Wednesday, 19 February 2020


Education and Global Futures Seminar - Character Education in English Schools

Brooks Building, Room 3.89

Character education in English schools: Values, discipline and the mobilisation of psy-knowledge

Konstanze Spohrer - Liverpool Hope University

In UK policy, practice and academic discourse, there has been a resurgent interest in character education (Allen & Bull, 2018; Kisby, 2017). Critical scholarship has tended towards examining the character education policy landscape eschewing how character education is understood and practiced in schools. Drawing on interviews with teachers and school leaders in three secondary schools in the North of England, this paper examines possible interpretations of character education ‘in situ’ (McKee, 2009). By analysing how the participants draw on existing discursive repertoires and (re-)assemble them in relation to their school’s aims and values, the paper traces how ideas morph when taken up in practice. The notion of instilling discipline and resilience in young people was most prominent in the participants’ accounts, with a less audible aim of shaping ‘good’ citizens. A strong influence from cognitive and positive psychology was identified, however, this type of knowledge amalgamated with religious, ethical/moral and military semantics. This suggests that when studying character education on the ground, a more complex picture than previous categorisations of character education approaches emerges. The paper concludes with reflections on the dangers, possibilities and omissions of the current iterations of character education.

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Konstanze Spohrer is a Senior Lecturer in Education at Liverpool Hope University. She specialises in the areas of education policy, educational inequalities and sociological theory. She is particularly interested in the interplay between neo-liberal discourses on social mobility and inequality, educational practices and young people’s subjectivities. Most recently, her research has focussed on examining discourses and enactments of character education in the UK. Among other outlets, her research has been published in the Journal of Education Policy, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, and Critical Studies in Education.

Jane McDonnell and David Menendez will respond to Konstanze’s presentation, drawing connections with their own work in cognate areas.