Character education back in the spotlight
Really? Was it ever out of the spotlight? Fair point. It certainly isn’t a new concept – remember, for example, the £3.5 million fund created by the government in 2015 to support projects intended to develop pupils’ character. It’s been firmly on the agenda ever since. The reason to mention it now is that the DfE has just published its Character Education Framework – non-statutory guidance on character education and development for children. Thanks to this, character education is now very much part of Ofsted’s inspection arrangements.
Well that does sound like something I should pay attention to. Absolutely. As the DfE makes clear, “education for character is already integral to the work of excellent schools. In these schools there is no tension between a rigorous and stretching academic education on the one hand and outstanding wider personal development on the other. Indeed, these and other aspects of the school’s work all contribute to forming well-educated and rounded young adults ready to take their place in the world.”
So that’s the standard we should all be striving for? Indeed, and it’s hard to imagine a school reaching that level without a strong PSHE offering at its core. To quote the DfE again, “the best character education does not happen by chance, but is the product of clear and purposeful leadership, a strong ethos and high expectations of pupils, a good curriculum and co-curriculum and strong evidence-based pedagogy.”
Right, where do I start? The framework includes six “character benchmarks” (and a helpful evaluative grid) for you to use as a guide to assess the current state of your provision and plan next steps. It’s worth looking at the benchmarks in detail, but in brief, they are:
- What kind of school are you?
- What are your expectations of behaviour towards each other?
- How well does your curriculum and teaching develop resilience and confidence?
- How good is your co-curriculum?
- How well do we promote the value of volunteering and service to others?
- How do you ensure that all your children benefit equally from what you offer?
Wow, there’s a lot in there. It feels bigger than just PSHE… Agreed, and if you look at the “the five foundations for building character” (sport, creativity, performing, volunteering & membership and world of work) outlined by the government back in February 2019, it is clear that subjects like PE and music will also need to be involved. But if you think about the core aim of PSHE – to equip children with the knowledge, skills and attributes needed to thrive in life and to manage the opportunities, challenges and responsibilities they will face as they grow up – character development should be at its heart.
I’m sold. Any final words of advice? As the PSHE Association emphasises, the key to supporting the development of children is ensuring that PSHE is properly timetabled and taught as a discrete subject, not simply on an ad hoc basis, or fobbed off as ‘circle time’. Perhaps highlighting this new framework and the role of PSHE will help you make your case more forcefully.
In a nutshell… Put PSHE at the heart of conversations around character building.
ADDED APRIL 2021
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