this paper examines the rationalities and technologies by which character education is imagined and enacted. The paper discusses the findings in the light of recent arguments around neo-liberal governmentality and the ‘psychologisation’ of education and society (de Vos, 2012; Ecclestone, 2012). Finally, the paper argues that the notion of ‘character education’ poses dilemmas for critical educational sociologists as it challenges traditional sociological categories, such as justice, autonomy and control and makes the case for adopting a pluralist approach to the research endeavour.
The research was conducted in secondary schools in England, both faith-based and non-denominational. Qualitative data from three schools are analysed in this paper, including material from individual interviews with school leaders and teachers, fieldnotes from observations in the participating schools and documents, including school websites and teaching materials in relation to character education. The data were analysed thematically, before applying a layer of discourse analysis, drawing on Dean’s (2010) notion of ‘an analytics of government’. The aim was to identify both the rationalities underpinning character education and the techniques and methods used in schools to develop ‘character’.
First findings indicate that approaches and understandings of character education vary between and within schools in relation to the kinds of dispositions and values that are sought to be developed and in relation to the degree of the rigidity of behaviour control applied. Furthermore, differences in the sources of the values promoted could be identified. Nevertheless, the seems to be a consensus about the importance of character education as a response to societal crises and change, such as the transformation of the labour market, inequalities, decreasing mental health and new technologies. Read through the lens of governmentality literature, the findings suggest that character education is indicative of intensifying demand on individuals to self-regulate, enacted in schools through repeated performances of self-reflection and behaviour modification. The paper concludes reflections on how these developments pose a challenge to critical educational sociologists and argues for a greater openness and plurality in the use methodologies and conceptual tools.
Dean, M. (2010). Governmentality: Power and rule in modern society. Sage publications. De Vos, J. (2012). Psychologisation in times of globalisation. Routledge. Ecclestone, K. (2012) From emotional and psychological well-being to character education: challenging policy discourses of behavioural science and ‘vulnerability’. Research Papers in Education, 27(4), pp. 463–480. Kautz, T., Heckman, J. J., Diris, R., Ter Weel, B., & Borghans, L. (2014). Fostering and measuring skills: Improving cognitive and non-cognitive skills to promote lifetime success. OECD Directorate for Education and Skills and Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) Paterson, C., Tyler, C., & Lexmond, J. (2014). Character and Resilience Manifesto: The all-party parliamentary group on Social Mobility. London. Pattaro, C. (2016). Character Education: Themes and Researches. An academic Literature Review. Italian Journal of Sociology of Education, 8(1), 6-30. doi: 10.14658/pupj-ijse-2016-1-2 Worldbank (2017). Non-cognitive skills: What are they and why should we care? http://blogs.worldbank.org/education/non-cognitive-skills-what-are-they-and-why-should-we-care Zhou, K. (2016). Non-cognitive skills: Definitions, measurement and malleability. UNESCO Global Monitoring Report. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002455/245576e.pdf
00. Central Events (Keynotes, EERA-Panel, EERJ Round Table, Invited Sessions)
Network 1. Continuing Professional Development: Learning for Individuals, Leaders, and Organisations
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