Whilst the recently published Summary Report by the Department for Education on ‘Developing Character Skills in Schools’ (and summarised in the TES) reported that 97% of UK schools surveyed (N=880) sought to promote desirable character traits among their pupils, it revealed some worrying statistics:
- Only one in six (17%) of schools had a specific plan or policy in place for character education
- Only a quarter of schools had a lead member of staff for character
- Two-fifths (41%) of schools offered distinct character education lessons
- Only 43% of schools offered all staff members training relating to the development of character traits among pupils
- Just over half (54%) were familiar with the term “character education” prior to being approached to take part in the research.
Yet, more problematic still is how character is perceived. Not only did the survey reveal that nearly a quarter (24%) of schools reported a lack of knowledge or information as a barrier to character development, lack of time and capacity was identified as a key constraint by more than half of those surveyed.
At King’s Leadership Academy Warrington, the development of character is not an educational programme – it is our defining purpose, an approach that, implicitly and explicitly, permeates every aspect of the academy culture and mission. We do not view character as a ‘bolt on’ subject or activity, nor do we see doing more ‘character’ as meaning we must be doing less of ‘academics’ – character is the very DNA of the school – every belief, thought, word, action and ultimately habit developed in the classroom, corridor, playground, dining hall or sports field, is an opportunity to develop and nurture our students character through a values based approach to education. Developing strengths of character will not only enable our pupils to enhance their self-esteem and self-confidence, it will in turn help them to develop a greater sense of resilience by turning today’s failures and setbacks in to tomorrow’s successes. As a result, we adopt a core ethos of character development through our values based (ASPIRE) approach, which in turn enables us to undertake character and leadership education in a planned, intentional, reflective, conscious and organised way.
Whilst there is no single blueprint for effective character education, as a trust we believe there are some commonly agreed principles. There are also some excellent reference materials freely available from leading research authorities such as the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues and their excellent Framework for Character Education in Schools; and the 11 Principles of Effective Character Education from Character.org.
The following 5 guiding principles define our excellence standard in character education at each academy within the Great Schools Trust, and serve to guide our schools and partners responsible for auditing, planning and evaluating their programs.
Each academy will:
Guiding Principle 1: Promote core moral, civic, performance and intellectual values as the way of gaining a successful education
- Staff, students and parents understand the evidence that demonstrates how successful character education can enhance both moral growth and student outcomes
- Staff, students and parents understand why the academy has chosen the ASPIRE Code to guide its daily life in enhancing pupil outcomes
- Staff and students constantly and consistently use a common language based on the ASPIRE Code to reinforce the academy’s values and aspirations
- Our core values and aspirations guide the selection, induction and professional development of all staff
- Our core values and aspirations guide the induction and development processes of all students
Guiding Principle 2: Deliver these values through a challenging academic curriculum that develops the character of all learners and helps them to succeed
- Each of our academies deliver a knowledge based curriculum in a manner that challenges, excites and motivates the learning of their students
- Our teachers commit themselves to encouraging all students to seek mastery of the content and skills contained within this curriculum
- The forensic use of data tracking identifies individual learning need in the promotion of academic growth in order that we can use appropriate support or extension strategies
- All students are encouraged to produce high quality work and strive for continuous improvement towards the trust’s aspirational standards
Guiding Principle 3: Broaden the curriculum offering by providing all students with opportunities for moral action
- Each academy adopts a ‘character through leadership’ approach to promote character development
- Each academy provides all students with opportunities for service learning within the academy (academy council, prefects, peer or cross-age tutoring, service projects, care of the academy environment, combined cadet force, Duke of Edinburgh Award, etc.)
- Each academy encourages all students to become involved in community service learning experiences
- Each academy promotes peaceful conflict resolution, ethical decision making and academic integrity
Guiding Principle 4: Ensure that all staff share responsibility for the successful delivery of character and adhere to the same core values as our students
- All staff receive induction training that aligns to the values of the trust and teaches them to encode all praise and reprimands in these values so as to continually reinforce the ASPIRE Code
- Each academy strives to create a professional learning environment through the promotion of high quality professional development
- All staff receive personalised professional development that relates to the outcomes of their performance leadership so that they can increase their pedagogical skills and knowledge and deliver the curriculum through good and outstanding lessons
- All staff have equity of access to the Trust’s Leadership Institute in seeking to enhance their career
Guiding Principle 5: Articulate its character related goals and expectations through visible statements of its core ethical and performance values
- The Trust’s mission statement and core values are clearly displayed around the academy building
- Students recite the King’s mantra at the beginning of each lesson to reiterate the expectations expected of themselves and each other.
