What do schools need to do in order to make ‘character education’ bring about change in young people?
Character education seems to be everywhere in education discourse at the moment, particularly since its inclusion in the draft Ofsted inspection framework under the personal development heading. However, it can be a difficult term to define. In this post, the differences between tick-boxing a possible education fad, versus instilling character education as a meaningful process is discussed.
The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtue defines character education as “all the explicit and implicit educational activities that help young people to develop positive personal character strengths or virtues.” Examples of positive personal character strengths, or virtues, include honesty, resilience, courage, perseverance and compassion. The aim of character education is to equip children and young people to lead flourishing lives, by supporting them to develop these traits.
The challenge for schools
There can be challenges to schools delivering high-quality character education in schools. Some schools are good at the implicit character education – they provide extra-curriculum opportunities for children to develop their character, lead assemblies around positive character traits and there is an expectation that staff role model virtues. However, the implicit nature of these activities can limit their effectiveness. Pupils do not know that they are developing their character and cannot articulate the skills that they are gaining.
Ultimately, we want pupils to take ownership of their own character development. To do this, we need to give them the tools to know how to develop character. Therefore, the main challenges to delivering effective character education are having an intentional, specific plan around how your school is developing the character of your pupils and explicitly referring to character in all that you do.
Consistent input …
The language can also be a challenge to effective character education – supporting young people to develop a deep understanding of terms like courage, compassion and integrity requires input and consistency from staff when using the terms. While there are challenges, the current educational climate provides an opportunity to invest in character education for schools. There is no ‘one-size fits all’ for character education and I have had the privilege to visit vastly different schools who are doing it exceptionally well.
For most schools, the starting point is to identify the key virtues that they want their pupils to develop and ensure that the language of these chosen virtues is used consistently, everywhere – in assemblies, in lessons, in conversations with pupils. For pupils and staff, they should be given opportunities to reflect on what these virtues mean to them and how they have shown them (or not) throughout the day. Asking teachers to think about how their schemes of work offer opportunities to develop these virtues will ensure that they are explicitly included in lessons and not just in assemblies, or extra-curricular activities.
Embedding character has to be a deliberate process. There is no magic wand and it may be slow, like any meaningful change! The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtue has produced a range of free character education resources to support schools which are available at www.jubileecentre.ac.uk
This post was shared by Rachael Hunter, a former primary school teacher who currently works as a research fellow for the Jubilee Centre of Character and Virtue at the University of Birmingham.