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How do we define character education?

by Maria Hoather,

Posted on the 07/01/2020

Defining character education in line with Ofsted inspection framework

In our previous blog post, we took a look at the latest guidance from the Department for Education in regards to character education and what that might mean for schools when it comes to Ofsted inspections – you can take a look at that blog here.

Also in that update, the DfE provided guidance on how schools might choose to define character education in the context of their own community and pupil population, as well as how it could ultimately impact learner attainment.

While it might not always seem like there’s a direct link between developing some of the supposedly softer skills compared with academic subject knowledge, providing young people with a wider base of skills brings the benefit of growing their ability in areas such as confidence, communication and self-management.

By combining these skills, pupils stand a greater chance of building their resilience to setbacks and their ability to overcome challenges, setting them up for success in life.

Creating a supportive and creative environment

As a result of being provided with opportunities to grow their experience and skills outside their comfort zones, pupils have the chance to experiment, make mistakes and learn their own lessons. This grows their resilience to challenges, their empathy towards peers and their ability to succeed in whatever path they choose beyond education.

The DfE guidance on character education outlines four aspects for consideration when assessing character education provision: -

  • The ability to remain motivated by long-term goals, overcoming and persevering through setbacks;
  • Learning positive moral attributes and developing them into long-term habits or virtues, including courage, generosity and integrity;
  • Growing confidence in social settings with the ability to actively participate in conversations or debate in a clear and persuasive manner;
  • Appreciation of the significance of long-term commitments in life, such as to a spouse, community or work role.

These defining traits – and many others – can be seen to develop in many of the learners who take on our leadership qualifications and awards, with our Skills Framework underpinning the demonstration and development of these attributes as a result of reinforcing positive behaviours and actions.

Impact on attainment

One key area for ensuring the effectiveness of character education is assessing its impact on learners’ achievements in their academic studies. In the guidance from the Department of Education, a review of literature and research highlights four ways in which building character can support schools with their curriculum delivery in this way: -

  • Increased self-efficacy, or self-belief, is clearly connected with better performance, higher levels of persistence and taking more interest in work;
  • Children who are highly motivated and driven internally, rather than by extrinsic rewards, demonstrate greater persistence and, ultimately, achievement;
  • Greater attainment arises as a result of improved self-control, patience and the ability to delay gratification;
  • Being able to better cope with challenges and bounce back from setbacks are both associated with improved well-being

Studies referred to in the guidance have also showed that schools which develop character improve equity and social mobility for pupils, in addition to reduced absences, improved motivation and lower levels of emotional distress.

Increased assessment

However, one aspect that might be overlooked in developing character and resilience in learners is how it assessed. According to a recent poll from YouGov, only a third of classroom teachers describe themselves as very confident when it comes to assessing pupils’ work and understanding, demonstrating that this is a complex area in need of some simplification.

This view is backed up by research carried out by GL Assessment and YouGov, which found that teachers spend an average of nearly seven hours a week testing and assessing students, which adds up to a total of 44 days a year.

When teacher workloads are known to be extremely stretched already, this added requirement to work through data when they could be preparing for lessons, seems a huge burden, and one that needs addressing.

Finding fresh solutions for teacher challenges

To help avoid creating additional workload for teachers, we’re passionate about exploring innovative and creative ways to assess the impact of character education and skills development.

Among the ways that we’re looking to achieve this, we’re planning on piloting a number of approaches and programmes in 2020 – if you would like to be considered for such a programme, as a teacher or an institution, please get in contact by giving me a call on 07964 409469 or via email

Categories for this post: Further Education Leadership / Character Education

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