Of Good Character

Posted on Thursday 30th September 2010

What part do the family, community values, the media and religion play in influencing and shaping character? How young people’s values and virtues are formed in modern society is one of the key themes of a brand new book by education expert Professor James Arthur, of the University of Birmingham.

Of Good Character brings together the results of the largest UK study of its kind to date exploring what teachers, parents and pupils feel about moral and character education. It also looks at why character in political, public and education policy is so important and asks whether perhaps the lack of a moral framework and language may be one of the key reasons why character education is so poorly explored or developed in UK society.

The book, which has launched at St Anne’s College, Oxford, today, promises to make a significant contribution to the emerging field of Character Education in the UK and internationally. It examines various contexts in detail, identifying clear ideas and issues for relevant sectors to consider. For example, within the context of a religious environment, the book recommends the following issues for consideration:

  • Churches and religious organisations need to explore a clear and defined approach to the development of character and morality;
  • The importance of moral educators to ensure sensitivity is shown towards children of ethnic minorities, who generally come from communities in which active religious practise is more common;
  • Are the value formations within Christian young people linked to the eroding of boundaries between, and the lack of teachings on, sin, evil, reward and salvation;
  • The inability of the churches in society to convey the consequences of wrong doing and the rewards of doing things right.

The book uses the key findings from the five previous ‘Learning for Life’ research reports: ‘Foundations of Character’, ‘Character in Transition’, ‘Citizens of Character’, ‘Character Education’ and ‘Graduates of Character’, which have studied the values and character dispositions of pupils across five age ranges (0-3, 10-12, 14-16, 16-19, 18-25). All 5 reports, and their summary companions, are available via the Learning for Life website.

‘We need to highlight the crucial importance of young people developing a moral vocabulary, particularly, given the present day influence and intervention of the media,’ says Professor Arthur. ‘Young people need to be able to make their own active judgments on moral and other values, rather than passively and uncritically accepting those of the media. This is an area that requires further research, with an emphasis on the impact of the media on young people's character and values.

‘I hope the research and findings within this book will help Government and key policy influencers, shape and develop policy on the teaching of character education in schools, colleges and universities alike.’

For more information, please contact Press Office, University of Birmingham. Tel: 0121 415 8134.

Notes to editors

* Of Good Character is being launched at the annual John Templeton Foundation Advisors’ meeting at St Anne’s College, Oxford, on September 30, 2010 Dignitaries attending the event include; Dr. Jack Templeton – Chairman and President of the John Templeton Foundation (who funded the project); Lord Alan Watson of Richmond – Learning for Life Advisory Board Chairman; The Very Rev. Dr. John Hall – Dean of Westminster and Learning for Life Advisory Board; Stephen Brenninkmeijer – Anthos UK and Learning for Life Advisory Board; Gary Powell – Rothschild UK and Learning for Life Advisory Board; Mary Macleod MP – MP for Brentford and Isleworth and Learning for Life Advisory Board; Rt. Hon. Liam Byrne MP – MP for Hodge Hill; Prof. Edward Peck – Head of College of Social Sciences, University of Birmingham; Prof. Kathryn Ecclestone – Professor of Education, University of Birmingham.

* James Arthur is Professor of Education and Civic Engagement, whose main research activities currently involve the aspirations and character formation of young people in deprived areas. He is also the Editor of the British Journal of Educational Studies.