Students who profess a religious faith are more "moral" than those who are atheist or have no religion, according to new research.
The study, published by Birmingham's University's Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, found that religion is correlated with character building.
The study of 10,200 students and 250 teachers from 68 UK schools took place between February 2013 and June 2014 and is the largest of its kind. Researchers used surveys, moral dilemma tests and interviews.
The religious students scored higher on the moral dilemma tests and within the religious group, those who practised their religion scored more highly than those who did not. Girls also scored higher than boys when faced with moral dilemmas.
Students who attended faith schools achieved slightly, but statistically significantly, better moral dilemma scores than those going to non-faith schools.
However, one finding was that many different types of schools, faith and non-faith, state and independent, large and small, rural and urban, those in affluent areas and those in poor area, were found among the top seven schools and among the bottom seven schools in terms of overall character development. The report concludes: "With the right approach, it is possible for any kind of school to nurture good character."
The authors are cautious about drawing a link between religion and character-building. They also emphatically reject the widespread conviction that participation in sport builds character, the British Religion in Numbers research project reports.
The report takes as its starting point the growing consensus in Britain that virtues such as honesty, self-control, fairness, gratitude and respect, which contribute to good moral character, are part of the solution to many of the challenges facing society today.
It says: "Character education should help students move from motives of self-interest towards personal moral orientations concerned with others. Learning to consider and care about a wider picture beyond our own interests in situations in life is a habit that takes time and conscious effort to develop.
"Responses to the moral dilemmas show that many students responded to them from a position of personal interest, or from the perspective of not getting involved in a situation if they could act as if it was not happening."
Professor Thomas Lickona, of New York State University, says in the foreword: "One of the most important ethical developments of our time has been the recovery of ancient wisdom about the importance of character. We need good character to lead ethical, productive, and fulfilling lives. We need good character to create a just, compassionate, and productive society."