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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Greetings and solidarity on International Workers Day

Thanks to the indefatigable Sue Atkins for the May Day collage


Greetings and solidarity to all our readers, supporters and critics on International Workers Day. As much as ever we need that fragile, but creative cocktail of dissenting dialogue and collective strength – involving, to use today’s parlance, both millenials, centennials, generation X, baby boomers and the traditionalists – in the struggle for social justice, equality and authentic democracy. Let’s carry on chatting, agitating and organising.

Female workers in the May Day Parade in New York City in 1936 [File: New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images]

Building Bridges Not Walls – Events from London via Teeside to Chania

At a time when we need dialogue and solidarity across borders, the following events/conferences hold out hope.

NCIA logo

One year on – ‘witness seminar’
Friday 10th March 1-5pm, London Welsh Centre,
157-163 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8UE

NCIA has closed! But long live the spirit of NCIA present! As promised we are having a ‘one year on’ witness seminar to see where the issues we have been fighting so hard for have now got to. It’s on Friday 10th March 2017, 1.00 – 5pm at the London Welsh Centre in London. The event is free at the point of delivery! As usual we will have a bit of social time afterwards.

If you, colleagues or collaborators would like to come to the event, put the date in your diary now and drop an email here – saying ‘yes I am coming’ with your name, organisation/group’. We’ll send you a full programme in the middle of February.

Also if you would like to contribute (a) short slot (5 minutes) on your perspective on independent voluntary action’ in March 2017 – also drop a line to the above email address. If you want a longer slot and you haven’t already been in contact, let me know a title and three sentences. We’ll have an opportunity to swap ideas like this on the day.



The SWAN conference is the largest annual radical and critical Social Work conference in Europe with over a decade of bringing together educators, service users, practitioners and all those concerned with social work and social justice. The conference will be held at the School of Health and Social Care at Teesside University, Middlesborough, April 8/9, 2017.

We welcome presentations (20 mins) or more interactive workshops (60 mins) from ALL, including practitioners, service user and social justice organisations, students, educators and trade unionists. Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to All proposals will be responded to by 12 March 2017 or sooner. See you in Teeside!

Full details at SWAN 2017 Conference



Interdisciplinary Conference
Building Bridges in a Complex World

CHANIA, CRETE, GREECE | 6-8 July 2017

A Radically Different Kind of Conference

We are a network of academics and practitioners motivated by our work experiences inside and outside of Europe. With this being the first conference, we are hoping to turn this into an annual gathering to build bridges on three different levels: between theorists and practitioners, between people from different disciplines and between people from different parts of the world.

Our personal experiences in education and the general job market are that job insecurity, isolation and competitiveness –through constant evaluations, satisfaction surveys, pressure to secure funding and ultimately generate income– create a culture that encourages cut-throat encounters. On a political and professional level, it leads to a lack of collaboration and solidarity between groups and professions. On a personal level, it makes us feel alienated, which obviously affects our life satisfaction and mental health.

This is an interdisciplinary, inquiry-driven gathering with the main focus on bringing people together to share ideas in a convivial environment. We hope to explore what kind of alternative questions, concepts, methods and practices are necessary to address these complex challenges of our time.

It is in this spirit that we invite contributions from practitioners and researchers to share your insights, practices and experiences relating to programmes, policies and studies that address issues of social (in)justice and (in)equality locally and internationally.

For more information, see Building Bridges



Youth Work and Faith – debates, delights and dilemmas – Bradford, November 11

YW and Faith

Youth Work and Faith: debates, delights and dilemmas

Wednesday 11th November 2015
10am – 4pm
Bradford College
£29 (£15 student-rate)

This one day event will explore the current context for the faith-based youth work sector and its relationship with the wider youth work field – as well as that between different faith traditions. Contributors include Bernard Davies and a range of other thinkers and practice experts.
The day will celebrate the contribution that faith-based youth work makes to individuals, communities and to achieving social justice – whilst also addressing some of the sticky issues that emerge in faith-motivated youth work.

The event is aimed at practitioners, students, academics and anyone else with an interest in youth work and faith – and will be an interactive day that encourages discussion and reflection.

The event is hosted by the Youth and Community Development team at Bradford College and Youth and Policy journal. Bradford offers an ideal location for the event as the city is host to a range of faith organisations with an active role in civil society. All those attending will receive a copy of Youth Work and Faith – a new book edited by the Youth and Policy editorial group.

To book your place, please click…
(Please note Eventbrite adds a small booking fee to the costs stated above)

Youth Work and Faith – pdf poster to print out for circulation

Fighting Injustice, Advocating Social Justice : JENGBA Conference, June 20, Wigan

JENGbA National Injustice Conference Wigan June 20th 2015.
“Justice on Trial”

Jengba again

Jengba TT

I was privileged to speak at this humbling and inspiring conference, exploring in my contribution the significance of the neo-liberal ‘war on youth’, the demise of youth work and the need to resuscitate social solidarity. The following excellent report has been provided by David Scott, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Liverpool John Moores University.

