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The Archbishop of Canterbury has previously spoken of the importance of educating the ‘whole person’, a concept which is reflected in the Church of England (CofE) vision for education. The CofE vision reflects the wider discourse around the importance of ‘character education’, and the role that plays in preparing children for all aspects of life. The emergence of character education in public policy is based on a growing body of evidence which demonstrates the positive impact in: improved academic attainment; providing the skills desired by employers; and enabling children to make a positive contribution to British society. At the same time there is also a range of evidence to suggest that not enough is being done to promote well-being with a number of reports highlighting the UK’s poor record of mental ill-health in children.

There is no explicit reference to ‘character education’ in statute. However, there is a requirement for the curriculum to at least address the traits which may contribute to the character development of pupils. Under the Education Act 2002 (section 78) maintained schools and maintained nursery schools must promote pupils’ spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development. All schools are expected to teach personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education, which deals with issues such as drug, financial and health education. Citizenship has been a statutory subject on the curriculum in post-primary schools since 2002. The Secretary for State can now make the teaching of PSHE mandatory under section 35 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017. Under section 34 of this Act, relationship and sex education lessons would also be mandatory. The Government expects to consult on regulations and guidance, with new subjects to be taught in schools from September 2019.

The House of Commons Health and Education committees conducted a joint inquiry into the role of education in improving the mental health of students. The committees found improved wellbeing increased pupils’ capacity to learn, citing evidence that children with higher levels of emotional, behavioural, social and school wellbeing have higher levels of academic achievement on average. This is a finding repeated across a range of studies, some of which are also considered in this Library Briefing.

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