Character education resources released

Written by: Matt Bawden | Published:
Image: MA Education

Teaching Character Through Subjects – the new government-funded character education resources – have been released. Matt Bawden explains what they are all about

“We will ensure a knowledge-rich curriculum is complemented by the development of the character traits and fundamental British values that will help children succeed.”
Educational Excellence Everywhere, Department for Education White Paper, March 2016

When the education secretary, Nicky Morgan, set out her vision for character education at the symposium held at the Floreat School in Wandsworth in January 2016, she echoed the prime minister’s Life Chances speech saying how important it is “to give every child the chance to dream big dreams, and the tools – the character, the knowledge and the confidence – that will let their potential shine brightly”.

This has now been followed less than two months later by the White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere. Deep within this document, in chapter 6, there are pages setting out the government’s vision for character education in the context of developing high expectations and a world-leading curriculum for all.

The section begins by stating that a 21st century education “should prepare children for adult life by instilling the character traits and fundamental British values that will help them succeed”. There is also mention of how such traits open doors, and perhaps as importantly underpin “academic success, happiness and wellbeing”.

The White Paper stresses no ambition to mandate a particular approach, and this is probably wise. There are many great schools already leading the way, and many others who are actually developing great characters without ever realising they are doing so.

The Teaching Character Through the Curriculum project, which the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues has developed for the Department for Education, was commissioned a year ago, along with others from organisations such as Premiership Rugby, the Church of England and the Scouts Association.

The aim of the projects has been to add to the wealth of materials available to help schools develop a range of character traits, attributes and behaviours that underpin success in education and work. These projects are now reporting back and releasing their materials.

Our project has taken the full year, involved more than 50 teachers from more than 30 schools, and has created 31 suites of resources for use across 14 subjects in the secondary school curriculum. This article explains a little more and shows how you might begin to make the most of our work.

Our resource is housed in its own area of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues’ website. Once there you will find several tabs, including ones for the 14 subjects, and a downloadable guide.

A how-to guide

When developing the resources we were very keen to ensure everyone understood character education in a similar fashion and with a broadly common view of what makes for a great set of lessons, although still open for different approaches to the delivery.

To this end we ran introductory workshops and a wide range of follow-up training. The guide we have produced reflects this process. It begins with an article exploring the theoretical underpinning of our approach, written by Professor Kristján Kristjánsson, and an introduction to teaching character, written by Ian Morris from Wellington College.

These pages are really quite important to understanding the “how” and “why” behind our approach. But for the casual reader looking for some inspiration it is the subject pages that really trigger ideas.

Subject inspiration

Within the guide there are handy summaries for each of the different suites across all of the 14 subjects. These offer a brief overview of what you might expect were you to delve deeper and download the resources themselves.

There has never been any intention for a teacher to take a resource, open a PowerPoint, and just teach; though this may be possible. Instead the hope is teachers will explore the whole range of materials and feel they too can have a go and create some really interesting character education lessons of their own.

The resources are aimed at key stages 3 and 4, but they are adaptable and the themes are certainly applicable to both older and younger students. These reinforce the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues’ belief that there is no blueprint for character education, and that the approach ought to reflect the starting point of the individual and groups of students.

The first summaries are those for mathematics and here they relate to three suites of resources, each taking around five lessons to complete. They cross key stages and style, one is very student-led, and another is set within a wider worldview and may be of interest to geographers as well.

Next there are two summaries for English, followed by two more for science. I remember visiting two of the schools that produced some of these resources and talking with their students. In both cases, the students were clear how valuable the materials were and how easily they can be adapted to different ages and abilities. In the more detailed key information documents that can also be found on the site, the teachers have explained how they think this can work. It will be interesting to see what others think.

Following these three core subjects there are history, geography and languages resource summaries. When we were evaluating the suites of resources with classes in other schools these were often among the most popular. They are certainly very varied, and many teachers adapted them to meet their own needs, and the needs of their current schemes of work.

