Simply playing sport may not be best way to forge character in pupils, expert claims

Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan
Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan
Have your say

Simply playing sport in schools may not be the best way to instil virtues like character and resilience in pupils, a leading education expert has said.

Children gain these vital social skills by learning in environments that value responsibility, discipline and encourage them to work together, according to Andreas Schleicher.

Speaking ahead of the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai this weekend, Mr Schleicher, director for education and skills at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said there are many ways to teach character as part of everyday schooling.

Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, has previously suggested learning traits like perseverance and confidence are “equally important” to teenagers as gaining good exam results. She has previously said all youngsters should learn the values of the sport, such as how to “bounce back from setbacks”, show integrity in victory and defeat and respect others.

But Mr Schleicher said: “I don’t see any reason why rugby would be a better way of teaching character than mathematics. I think teaching character has a lot to do with how we behave, what behaviour we value.”

Japanese classrooms have a high level of discipline he said, adding “at the end of the school day, the teacher cleans the classroom with the students..”

“There are a lot of things that actually strengthen character more. I don’t think it’s an issue of an additional school subject. It’s a lot more about how we teach,” he said

Mr Schleicher said that UK private schools are a good example of building character: “If you look at your really great independent schools, they are not about a little bit more maths, or a little bit more science, or a little bit more sports.

“Their differentiator is character skills, that’s why those students are successful in life, because they have learnt to manage themselves, they have learnt to manage relationships with others, they can think for themselves, work with others, they have leadership skills, resilience. That is the differentiator of those schools and they are not necessarily acquiring this with sports alone.”

Last year Claire Tasker, co-head teacher at Tapton School, Sheffield, speaking after winning a Department for Education Character Award said: “When we teach history or maths or English we can teach young people about how to develop resilience and be resourceful and reflective because it will make them better at the subject.”

The awards recognise programmes which develop character traits and behaviour that underpin success.