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Setting Benchmarks in Character Education

by Maria Hoather,

Posted on the 16/12/2019

Defining benchmarks in character education

Character education is a hot topic in schools at the moment, with its impact on building resilience in pupils placed right at the front of considerations as a result of the current inspection criteria being used by Ofsted.

Essentially, developing character and building resilience can be encapsulated by the idea of preparing learners for the next phase of their journey – whether that be into employment, further education or simply the next school year group.

How that is achieved is a more complex challenge for schools, with character education not sitting in one single strand of curriculum, but instead overlapping across several different areas, requiring a considered and co-ordinated approach to getting it right.

Character benchmarks

In its recent guidance on character education, the Department for Education outlined a number of important considerations for schools to make in their approach to the subject and achieving successful provision.

As you might expect, creating a successful and sustainable plan for character education begins with a clear starting point and an ultimate desired outcome, allowing school leaders to plot a course from A to B.

This journey matches well with Ofsted’s inspection framework category that focuses on a school’s quality of education, where inspectors are looking for evidence of meticulous planning around the intent, implementation and impact of an ambitious curriculum.

To help demonstrate a school’s starting position in this respect, the DfE guidance outlines six character benchmarks, allowing schools to review their current provision, evaluate their current status and then work out a path for progression that considers their own challenges, resources and ambitions. Those benchmarking questions are as follows: -

What kind of school are we?

- How do we create a sense of pride, belonging and identity in our school and how do we communicate our aims and vision to all members of the school community?

What are our expectations towards each other?

- How well do we promote positive character traits among pupils and the importance of good behaviour and discipline in school life?

How well do our curriculum and teaching develop resilience and confidence?

- Does our curriculum stretch pupils, providing them with knowledge and confidence that they can utilise in wider society?
How good is our co-curriculum provision?

- Does it cover a wide spread of subjects and make use of established programmes or organisations, providing ample opportunities for pupils to participate?

How well do we promote the value of volunteering and service to others?

- Are opportunities varied, meaningful and sustained and do they contribute to breaking down social barriers?

How do we ensure that all our pupils benefit equally from what we offer?

- In what ways do we recognise and reduce barriers to participation?

- Do we successfully enable young people from all backgrounds to feel that they belong and are valued?

Context is key

One aspect of the guidance that is key to consider is that each school, each community and every learner is unique. While the DfE provides guidance that schools should take stock of their current benchmarks in regards to Character Education, they are also keen to distance themselves from outlining what constitutes good provision in any of these areas.

This means that there isn’t really a clear definition of what good character education looks like or consists of – schools will have their own ways of achieving success in this area, which will also depend heavily on their wider curriculum aims and what they believe their pupils can realistically achieve.

However, making sure that pupils progress through their education journey, developing the skills they need to achieve their own personal successes, is more important than ever, with greater emphasis being placed on demonstrating that development within the entire curriculum provision.

A whole-school approach to skills development

This is where our school-wide approach to building skills has the potential to support schools immensely. With minimal impact on existing delivery or available resources, our Personal Skills Programme offers schools an accredited series of awards designed to provide pupils with enough challenge across a variety of tasks. This helps to build their resilience while developing key employment skills and growing their abilities in areas such as communication, teamwork and self-belief, which can benefit their academic achievements too.

We are currently developing our Personal Skills Programme via a pilot programme being led by a number of Pioneer Schools – if you’d like to join this programme and help us shape the future of skills development in schools, then we’d love to hear from you – you can call me on 07964 409469 or email

Categories for this post: Character Education

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