Character Trumps Academics 

Character Trumps Academics 

During August, I travelled around the country delivering the ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ course to teachers. On the 17th of August, the day of A-level results, I delivered this training programme in one of England’s top independent schools and met with the headmaster afterwards. He was likable and inspiring, however, in high stress mode as he was deciphering what this year’s A-level results would mean for the school and assembling his team to prepare a press release for the next day. The focus would be on how many pupils got Oxbridge places, the number of pupils who got their first-choice university and the number of A*, A and B pupils. From this meeting, it was clear that the school and the headmaster’s future were totally dependent on these results. A-level results was the name of the game.

I believe in 20 years’ time, we are going to look back with regret that we allowed our schools to narrow their focus so exclusively on academics and league tables. Schools have the responsibility for preparing our young for a changing world. We might agree that the school’s job is to prepare our young for a successful and happy work and personal life; unfortunately, we have a 19th Century industrialised education system. Children still sit in rows and are passive consumers of information. Yet, effective learning is not the consumption of knowledge, it is the creation of value for the individual. We need our schools to create knowledgeable workers for the 21st century. Academic work is important, however, the subjects that schools focus on are those that require reasoning and recall – these are precisely the skills that will be redundant in the ‘knowledge economy’ because digitalisation is transforming our job market and these jobs will be performed by machines. What the world will need is forward-thinking, enterprising, resilient, imaginative, insightful and inspired individuals.

Our teachers are working hard, furiously doing everything they can do to get their pupils to succeed in their subjects, but this activity will not lead to achievement; because they are using the wrong curriculum for a successful life. Schools need to wake up and focus on teaching character and life skills – the requirements to thrive in the ‘knowledge economy’. Educators must recognise character is more important than intellect. Because intellect without character can give us a Hitler, whilst intellect with character can create a Gandhi. For example, Surrey boy, Rurik Jutting had an impressive academic record at Winchester school and went on to get a first at Cambridge. But, working as a British banker, he became a cocaine addict that went on to murder two prostitutes. The most important thing our schools need to be giving our young is a strong moral compass. To help them become a person of character and integrity because all their life decisions, capabilities and results will be determined by this. Doing the right thing, even when others are not looking is fundamental to building trusting relationships.

The next key life skills are resilience and grit. Grit is the ability to fail repeatedly and to continue to persevere in the hard moments of adversity. It’s a vital life skill to have the capacity for sustained effort in the face of setbacks; and research has consistently shown that effort and persistence predict our life outcome more than IQ. There is no achievement without setbacks and significant failure. So why are our schools making our children feel that the only important thing they can do is succeed academically? Many children are getting poor grades not because they are not clever or lazy, but due to their fear of failure and disappointment. Fear of failure is the red flag for low self-esteem. In Holland, they have recognised this, and most schools have ‘fear of failing’ coaches who identify children at risk early and support them. Imagine a school where teachers can teach and empower their pupils with a strong moral compass and grit.

Due to the pressure to conform and achieve, school can be one of the most stressful places for our youth, and we need to better equip them to deal with the stress and anxiety.
Our schools need to be better – more relevant, more meaningful and collaborative, more focused on developing the whole person for the world of tomorrow. A young person’s mental health must be central to their effective education in school, not an after-thought. The school curriculum must change to put life skills and well-being at its heart. We need forward thinking headteachers that no longer try to adapt children to fit into the narrow curriculum, but who begin to create a curriculum that fits around the child and what tomorrow’s economy needs.

By | 2017-09-22T10:12:50+01:00 22nd September, 2017|Education, Families, Headteachers, Teenagers|