Book Review: Taught Not Caught

Reading Time: 2 minutes

What will you be reading this year?

In our recommended book review read, we took a look at Taught not Caught: Educating For 21st Century Character by Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary from 2014-16.

Who can fail to agree that character education is the entitlement of every child? Well, the former Secretary of State for Education seems to feel that her government colleagues need prompting:

“A truly one-nation government must not accept that only some people deserve the opportunities to build character that will help them to get on in life.”

Morgan lists desirable character traits: persistence, ability to work with others, resilience, humility, selflessness and self-discipline. So far, nothing too controversial.

Alarm bells ring, however, when she asserts “only some of our schools, often in the independent sector, provide the necessary eco-system to develop strong character traits”.

To be fair, Morgan does present lots of examples of good practice in state schools:

“At every school I visited, every Headteacher believed that their character work was instrumental in students performing better and the school offering a better environment for students to learn in and staff to work in”.

Of course, she is right to illustrate the good work done in those schools. However, I have yet to find any school, any teacher who does not make explicit and try continually to develop desirable character traits. Morgan asserts “the lead has to come from the top… The role of school leaders in creating a school of character cannot be underestimated.”

Nothing new here. This has been long understood in education circles.

Resilience, Grit And Determination

What is interesting is to apply this assertion to political leaders. The government is made up overwhelmingly of independent-educated members. It is these people who seem to display a staggering lack of “ability to work with others, humility and self-discipline”.

There is much emphasis on the need for “grit and resilience” as the basis for success. But the softer skills, which schools emphasise, of compassion, empathy and understanding are necessary to compliment these ingredients to success. Without these, ambition can be ruthless rather than heroic. Nevertheless, for a state school pupil whose school is chronically underfunded and who may well one of the tens of thousands who this very day are not being taught by a permanent, qualified teacher, resilience, grit and determination are, undoubtedly key requirements.

Social Mobility?

Morgan also quotes the business world as placing a high value on “creativity and enthusiasm… interpersonal skills and empathy”. A pity then that the government has presided over the demise of those very subjects which promote these skills. Drama, art, design technology and music are subjects sidelined by the EBacc policy.

The essence of Morgan’s advocacy of character education for every child is sound – even though the premises on which it is reasoned are flawed. Will character help reduce inequality; the 7% of the population who are privately educated gaining almost 50% of A/A* grades and taking up 45% of Oxbridge places?

It may help, but bold and enlightened political leadership which recognises the need for adequate funding, appropriate resources and a highly motivated and well-rewarded teaching force is needed to underpin any hope of reducing inequality of opportunity.

Now that would take character – and a real character to make it happen.

Take a look at the book launch of Nicky Morgan’s book held at the Policy Exchange UK.

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