Character education and social justice

Given the increasing emphasis on character education in youth work, see this critique by Gary Walsh.

curriculum for equity

by Gary Walsh

As character educationcontinues to gain influence in educational policy in the UK and elsewhere, it becomes more and more important to ensure it receives adequate critique. Having worked in the field of character education and studied the research base for a number of years, I have concluded that the legitimacy of traditional approaches to character education should be critically examined from a social justice perspective. The purpose of this post is to explain why I think this is the case. In doing so I hope this proves a useful point of reflection for any interested practitioners or researchers.

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues make the grand and enticing claim that character is “the basis for human and societal flourishing“. This is somewhat alluring because it sounds empowering and inclusive: the implicit promise is that we can all flourish no matter who we are.

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The Return of Character Education- A BSA Debate, July 16

What we mean by character has been an ever present issue within youth work, even if at times it has been described in other ways. For example, the sub-title of Baden Powell’s seminal 1908 ‘Scouting for Boys’ was ‘A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship’, whilst a century later the Young Foundation’s 2012 ‘Framework of Outcomes for Young People’ seeks to form the ’emotionally resilient’ young person. At the heart of both is an interpretation of what constitutes good or indeed bad character, which can only be understood fully in the light of the underpinning economic and ideological circumstances of the day. Therefore it’s encouraging to see this BSA conference grasping the nettle of how to understand the the revival of ‘character’ education and to see the involvement of our good friend and critic, Janet Batsleer. It strikes me that it would be more than useful to organise a complementary event focused on youth work and the question of character.




‘Grit’, Governmentality & the Erasure of Inequality’
The Curious Rise of Character Education Policy
A BSA Sociology of Education Study Group Conference in association with Culture, Media and Creative Industries, King’s College London and the School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds

Monday 11 July 2016
9:30am – 5:00pm followed by a wine reception
King’s College London

Invited speakers: Dr Janet Batsleer (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Professor Val Gillies (Goldsmiths).

Over the past five years, there has been a growing interest and investment in ‘character’ education. A growing number of policy initiatives and reports have asserted the importance of nurturing character in children and young people – with qualities such as ‘grit’, ‘optimism’, ‘resilience’, ‘zest’, and ‘bouncebackability’ located as preparing young people for the challenges of the 21st century and enabling social mobility. This includes the Department for Education’s multi-million pound package of measures to help schools ‘instil character in pupils’ and the ‘All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility’ Character and Resilience Manifesto. The positioning of character education as a panacea to social and educational inequality has coincided with policies promoting ‘resilience’ in areas as diverse as health and housing to employment and welfare. It is notable that the policy traction of these terms has emerged against a backdrop of austerity in which programmes of welfare reform and continuing economic uncertainty have seen rising poverty levels among children and young people, and in which political rhetoric has explained poverty as resulting from behavioral and moral deficiencies rather than the structural inequalities unleashed by neoliberal capitalism. This one-day conference will bring together researchers across a range of disciplines and research areas to critically discuss this policy agenda. It will attempt to unravel how and why it has emerged and at this particular moment, and consider its implications.

Booking is now open.
Conference fee: BSA members £15 & Non-members £30, (includes lunch and refreshments)
Places are limited so early booking is recommended.
For further information please contact: or telephone: (0191) 383 0839.
For academic queries please contact: Anna Bull ( or Kim Allen ( )