To demonstrate how every subject in the curriculum has the potential to be an excellent vehicle for character education one of the most exciting responses came from those trialling the art and design resources.

Both were really well received. A feature of each resource, whether in this subject or in any other, was that they were targeted toward developing knowledge, understanding, and application of a small range of particular virtues. One of the art resources focused in on confidence and optimism, the other on honesty and integrity, and in both cases the students and their teachers reported clear enthusiasm and consideration, not to mention creating some amazing artwork.

Following art and design there are resources for citizenship, computer science, design and technology, music, PE, PSHE, and RE. These are all both rich in character education and subject development. There are three citizenship resources, notably one of these covers the in-lesson delivery of the government’s anti-radicalisation Prevent agenda.

The best reaction of the whole project probably came from one of the two music resources, both of which are really worth a read, where one student claimed it had made him think about others and stop being such a complete show-off in lessons. In fact it was this resource that inspired a health and social care teacher to make her own character education resources, and these will be added to the site shortly.

Next steps

We are not suggesting these resources are a panacea for all your character education provision – remembering that much of character education is caught as much as taught. There is no doubt that your lessons are likely to already be brimming with great character work. There is also no claim that everything you look at will seem amazing, however it ought to inspire you.

These are not all examples of best practice in the best schools; the resources are examples of realistic practice in real schools. They are written in the teachers’ own words and with their resources, as made by them, and trialled by others. In the future, the 31 suites of resources on the website will hopefully be dwarfed by those you and others create. Below are some suggested next steps, but before you start on them, watch the short video introduction on the website and then:

  1. Read some of the subject summaries in the guide.
  2. Read one or two of the opening articles.
  3. Have a look at a key information document.
  4. Open a full resource and adapt it for a trial in your own classroom.
  5. Finally make your own suit of resources.

The guide and forthcoming video have many quotes from some of the excellent teachers who took part in this work. What you will be looking at took a long time for them to create. However, as one maths teacher said, “many of the characteristics are part of good teaching”.

We have not been trying to reinvent the wheel, but simply to show how straightforward it can be to include great character education in great teaching.

Examples from Teaching Character Through Subjects

Science
An example suite of lessons from science
By David Ashmore, The University of Birmingham School

Virtues explored: Moral virtues of honesty and cooperation, along with intellectual virtues of curiosity and resilience, are explored and developed in this key stage 3 module of work.

Students will develop curiosity throughout the lessons by exploring for themselves the layout, design and characteristics of the periodic table. Through the story of how new elements have been discovered, students will develop an understanding of how honesty and resilience are vital character virtues in scientific research. Before each task, students will identify the virtues needed to be successful. At the end of each lesson, students will reflect on the virtues used and can use the five stages of moral development to evaluate their progression.


History
An example suite of lessons from history
By Lisa Cohen, The Blue Coat School, Oldham

Virtues explored: Resilience, respect and community spirit are explored when looking at the events of the First World War and the impact on soldiers.

In this suite, the virtues are explicitly discussed (especially resilience). Students see a build-up of the qualities as the soldiers would see a build-up during the war. They also focus on these virtues when completing objective-led tasks, with the evidence coming through discussion of experiences and specific writing activities. Furthermore, at the start the students will be introduced to key qualities/virtues, the idea being that they will later recognise and identify them for themselves.


Art
An example suite of lessons from art
By Natalie Jennings, Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Ashbourne

Virtues explored: Confidence and optimism are explored through a study of fragility and distortion in key stage 4.

Initially, these materials were trialled with key stage 4, but they are equally adaptable both up and down the school. The materials focus on confidence and optimism as keys to success in art at GCSE. They might also be used during the year to reinvigorate classes as they enable students to understand the personal impact and development of confidence and optimism through discussion, self-evaluation and practical activity.

Character resources

  • You can download the resources from the Teaching Character Through the Curriculum project at http://bit.ly/1YsXqig
  • The existing Framework for Character Education in Schools is also available from the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at http://bit.ly/1MrLgEj


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