A teacher’s response to the new Character Education Framework Guidance by the Department for Education

Recently, the Department for Education (DfE) released a new non-statutory Framework Guidance to schools on character education. The Framework Guidance is intended for use by school leaders and teachers when considering the rationale for character education and the practicalities of provision and delivery. Given that the new Ofsted Inspection Handbook recognises the importance of a school’s provision for character development through its inclusion in the judgement of Personal Development, the release of this document offers schools a tool to reflect and plan their ‘next steps’ based on the Six Character Benchmarks outlined.

As a previous Character Lead in a primary school, guidance from the DfE regarding the development of pupils’ character had previously been underwhelming, however this new Framework offers schools a much-needed tool to reflect on, and develop, their character education provision. The Framework Guidance focuses on Six Character Benchmarks (pages 4-6) that are considered by the DfE to be the most important features of good provision for character education: The benchmarks are constructed as questions to allow leaders and teachers to reflect on: 1. What kind of school are we? 2. What are our expectations of behaviour towards each other? 3. How well do our curriculum and teaching develop resilience and confidence? 4. How good is our co-curriculum provision? 5. How well do we promote the value of volunteering and service to others? 6. How do we ensure that all our pupils benefit equally from what we offer?

Alongside the Six Character Benchmarks, the Framework outlines three significant ways schools can ensure pupils’ character is developed (page 8): 1. Clear leadership, which creates a pervasive ethos of high expectations of behaviour towards others in and beyond the school community. 2. A well-designed curriculum that ensures pupils grow incrementally in their ability to learn and make progress. 3. A strong provision for co-curricular activities that is designed to focus on high-quality activities across a wide spectrum of different domains (for example cultural, creative, sporting, physical, service-oriented, volunteering.)

Having personally conducted a self-evaluation in the primary I worked in, using the Jubilee Centre’s Evaluation Handbook for Schools, the benefit of using tools that stimulate reflection on a school’s current provision is invaluable. The DfE’s framework guidance offers principles and practices that enhance and improve a school’s character education provision, which ultimately contributes to positive character development.

The opportunities for reflection provided by the Framework is no doubt a step in the right direction for character education. The more resources and evaluative frameworks available to schools to reflect on their character education provision, the more chance of substantial and effective change. Significantly, the Framework Guidance outlines positive examples of activities that contribute to pupils’ character development (e.g. assemblies, dedicated character education lessons and sports clubs), which further highlights the need for schools to embody a coherent approach that focuses on the ‘taught’, ‘caught’ and ‘sought’ aspects of character education.

Interestingly, the DfE’s Framework also includes findings from a literature review by the Educational Endowment Foundation and Cabinet Office that suggests enabling character virtues can improve educational attainment. This positive correlation focuses on research findings that highlight that an effective character education approach contributes to: higher self-efficacy, highly motivated children driven internally, self-regulation and greater well-being. The inclusion links to the likely benefits character education can have on schools and pupils as outlined by leaders and teachers in the Jubilee Centre’s upcoming CPD Programme: Leading Character Education in School: Becoming a School of Character, due to be piloted in February 2020. This online CPD Programme provides a comprehensive overview of both the theory and practice of the leadership of character education within primary and secondary school settings. The DfE’s Character Education Framework Guidance will allow schools to critically reflect on their practicalities of provision and delivery regarding character education, whilst the Jubilee Centre’s upcoming CPD programme will offer a practical introduction for schools seeking to develop a Character Education Lead, or those looking to learn more about the theory and practice of the leadership of character education.

To conclude, as a former Character Education Leader, the new Framework Guidance by the Department for Education is further recognition that character education has a significant role to play in schools. Through offering reflective questions for schools to consider, the Framework allows schools to re-evaluate their character education provision whilst also providing signposts to relevant organisations which support character education. I suggest that this tool should be used alongside other self-evaluation resources, including the Jubilee Centre’s Evaluation Handbook for Schools to offer a comprehensive and in-depth evaluation of a school’s ‘taught’, ‘caught’ and ‘sought’ approaches to character development.

If you would like any further information regarding the launch of the online CPD Programme: Leading Character Education in Schools: Becoming a School of Character, please contact: t.taylor.2@bham.ac.uk

Tom Taylor, Research Fellow, Jubilee Centre for Character & Virtues

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