Understanding Impact and Influence: NatCen Report

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues (JCCV) recently commissioned the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) to undertake an independent survey of schools that were ‘subscribed’ to character education. The report (Iyer, Albakari and Smith, 2020) provides evidence that supports the Jubilee Centre notion that prioritising character education in schools supports pupils in their own development to make ‘good’ decisions and become responsible citizens.

The study engaged schools that had an existing commitment to character education via either direct participation with JCCV research, or as schools that had become members of the Association for Character Education (ACE). The JCCV has purported to have reached thousands of schools across the United Kingdom, and this report confirms the extent to which schools do deliver an articulated and meaningful vision for character education.

The report found that respondents’ definitions of character education ‘were broadly aligned with the JCCV’s definition’ (p.12), with schools defining character education in moral and civic terms, aligned with citizenship and flourishing. The findings provide evidence that both ‘taught’ and ‘caught’ approaches to character education provision are advocated by participating schools; this reaffirms the approach advocated for in A Framework for Character Education in Schools.

The primary purpose of commissioning the report was to collect empirical data that could underpin the impact that the JCCV is having with schools, and which can complement the rich qualitative evidence the JCCV has accrued since its work began. This was directed, initially, towards the Impact Case Study being prepared for the Research Excellence Framework (REF). The positive and supportive nature of the findings, though, lend themselves both to wider dissemination and greater exploration.

In particular, schools defining character in moral and civic terms points to a much deeper and broader comprehension of the language of character than has been held previously. Rather than a focus merely on the performative elements of character, such as determination and resilience – as does still exist in many areas – schools engaging with the JCCV’s Framework are able to articulate a more ‘virtue-centred’ conception of character education. This supports the ultimate goals of character education, in helping young people to live responsible lives as ‘good’ citizens, who make ‘good’ decisions for the benefit of themselves and others.

Further, the data show that schools engaged with the JCCV’s work see developing character as a good in and of itself, more than something that has extrinsic benefits, such as improving student behaviour or attainment.          

The report and its findings provide food for thought, and whilst it is heartening to see evidence of the engagement and impact the JCCV has hoped to have in schools, there is room to do more. The varied and nuanced pedagogies of delivering meaningful and effective character education in schools deserve greater attention, as does the ways in which schools are implementing the JCCV Framework. Both of these are areas of focus for the JCCV in its fourth, and forthcoming, phase of work. There is room and scope, though, to begin such explorations with schools immediately, particularly at a time when schools are planning for students to return, and character development is of utmost importance.

Iyer, P., Muslihah, A., & Smith, N. (2020) The influence of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues on character education in schools, London: NatCen Social Research.

Aidan Thompson, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues

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