THE BLOG
02/03/2015 07:29 GMT | Updated 02/05/2015 06:59 BST

Moral Virtues Help Young People Flourish

Imagine you are a talented gymnast in year 10 and you've been chosen to represent your school in a competition. You notice that the coach has been using the girls' good looks to get attention for the team from TV and newspapers. This goes against your values but if you miss all the publicity events you won't be allowed to compete. What would you do?

A report published yesterday by The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues and the University of Birmingham found that less than half of young people showed good judgement when asked what they would do in scenarios like this one.

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10,000 school pupils aged 15-19 from secondary schools across the UK were surveyed. Students were asked what they would do and why in a series of situations. Many students appeared to approach the dilemmas from the perspective of self-interest and struggled to justify their choices.

The report also found that 80% of 225 teachers interviewed thought that the focus on exams in schools can hold back the development of a child's moral character.

Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt supports these findings. "If our education system fails to provide young people with these skills, we will waste, not only the talent of the next generation, but our opportunity for Britain to succeed in the global economy."

What strikes me as the most important aspect of the report is its emphasis on the moral values. Prof James Arthur, director of Birmingham's Jubilee Centre said "A good grasp of moral virtues, such as kindness, honesty and courage can help children to flourish as human beings, and can also lead to improvements in the classroom. And that level of understanding doesn't just happen - it needs to be nurtured and encouraged".

It's been fantastic to see character education being prioritised by the Department for Education and top politicians including Tristram Hunt and Nicky Morgan recently. However the emphasis has been placed on teaching 'resilience and grit'. No doubt these are extremely important character traits, but without an understanding of morality, they can be used to the wrong ends. It takes resilience and grit to become a politician, banker or footballer, but, once you're in these roles, it takes moral integrity to act in a way that benefits others rather than serves your own interests.

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Over the last twenty years teachers, parents and young people themselves have told me that the moral values we teach at ReachOut (Fairness and Good Judgement) through our mentoring projects benefit young people in numerous ways.

Chris Howarth, Deputy Headteacher of Our Lady's High School in Manchester said "ReachOut brings a dimension to school life and practical learning opportunities through leaders bringing their own experiences of life after school. Mentors inspire those students who attend to 'reachout' and achieve their potential and make a difference in the future. Many of which have made life choices as a direct result of their engagement with the ReachOut programme."

Lissa Samuel, Headteacher of Cayley Primary School in east London, said, "[ReachOut's] approach demonstrates and affirms Cayley's values of friendship, honesty, trust and cooperation in the rarely organised environment of a girls only group. And how the girls love it! Bonding with the mentors is rapid and the supportive ethos enables our girls to step out of their comfort zones and challenge their expectations of themselves".

The Jubilee Centre report recommends that students need help to move from motives of self-interest to moral motives focused on helping others. This is at the heart of what we are working to do at ReachOut, by teaching Fairness and Good Judgement, alongside Self-Control and Staying Power. We want to give young people the tools to make good choices and the ability to understand the way their decisions affect others.

Images: Blogger's own