Simon CambyLatest evidence from the World Economic Forum shows how the skills needed by our children are changing. Simon Camby, Group Education Director for Cognita, reflects on the importance of character development in our schools when preparing young people for the future.

In a fast-changing world where the career aspirations of our students could increasingly become mis-aligned with the opportunities available to them, it is vital that educators give adequate focus to preparing young people for the future through programmes designed to develop character.

Whilst we most definitely have to embrace technological change, the use of artificial intelligence and the onset of robots, we also need to enable our students to embrace what they are: human. I wonder if one of the best ways to compete with the advances of technology is to enable our students to become even more human – and brilliant at the things robots cannot do. For me, that’s at the heart of character development.

Developing character in our students is now an increasingly debated and researched area. There are many character traits which educators can focus on. We are not suggesting that there is a specific right or wrong in this area. What we do strongly assert is that the very best schools are intentional about developing character. Within the Cognita family of schools we want all of our students to benefit from the three big outcomes of a Cognita Education: Academic excellence, Character development and a Global perspective. When we talk about character, we focus on three character traits that we believe to be important for every student in supporting their personal and academic development:


Metacognition refers to the ability to think about one’s own thinking. There are two aspects to metacognition:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation


Resilience refers to the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. This includes:

  • the ability to persevere and adapt when faced with challenge; and
  • learning from mistakes or failure.


Agency is the power to take meaningful and intentional action. Agency is an awareness that you can make a difference in a specific context, either to yourself or others.

These character traits can all be developed through direct experiences and through the feedback that students are given. Character is developed in so many different contexts, including outdoor education, sport, drama, music, as well as through all curricular subjects. One practical way to develop character in students is by focusing on how and when our teachers give feedback to students. Feedback not only helps students identify where they have gone wrong and how they can improve; it can also help them identify what they are likely to find hard in future and how they can best prepare for that eventuality.

If we are serious about ensuring that our students of today are well prepared for a life of tomorrow, then character needs to be taken seriously. It is not an ‘add on’ to education but a core part of how we nurture young people to take a responsible place in society and make a difference to themselves and to others.