- Materials designed to enhance aspiration and self-motivation, are clearly displayed around the academy.
Lines of Enquiry
To achieve consistency in achieving these guiding principles, we work with each academy to implement the following 9 lines of enquiry:
- A demonstrable commitment from leadership at all levels, including Local Governing Bodies, to Character Education. This includes a member(s) at senior leadership directly responsible for the overall embedding of the twin specialisms into the daily life of the academy.
- Teachers in each academy will adhere to the same core school virtues (ASPIRE) as its students, requiring consistent Trust wide recruitment and induction procedures. This includes the same values driven staff recruitment methods, annual staff leadership residential and induction programme and student based Aspire induction week, Aspire curriculum and ceremony.
- A commitment to the development of ASPIRE, a blend of moral, civic, performance and intellectual virtues, taught explicitly and implicitly through and within all school activities in and out of the classroom. This will be monitored by the senior lead, promoted to students through the ASPIRE map aligning assemblies, character and leadership lessons and daily discussions, but will also feature in the coaching observation framework for staff.
- A visible commitment to the development and promotion of good character in pupils and staff. Each academy will agree a set of routines, practices and rituals that continually reinforce these specialisms through the day to day culture of the school, including a series of daily experiences allowing each pupil to lead at some point in the academic year. This commitment will be outlined in a policy that is actively promoted throughout the school.
- A comprehensive, intentional, and proactive approach to character and leadership development. Each academy will structure their curriculum so that character is taught explicitly through the Trust’s values based ASPIRE curriculum and leadership is taught through the Trust’s CMI curriculum weekly. Staff will also benefit from the Institute of Character & Leadership (IoCL) offering CMI qualifications up to Level 8 ‘chartered’ status and accredited middle and senior leader programmes.
- Provision of real life opportunities to develop character. Each academy will commit to ensuring all Y7 and Y8 pupils are involved in a leadership residential experience at the Brathay Trust at least once per year progressing onto The Duke of Edinburgh programme for all, commencing in Y9 and leading to completion of the silver award by end of Y11. From year 12, the National Citizen Service and Duke of Edinburgh Gold will also be open for all to participate in. Every year, through the development of the King’s Pledges, every child will undertake a series of character enhancing experiences linked to their personal flight path including university and museum visits, plays and sporting events.
- Engagement with their community as partners in service learning. Each academy will works towards the setting up of a combined cadet force and a structured programme of youth social action projects, to further enhance the leadership and character development opportunities of its pupils. Each academy will also work closely with local primary schools and use the CMI First Steps Programme as an alignment and recruitment strategy for students in Y5-6.
- A recognition programme, both through the Trust’s reward systems, Character Passport/Bacc and Leadership Competency Framework that communicates and celebrates examples of good character by teachers and pupils and others across the school community. Each academy will also have the commitment to seek a curriculum which incorporates a ‘creative arc’ thus enabling character building programmes and awards including sword fencing, martial arts, swimming, personal development, and Public Speaking, Philosophy & Ethics (PPE).
- An evidence base that good character is shared and understood by staff and students and contributes to other school priorities including attainment, attendance, behaviour and employability.
It is our view that schools who are committed to character development look at themselves through a character lens to assess how virtually everything that goes on minute by minute affects the character of its staff and students and all associated outcomes. A comprehensive approach to building character is based on a comprehensive approach to building organisational culture, or in the words of Aristotle, we are what we repeatedly do:
“Watch your thoughts; for they become words. Watch your words; for they become actions. Watch your actions; for they become habits. Watch your habits; for they become character. Watch your character for it will become your destiny”.
Excellence therefore is not a singular act, for us it is the collective habits of our organisation.