Amid the pressure to hit targets and the clamour to shine in school league tables, there is resurgent interest in the wider development of students’ character.
Teachers and parents see the intrinsic value of helping young people to untap their potential as flourishing citizens of the world. But how does a school judge how well it is embedding character education?
For a school to understand how to make progress, and to engage in effective self-evaluation, it is necessary for staff to understand where the school is starting from. What is it excelling at when providing character education? Are there any aspects of character education provision that could be improved? Answering these questions is not easy and will be based on teachers’ professional judgement.
With these challenges in mind, the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues is launching a new handbook to help guide staff through the self-evaluation of character education provision. The new Character Education: Evaluation Handbook for Schools provides practical advice, guidance and tools to help schools implement the principles and practice of self-evaluation to enhance and improve character education provision.
Developed in collaboration with an expert advisory group of teachers, the handbook is not a rigid, prescriptive guide; rather it is designed to be flexible and applicable to the context and needs of individual schools. It dovetails with the Jubilee Centre’s Schools of Virtue research project, which is looking at how three beacon schools have embedded character education interventions, along with the effects of these.
The handbook focuses on the evaluation of provision; it is not about schools looking to measure the character of students but rather to support teachers and give them the tools they need to identify what the school can celebrate, and also what can be done to improve character education. The focus on self-evaluation is also seen at a national level through schools’ development of self-evaluation summaries to inform Ofsted inspections.
Despite the benefits of self-evaluation, research by the Jubilee Centre suggests self-evaluation methods for character education in UK schools are limited. We hope the new handbook will help teachers to put character education front and centre of the school day and ethos.
The nature of self-evaluation and its practical application in school environments, both in primary and secondary settings, is central to the handbook. It is important that self-evaluation is grounded in a clear and accessible framework clearly defined by individual schools, shared with all staff and based on the priorities of the students they serve. Students, parents, teachers, support staff and governors need to be involved as a united community. In essence, what matters most to students, parents and teachers?
The handbook comprises four sections, starting with an introduction to self-evaluation, character and character education. This section also considers the limitations and opportunities presented by evaluating character and character education.
From this background section, the handbook moves on to provide a practical framework that schools can use to evaluate their provision of character education. It is suggested that the framework is adapted by schools to serve their individual circumstances and is used as a live document that is regularly revisited to appreciate any progression made.
The framework is based around four levels so schools can map where they are starting from and chart their progress. These levels are then applied to the following topics: the school ethos, culture and vision; the curriculum (explaining how character education is embedded in lessons and throughout the school day); learning outside the classroom; the school community (how students, staff, governors and parents understand and demonstrate virtues); and links with the wider community.
The third section looks at the different approaches and methods that can be used as part of a school’s self-evaluation. Effective self-evaluation of character education relies on consulting with the wider school community. This section is intended to give schools the tools they need not only to capture the school community’s thoughts but also provides advice on analysis. Included in this section is advice on the use of surveys, lesson observations, group interviews and moral dilemmas.
The final section provides practical advice on student self-reflection and how this can support the development of students’ good sense – defined as being able to respond to a situation by feeling the right thing, in the right way, towards the right people, at the right time and for the right length of time. Students are invited to consider not only what they have done but how and why they have done it. As the handbook explains: “Young people should be given the opportunity to consider how their thoughts and feelings may have had an impact on an outcome and how they may be able to put this reflection into practice in future”. This section also includes real-life examples of how schools, both primary and secondary, have incorporated self-reflection in their timetable. It is hoped that this will provide inspiration for other schools looking to embed student self-reflection.
The handbook will be made widely available online and it is the belief of the Jubilee Centre that it will support schools to understand further how and why they are providing character education and help them to identify what they are doing well and the improvements they can make. The goal is to allow schools to see the value of character education for the benefit of their students, the wider school community and society in general.
Emily Burn, Research Associate, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues