Live your values and speak out: Anthony Seldon

Written by
Mary Appleton

02 Apr 2015

02 Apr 2015 • by Mary Appleton

How can education better prepare you for life?

Did your school prepare you for the life that you have and the person you truly want to be? If not, what are you doing to ensure that schools for your children are as good as they can possibly be? These are key questions that Sir Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College, is keen for you to answer on the subject of future talent.

In Seldon’s view, the “problem with schools” is that they are not employing the very best people, despite the fact that “[a career in a school] is the best imaginable career for anyone who is passionate and full of love and fascination about the world”. 

Schools narrowing young minds?

According to Seldon, the government lacks trust in schools, pinning them down to one metric only – exam success. Although he acknowledges that exams are probably a necessary ingredient, he argues that they are not a sufficient condition for a good education.

“Schooling provides the one opportunity for young people to have their souls, intellects and passions encouraged,” he says. “Education means ‘drawing out’ – yet most schools don’t draw people out in a process that should continue for life. Instead, schools narrow people down to a finishing point that is GCSE or A-level grades. Then people think, ‘great, I’m educated!’” 

Developing character among the next generation

For Seldon, the educated person is learning until the day they die; the great teacher is learning until their last day in the classroom, and the great professional is always eager to learn. While everyone is born with eight “aptitudes of intelligence”, Seldon argues that schools concentrate on just two: the logical and the linguistic – paying little or no attention to the creative, physical, social, personal, moral and spiritual. This, he believes, is where character comes into play. Seldon’s argument is that schools should be doing more to develop character education. This, in turn, will lead to greater success once their students enter the world of work.

“Some schools do an outstanding job of preparing young people for work, but the focus of government and Ofsted does little or nothing to encourage the development of skills that good employees will need,” he asserts.

“Schools just don’t help young people to think or develop as human beings. Much more needs to be done to help our young people develop essential character traits to help them navigate the workplace – for example, teamwork, leadership, time management, trustworthiness, autonomy and creative skills.

“We have to go back to Aristotle and see the importance of the role he placed on character as a core requirement of good education, good society, companies and organisations,” he says. “It’s mandatory for leaders to portray good character traits – if bosses are late; never say thank you; show themselves to be dishonest, sly or cowardly, this gives a deplorable example to employees within the organisation. As such, the whole company’s performance will go down.”

Articulating values in a business context

It doesn’t matter what we say – what matters is what we do, says Seldon. Therefore leaders must exemplify the behaviours they articulate – for Seldon this translates into treating everyone with respect, kindness, encouragement, openness, and trustworthiness. “What matters is what your employees see every day,” he adds.

“People want to work for more than money and want to be part of companies they are proud of, that are built on values,” he continues. This, he believes, comes not from the words that CEOs say or write but the values they transact by each day, and which people see.

High-trust organisations are those that are grounded in great values and principles that are lived – and everyone will be happier for living these values.

“Leaders are all-important in the values of the organisation. You may be successful in the short-term if you have a depersonalised leader at the top of the organisation, but this will not lead to employee satisfaction,” he says.

Within the workplace, Seldon urges you to embody and personify values as deeply lived experiences. “People will look at you and see things that you do not see about yourself. If it’s truly deep, it will be truly lived – otherwise it will appear tinny and thin,” he comments. 

Employers to lobby government

So what would Seldon like to see employers doing in the future talent arena to ensure that schools are delivering the kind of skills needed to spur the economy forward? “Employers should be lobbying government much harder and more successfully than they are now,” says Seldon.

“Tell government that what they or Ofsted value is not what you value. At the moment, it’s not being done in a systematic way – it’s very disjointed. There needs to be a clarion call to say a core part of schools is to develop work skills among our young people.”

Anthony Seldon at the Future Talent Conference

Do you want to learn more about how you can develop better character traits? Learn more about Anthony Seldon's ideas by watching his presentation at Changeboard's Future Talent conference 2014