The Association of Character Education

Written by: Dr Tom Harrison | Published:
Photo: iStock

Character education, as it has come to be known, is a key policy for the government and a key priority for schools. Among the recent developments has been the launch of new subject association for this area called ACE. Dr Tom Harrison explains

Character education is not a new idea – parents, schools and others have sought to build the character of children and young people since the beginning of time.

However, in recent years, Britain has experienced a renewed interest in how children and young people develop character virtues, such as resilience, honesty, compassion and courage. This has brought a greater focus on the planned and structured activities run by schools that consciously and explicitly set out to build character.

Activities such as these have collectively become known as character education. The government has supported this renewed emphasis on character, and in the last year the secretary of state for education has launched a character award for schools and also given grants to schools and other organisations in order to develop their character education provision.

The character qualities the Department for Education sees as priorities include: resilience, drive, neighbourliness, community spirit, tolerance, honesty, and conscientiousness.

There is support for character education across the political spectrum. While former shadow secretary for state Tristram Hunt was in office, he made several high-profile speeches about the importance of character education, in which he stated his belief that character can be taught. Character education was also one of the policies included in the Labour party manifesto at the last election.

Interest in character education has also grown in other sectors, such as business. For example, the Confederation of British Industry has been visible in calling for schools to develop character qualities alongside skills and knowledge.
Many youth social action providers, such as the Scouts, Guides, Duke of Edinburgh Award, and National Citizen Service among others, have always considered building the character of young people as part of their core remit.

To demonstrate the breadth of interest, reports on character education have been published in the last couple of years from organisations such as DEMOS, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility, and the Church of England.

This recent call for character has come about as a reaction to recent events including the riots and national scandals in both the public and private sectors.

The call is not, however, simply in response to what Professor James Arthur terms the “litany of alarm”. The call is just as much about ensuring young people are being prepared for the challenges they will face in their future.

Are young people getting opportunities, experience and support to develop the character that will help them to become good employees, parents, neighbours and citizens? Are they developing the character to both flourish as individuals but also as a contributor to a flourishing society?

These questions are particularly pressing given the challenges facing young people, including rapidly changing technologies and growing concerns about their mental and physical wellbeing.

The new Association of Character Education (ACE) has been established as a response to this growing interest in character education. It is a subject association that aims to bring like-minded teachers and schools together to bring further momentum to the character education movement.

It will be an organisation that primary, secondary and post-16 teachers can turn to for inspiration and ideas on how to develop the character education provision in their school. Over the next 12 months ACE will:

  • Hold its inaugural annual conference (on June 30 at the new University of Birmingham school). Speakers already confirmed include Lord O’Shaughnessy, Sir Iain Hall, Professor James Arthur and Michael Roden. Many of the schools that won the Character Awards and organisations that won grants from the Department for Education have also agreed to give workshops.
  • Launch a “Schools of Character Award”. Schools that win will be presented with the award at the annual conference. To win the award schools will be asked to self-audit themselves against some key principles for character education.
  • Develop and publish a new journal for teachers and other educators on character education. The journal will contain news articles, resource reviews and other useful guidance on character education.

More information on the above activities and others will appear over the coming months on the ACE website (see below).

  • Dr Tom Harrison is the director of development at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues in the School of Education at the University of Birmingham.

Further information

More information on the above activities and others will appear over the coming months on the ACE website at Membership fees for schools range from £50 to £150 and include complimentary entry to the annual conference. For further information about ACE or to register your interest in becoming a member, contact Dr Tom Harrison on

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