Following policy: a network ethnography of the UK character education policy community

Kim Allen, Anna Bull

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Over the past fifteen years, there has been a growing interest and investment in ‘character’ education across the UK political landscape. Alongside the activities of central government, character education has been promoted by a range of non-government actors in the UK and beyond, including philanthropic foundations, think tanks, education entrepreneurs, and academics. It is the presence of these actors and their relationship to, and influence on, UK government policy that we examine in this article. Investigating character education from a perspective of policy formation and influence, we trace the key policy actors who have contributed to the adoption of character education in the UK, and their international connections, identifying the resources, activities and relationships through which they have achieved policy influence.

A central and original contribution of this article is in identifying the financial and ideological influence of US Christian neoconservative philanthropic foundation the John Templeton Foundation (JTF) on social science research and policy in the UK. Our analysis identifies academics in the UK and US who, through considerable JTF funding, have provided an evidence base that authorises character education as a policy solution. We also locate ‘policy entrepreneurs’ as key nodal actors, whose social capital and elite membership helps to lubricate network relations and facilitate policy influence. Finally, we consider the motivations and vested interests of policy actors, including the JTF’s particular model of philanthropy, and conclude that the character education agenda is underpinned by a set of ideas that promote a free-market, individualistic and socially conservative worldview.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)438-458
JournalSociological Research Online
Issue number2
Early online date30 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


  • character
  • education
  • governance
  • grit
  • John Templeton Foundation
  • networks
  • philanthropy
  • policy
  • positive psychology


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