The cornerstones of character: Opportunity

Written by: Matt Bawden | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

In the final of his four articles on the cornerstones of good character and mental health provision, Matt Bawden looks at the opportunities available and how to take hold of them…

Two recent reports from the Department for Education (August 2017) have suggested that four cornerstones are important for successful in-school mental health and character education provision.
These four are: leadership, accountability, direction, and opportunity.

In my last three articles for SecEd (see further information), I focused on the cornerstones of leadership, accountability and direction.

In this final article, I explore how developing appropriate opportunities enhances both mental health and character education.

However, during times where money can be tight schools are encouraged to make the most of what is available. Here are some ideas and pointers.

Taking outside opportunities

Starting with former education secretary Nicky Morgan, and now under the current secretary of state Damian Hinds, character education has been shown to be integral to the vision of the Department for Education’s strategies.

It cannot be doubted that mental health dominates the headlines, and yet there are strong links to be made between the positive effects of well-directed character education and mental wellbeing.

Increasingly there are opportunities for schools to work with, or learn from external providers in character education, and also mental health.

The main CPD providers put on training events and charge a fairly standard rate. There are, however, one or two places where this CPD can be found for less.

In 2015/16, I spent a few months working for the Jubilee Centre for Character & Virtues on a Department for Education project. This organisation offers a range of CPD that would meet most, if not all, of a school’s needs. They are even opening an online portal for parents.

Another organisation to try is the Association for Character Education (ACE), for whom I edit an online journal, who hold an excellent member-only annual conference in July. For a low cost schools and individuals may sign-up and receive a variety of help in developing their approaches.

Finally there are a range of schools on a similar journey. They do not all take the same route, but they are normally willing to share their experiences with others.

A visit to the website of the Jubilee Centre for Character & Virtues will provide you with a plethora of free-to-download resources to make your development of character education easier.

There are some excellent research reports, providing both statistics and case studies. There are exemplar schemes of work with accompanying resources to try out in lessons. There are tools to help you audit and involve a range of stakeholders.

My personal favourite is the evaluation handbook that can be found in the character education resource section (see further information). It enables a school to track its progress fairly swiftly, and importantly to quality-assure against quite a range of criteria.

The auditing tool is only a part of this handbook. Great efforts have been made to ensure the user knows how to gather the data effectively. There are sections here to help any school gather great student, staff or community voice. In the same section of the website there is a link to online learning, a range of informative videos, and their new MA programme.

ACE, meanwhile, is a more recent development, and one with a growing membership of interested individuals, schools, local authorities, providers, academics and overseas colleagues.

ACE has a growing membership who attend the annual conference in their droves. The conference is held in a different school each summer and offers a range of guest speakers and workshops. Individuals can join for £50 and receive a free ticket to the conference.

This year there are speakers from schools, academia and those with inspirational stories to tell. Workshops are being offered by people who face the same issues as the rest of us, and in an atmosphere where everyone shares the same developmental interest. I can vividly recall leading a workshop last year and finding that it quickly moved to being a more focused discussion on alternative provision over the extensive buffet lunch.

Conferences like ACE show us just how many schools there are on this same journey. Being part of an informal learning community of peers can be really useful. And it is not difficult. ACE has a fledgling LinkedIn group, for example, and there are many who are yet to join this group who may also be happy to network.

In my years of experience looking at character education, and more recently mental health, I have found that those who develop it are also happy to share it. I have been on several visits to schools across the country to look at what they do and snaffle ideas to bring back to Derbyshire. Likewise several staff have visited me. One thing that binds all these staff and schools is the diversity with which they approach both character education and mental health provision. There really is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Thoughts on seizing opportunities

  • Look at websites, but do not be a slave to them. The sites I have mentioned above are just two of many. They will offer great things, but with great things comes great responsibility. Always adapt what you see for your setting, and look beyond the obvious. I’ve found great resources for my secondary school in projects meant for primary.
  • Use social media. People seem far happier to share great ideas on platforms like Twitter than they are in the real world.
  • There’s nothing like visiting a school to get a good idea. It is great to read about something, but if you can see it in the classroom, on the fields, or in the corridors you will be much clearer on whether it could work for you. Plus you can form friendships, share future planning, and build lasting networks.
  • Schools are brimming with possibility so look at what you have before you look for something new. There are usually staff who have untapped ideas, students who know what they need, and parents or local businesses with resources. People love to be attached to projects that help the whole child. They often echo their own sensibilities, needs or in the case of local businesses their “brand”.
  • Once you have exhausted these then it might be time to move onto the things that cost money. Some are fairly inexpensive, others cost more. Mental health charities (such as the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust) will be good value – charging for costs and not profit. However, others will need to make money to survive.
  • Finally, don’t forget our friends from the ministry. I know they are researching both character and mental health. They aren’t doing it to get at us, they are doing it because like us they care about the future. The links for the reports they published last year are below.

Conclusion

So this is the last of four cornerstones. They help to hold up the whole child and can be read as a single copy together. They do not go in to what character education is, they explain something of how to develop it. If you’d like to know more I would suggest taking some of the opportunities above.

  • Matt Bawden is an assistant headteacher at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Ashbourne and editor of the Association for Character Education eJournal Character Matters. To contact Matt, follow him on Twitter @ourschoolday. To read his previous articles and SecEd’s other best practice relating to character education, visit http://bit.ly/1OvQtqv.

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