Character Education in England and Spain: Sociohistorical and theoretical similarities and differences

During the last few years there has been a renewed focus on Character Education, across many, diverse parts of the world, but especially in Anglo-Saxon countries. Some of the most important research centers on this topic are located in the USA and UK, and many schools base their educational projects on the promotion of intellectual and moral virtues, positive psychology and other interrelated approaches.

However, in some countries such as Spain, which has a long standing, traditional focus on the moral dimension of education, character education today has taken a step back. It is significant, as happened in Britain a few years ago, that the concept of character education has been replaced by other similar but different ideas such as values education or citizenship education. Moreover, academic discourse, as one can observe in some of Spain’s main academic journals, has only marginally approached this topic. There are a number of diverse reasons that could explain this situation, which are sociohistorically and theoretically related.

Despite the many differences, parallels between Spain and the UK could be made and could be beneficial. On the one hand, Spain could positively reflect on the current educational approach in the UK, in order to identify the steps required for major development. On the other hand, an analysis of the current problems in Spain could in turn help the UK anticipate any future challenges, as well giving them the opportunity to observe some emerging pedagogical practices.

Therefore, the main purpose of this paper is to carry out a theoretical and comparative analysis of character education in England and Spain, paying attention to the following five dimensions: a) historical context b) social context c) legislative situation d) theoretical focus, and e) teacher training.

Conclusions in the first instance, suggest, that Spain’s history during the last century still seems to be conditioning pedagogical thought and there is an exacerbated political confrontation which makes it difficult to reach an agreement such as the National Forum for Values in Education and the Community in England. Secondly, the social diversity in Spain is not as wide as it is in the UK; nevertheless, this fact has not been a facilitator of such an agreement on education. Third, as happened in the UK, Spanish legislation introduced Citizenship Education as a compulsory subject for Primary and Secondary Schools, and although it pretended to be based on the Spanish Constitution, it introduced a particular interpretation by the socialist government. Finally, in both Spain and the UK, the influence of psychology on moral education has been clear, but it remains stronger in Spanish scholars, which is evident in teacher training.