On the 12th May, 2018, my school is hosting #CharacterED2018, with keynote speakers Nicky Morgan, Sean Harford, Elizabeth Wright, and Martin Robinson.

I look at that sentence not quite able to believe that it’s true. What began as a silly idea dreamt up while I was mooching around last year’s ResearchEDRugby event is now just a few weeks away; and it’s real.

With help, support, and encouragement from my friend, colleague, and co-organiser @joanneowens, we have brought this thing to life. Our little Cathedral School is about to host what we hope to be the first of many such conferences, forming part of an important national debate about the nature of Character Education, whether it can be taught or if it’s caught, and how schools might go about embedding it.

Character Education is back on the agenda (did it ever go away?), with Damian Hinds talking about traits like “resilience”. However, I’m uneasy with talk of “soft skills” and preparing children for the “workplace”, as I’ve discussed before and I don’t want discussion around Character Education to get hijacked by these kinds of reductionist, utilitarian discourses. Rather, I’d like to embrace what Gert Biesta explores and describes as subjectification in his description of the three aspects of educational purpose, and what @bernywern discusses in his comments about educational fideism.

I’d like to reclaim the phrase 21st Century Skills, and wrench it from the hands of those who would seek to sell us technological snake-oil, or condemn our children to a lifelong job training scheme. I wish to redefine it as being-centred education – how to be in the 21st Century.

For me, Character Education is an act of what Foucault calls the “critical ontology of ourselves” and which he describes as a “philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them”.

Character Education, then, is not some vague notion of “soft skills”, nor is it anything to do with preparing for the workplace. Rather, it is the training of individuals to become subjects, it is a deliberate philosophical life, an ongoing experiment with the possibility of going beyond the limits imposed upon us.

Character Education is not just about individuals though. It is about society. It is about focusing on, celebrating, and nurturing those attributes which so many of our young people already demonstrate. It aligns, I think, with ideas around a post-critical pedagogy, taking a “positive stance”.

I’m quite excited about our conference. Why not join us?

Link to Eventbrite page for #CharacterED2018

Character Education in the 21st Century

Confirmed keynote speakers:

  • Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP – Author of Taught Not Caught: Educating for 21st Century Character;
    former Secretary of State for Education (2014-2016).
  • Sean Harford – Ofsted’s National Director, Education.
  • Elizabeth Wright – Paralympic Medalist, schools speaker and character education expert; co-author of Character Toolkit for Teachers: 100+ Classroom and Whole School Character Education Activities for 5-11 Year Olds.
  • Martin Robinson – Author of Trivium 21c; Education and Curriculum consultant with an interest in the Liberal Arts (especially grammar, dialectic and rhetoric).

Additional sessions from:

Sonnet 2 – Education

I’ve been looking at some of my old stuff, and came across this sonnet which I wrote in 2009. It’s interesting to look back at stuff one wrote ages ago to see if it still rings true. This does, to an extent.  It’s not very good.

Anyway. Here it is.


The fatal kiss of targets blows upon
The wind like whispers heard in darkened rooms
The measurements become our only truth
Imagination murdered in the womb
And who would dare to question how and why?
For fear of fateful consequence to come
And judgement is that numbers are the key
For raising the attainment of just some
It’s more to justify the jobs of those
Pathetic parliamentary whores of hell
Who prostitute our children’s future dreams
And have no souls their own that they could sell
There is a secret hanging in the air
It’s only known by those who really care