Thanks to Brenda Wright for the photos
The Annual JENGbA (Joint Enterprise: Not Guilty by Association) Conference was held in The Old Court, Gerrard Winstanley House Wigan on the 20th June 2015. The courtroom venue was atmospheric and set the tone for the day, for the intention of the organisers was to put ‘Justice on Trial’. The conference opened with the arrival of our conference chair (Joy France) dressed with cloak and wig and full of pomp and ceremony, who explained the purpose and order of the day. The speakers and performers were to give ‘evidence’ to the ‘court’ about whether the criminal process should be condemned as ‘unfit for purpose’ and members of the audience were to act as the ‘jury’ and come to verdict towards the close of the day.

The first event was a live performance by Anteros Theatre Company Wigan, who had written their short play especially for the JENGbA conference. The five performers delivered a short but excellent fictionalised account of a murder on a hen night. Although only one of the four characters had perpetrated the act the judge asked the ‘jury’ (which comprised of around 120 people) to think about who under the current law would be convicted of murder. This illustrated very well the key problem of over criminalisation in the joint enterprise laws, a theme that was explored through the rest of the day.

The first person called to the stand to give evidence was Janet Cunliffe, one of the founder members of JENGbA. Janet set the tone for the rest of the day with a resolute account of the limitations of the criminal law. Janet talked passionately about the miscarriage of justice concerning her son, Jordan Cunliffe, revealing that even though Jordan was in effect a blind bystander to the death of Gary Newlove in 2007, he still received a 12 year sentence for his murder. Janet questioned the legitimacy of the laws regarding joint enterprise, highlighting the disproportionate nature of sentences; limitations around ‘evidence’ of guilt; and the creation of innocent victims through this laws application. Janet ended her talk demanding “justice for all”.

The next speaker was Janet Alder (Black Lives Matter). Janet gave a heart-wrenching account of the death of her brother Christopher Alder in 1998 and the subsequent injustices that she and her family have faced at the hands of the British police. Janet talked about her struggle to uncover the blatant police racism surrounding the death of Christopher. Janet gave details from the 11 hours of CCTV footage she had eventually been allowed access, and told a horrified audience about the “monkey and chimpanzee noises” that could be heard whilst Christopher was dying on the floor of the Hull police station. There were even more gasps of despair following the revelation that in November 2011 she discovered that it had been the body of a 77 women, and not that of Christopher who had been buried and that Christopher had remained hidden in an old mortuary for years after his death. When Janet had been able to access materials – a 290 page document – 190 pages had been redacted. Janet talked about the ‘right to life’ (Article 2 of European Convention) and the importance of promoting human rights, both in terms of the European Court of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act, but also in terms of being treated like an ordinary human being.

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Fifty Years of Struggle: Gus John at 70

gus john

Prof. Gus John arrived in the UK in August 1964, aged 19, to study for the priesthood. But almost from the moment he arrived he became involved in what was to become his life’s calling – education, youth work and the struggle for social justice and human rights for embattled communities as an activist and an academic.

Help us celebrate his birthday and his lifetime achievements in March 2015.

This two-part programme is a celebration of 50 years’ campaigning for the rights and education entitlement of all children, for racial equality and social justice and against unlawful discrimination in all its manifestations.

Event 1 – Wednesday 11 March 2015

Perspectives on political, academic and cultural engagement

Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, Holborn, London WC1R 4RL

Ali Hussein – film maker and cultural activist
Ian Macdonald QC – human rights, immigration and criminal lawyer
Makeda Coaston – cultural activist, organizer and facilitator
Professor David Gillborn – Centre for Research on Race and Education
Dr Paul Warmington – CRRE, University of Birmingham
Paulette Douglas – parent advocate, Communities Empowerment Network
Andrew Johnson – former director, Equality and Discrimination Centre
Moderator: Aisha Phoenix

Free, but must register at

Event 2 – Saturday 14 March 2015 (2pm)
Documentary film, followed by:
Guardian columnist, Gary Younge, in conversation with Gus John

British Film Institute, South Bank, London SE1 9GY

£6.50 (Tickets from the BFI box office).

In addition see his blog at

Latest posts:

Denying children’s rights by stealth

Why I am not Charlie

Christmas Contradictions – Seasonal Greetings as the Struggle Continues to Defend Youth Work

Christmas as ever a time of contradiction – amongst other things a deeply problematic mix of Christianity and Capitalist Consumerism.

A few images that reflect this contradiction.

Buy a lot










Reason's greetings