Young people need more 'character education' to succeed professionally, former Education Sec says

Monday, January 22, 2024

England's education and careers system should introduce more 'character' development opportunities – building self-belief, determination, and resilience –to prepare young people for the fast-changing economy, says Baroness Morgan, Chair of The Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC).

In a paper published by the Social Market Foundation – a cross-party think tank – Baroness Morgan, Chair of the CEC and former Education Secretary, calls for innovative practice in educational and professional settings to help young people develop key traits like self-belief, determination, self-control and resilience, to become 'career ready'.

Both government and opposition are looking to review the English school curriculum in the next Parliament, and have expressed an interest in broadening the offer to students. In the last decade, the English education system has adapted to be more knowledge-rich and STEM skills-focused, however the uncertainty of the coming era due to new challenges like AI and the transition to net zero mean that the education system is currently lacking in its offer to young people.

There is broad consensus among educators, experts and employers that young people need 'applied' character traits such as speaking, listening, teamwork and resilience that can set them up for the future.

The SMF paper has presented examples of innovative 'character' education training, that should be built upon. One example includes Pinewood Studios and Academies Enterprise Trust's Maths curriculum resources, which made a point of highlighting the crucial role of teamwork and responding well to feedback. In Birmingham, the NHS works with George Dixon Academy to train students as community researchers and ask them to work on projects related to maternity care and aftercare – going beyond and teaching behaviours and values of the modern workplace.

Whilst volunteering and sport can offer character development, the opportunities to engage in them are unevenly spread across the country. This heightens the need for this to be a focus of schooling as well.

Since September 2019, Ofsted inspections have recognised the important role schools play in the development of their pupils' character – specifically 'resilience, confidence and independence' – through the personal development section of its school review framework, the paper notes. If policymakers are serious about giving young people a better shot at both educational and professional success in the coming era, they should be providing opportunities to develop traits that are desired by young people and employers alike, the SMF said.

"Career development is character development", said Baroness Morgan. It is also a matter of social justice and fairness, as young people from poorer backgrounds often have less confidence than their more advantaged peers, particularly in areas like leadership, the paper highlights.

Baroness Morgan noted that whilst the careers education system has already made  progress towards increasing collaboration between employers and educational institutions, in raising awareness of apprenticeships for instance, there is still room for improvement on how to provide the best tools for young peoples' life success. Looking to the future, there are opportunities to fuse character and careers to build a rich and rounded education for young people, the paper concludes.

Baroness Morgan, Chair of the Careers & Enterprise Company and author of the briefing, said:

"Developing positive character traits is important for young people and employers. Who we are, how we interact with others, the qualities and values we display are fundamental to flourishing in the workplace of the next decade and beyond.

"Performance in a role is only part of the picture. Individuals and organisations thrive when performance is moulded into a positive culture and behaviours founded on firm values that everyone contributes to and connects to communities and wider society.

"We therefore need to support those in the education and careers system in helping develop in their students the character traits and behaviours they will need to succeed in the jobs of tomorrow.

"As we look to the future, we should pursue opportunities to fuse character and careers to build a rich and rounded education for young people."

Jamie Gollings, Deputy Research Director at Social Market Foundation, said:

"The last decade has seen a shift to a knowledge-rich curriculum in England, and promotion of more technical skills. The dawn of generative AI has made it clear just how different the workplace and society of the mid-century may be from that today – how this will impact on what knowledge, and which skills, will still be vital is hard to predict.

One thing that we can be certain of, though, is that character will be as crucial in the 2050s as it was millennia ago. We will need people to collaborate, to lead and to display resilience in the face of a world that could well be even more fractious than we have today. Character will be needed to both to thrive in society and be a valuable employee, and, as this report argues, schools should be supported to make this a bigger part of young peoples' education."

The policy implications of the changing careers landscape and employers and young people's workplace needs give rise to three sets of questions, that Baroness Morgan outlines at the end of the paper:

  • Are there enough opportunities inside and outside the curriculum to develop the character traits young people need for the future? Are these tracked and are they equally distributed?
  • How can we strengthen the role of employers in the system? What further incentives are there to ensure their outreach activities build the traits needed for the future?
  • How best can we support teachers with space, time and development to develop character traits?


  1. The SMF briefing will be published at on Monday 22nd January, 2024.
  2. About the Carees & Enterprise Company: The CEC is the national body for careers education in England, supporting schools and colleges to deliver modern, 21st century careers education. Its mission is to help every young person find their best next step. The CEC does this by working with both primary and secondary schools, colleges and employers to improve careers education and secure better outcomes for young people.
  3. The report is published by the Social Market Foundation. The author retains full editorial independence.