Has the Conservative Party Conference provided hope for children? Enver Solomon, Director of Evidence and Impact at National Children's Bureau, considers.
Security, stability and opportunity was the message on the hoardings at the Conservative party conference this week. What does this mean for the nation's children? According to ministers speaking at various fringe events it's about how to ensure children reach their potential. And the answer to that is 'character education'.
It sounds rather grand. For the education secretary Nicky Morgan, character is one of her top priorities. Schooling, she argues, is not just about teaching core subjects but about instilling the virtues of compassion, care, self-regulation, honesty and decency, as well as overcoming failure. Such virtues should be role modelled by all teachers and be at the heart of every school's ethos and culture. And it's not just the job of schools. Parents and civic society must shape children so they acquire the virtues needed to become good citizens
This appears to be the developing narrative for children as the government sets out its agenda for the next five years. The aspiration is for the UK to be global leaders in character education.
What does it mean in practice? Schools are very much at the heart of the character project. Their mission should not just be about academic achievement but also teaching children to be good citizens. This can done through sport, schemes such as the Duke of Edinburgh awards and other social action initiatives. The community and voluntary sector also have a key role to play as does business.
None of this is very new, but the language is different. Social and emotional learning, well-being programmes and the previous healthy schools programme all had the same objective. They have a stronger evidence base as the recent evidence review published by NCB shows. It's important not to forget this and see character education as being part of an approach to childhood which is centred on a child's overall social and emotional development.
Character is now the latest government buzzword for children. There's nothing wrong with this. Ultimately, it's about giving all children the opportunity to flourish. But it needs to be presented in a wider well-being framework as a means to supporting children to become happy, healthy and productive adults.