Character Education Pedagogies: What Works, Where and Why?

With the character development of pupils being given more prominence by both the Department for Education[1] and Ofsted[2], more and more teachers and schools are asking – how exactly do you teach character? 

Since 2012, the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues has been at the forefront of research into character education, both in the UK and internationally, placing it in a unique position to produce an extensive suite of piloted, trialled and evaluated practical character education programmes and teaching resources. The demand for these resources continues to grow, having been accessed and downloaded directly from the Centre’s website thousands of times by teachers, schools and other educational settings. The accumulation of the impact of this work was realised last year when the Centre launched its free online CPD programme, Leading Character Education in Schools. The success of the CPD programme, which has had over 1,700 registered users from over 55 different countries, highlights that practitioners are looking for guidance and support on how to approach the character development of their pupils and – more importantly  how to deliver character education in schools.

This month, the Centre has launched its latest research project, Character Education Pedagogies: What works, where and why? This project will examine previous Centre-produced research reports and educational resources and research in the wider field of character education, to discover which character education pedagogies work, where they are best placed and what contributes to their effectiveness. Further to this, the project team will closely consider any reasons for character education programmes not being effective or aspects which pose particular challenges to practitioners. Importantly, the project aims to provide recommendations on which pedagogical approaches to educating character are most effective and why, and to apply these findings to a range of different contexts which reach beyond the classroom, including higher education, the professions and vocational training.

To provide examples of different approaches to character education, here we highlight three of the Centre’s most successful teaching resources to date – Knightly VirtuesMy Characterand Teaching Character through the Primary Curriculum – and single out the main approach taken to the teaching of character in each of these.

Teaching Character through Stories

The Knightly Virtues programme was designed to help teach moral character in schools using high quality, classic fictional and real-life stories. Over 20,000 pupils have had access to these resources and examples of the stories include The Merchant of VeniceDon QuixoteBeowulf, and the story of Anne Frank. Research following the programme found evidence that most pupils understood the importance of the messages about virtues through the literature, indicating the use of stories as one of the most promising educational routes to the teaching of moral character.

Critical Reflection

The My Character programme includes a set of 10 downloadable resources that guide pupils and teachers through activities and critical reflections based on eight character traits. The purpose of these resources is to guide and stimulate self-reflection in pupils in the belief that this will encourage them to discuss goals, strategies and performance, helping them to become more accomplished and successful adults. With a strong focus on future-mindedness, the resources challenge pupils to be aspirational and to appreciate that their future success has its foundation in the way they approach their lives in the here and now.

Moral Exemplars

The Teaching Character through the Primary Curriculum is a programme of study developed for Year 6 students (10 to 11-year-olds) to aid in their transition to secondary school. It uses the biographies of seven inspirational persons to focus on the teaching of specific character virtues across the primary curriculum. Learning about the lives of inspirational people has long been a part of education, but studying their biographies through the lens of educating for character is an exciting pedagogy with the potential to awaken in pupils a sense of not only admiration but motivation to become the best version of themselves.   

Highlighted here are just three approaches for character education, which have been well-researched and are often championed by educators of character. What this project will set out to achieve is a thorough and comprehensive study of all successful pedagogies for teaching character – across a range of different contexts – by working closely with the professionals who deliver such provision every day. Culminating in a focus on how pupils can be encouraged to seek to develop their own character, the project has exciting implications for the future of character education and for the individuals who benefit from its delivery.

  [1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/character-education-framework

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/school-inspection-handbook-eif

Research Fellows Michael Fullard & Catherine O’Leary

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