Character education linked to exam success, says school


Exam success and the character traits pupils need for life “cannot be uncoupled” the headteacher of an award-winning school has said.

Exam success and the character traits pupils need for life “cannot be uncoupled” the headteacher of an award-winning school has said.

Tapton School in Sheffield is helping pupils to develop lifelong learning behaviours and skills by tracking their “resilience, reflectiveness, reciprocity, resourcefulness and respect”.

Its innovative system has proved so successful that it recently won one of the Department for Education’s (DfE) new Character Awards. 

The 1,650-pupil school, rated as outstanding by Ofsted, is one of 27 schools and organisations to each win £15,000 for their work in promoting traits like grit and resilience in students. 

Education secretary Nicky Morgan will announce the overall winner, who will receive a further £20,000, at a ceremony in London on Monday (March 16).

Claire Tasker, co-headteacher at Tapton School, believes that it is perfectly possible for schools to focus on exam success and developing pupils’ values at the same time.

“They can’t be uncoupled,” she told SecEd. “The character traits for exam success are the character traits that we need for all other aspects of life.”

The school introduced the Tapton Learner Levels system in 2014. There are nine levels and as pupils progress up the school they move from grade one towards grade nine.

“There is the sense that as you grow up you develop better learning behaviours,” said Ms Tasker, whose co-head is David Dennis. “Within these grades there are five strands, so we look at students’ resilience, reflectiveness, reciprocity, resourcefulness and respect. 

“We used our knowledge and understanding of young people to define the learner levels, the grades and the five Rs within each grade. Students have really flown with it. They see it as a measure of how they can change and improve.”

She continued: “As well as assessing students against the levels we are constantly using them to say ‘this is how you will develop learner behaviours and character traits like stickability, grit and determination that will enable you to succeed at school and in life.”

The Learner Levels system was inspired by the work of psychologist Professor Carol Dweck, who believes that pupils’ potential is defined by their mindset and willingness to apply themselves rather than their innate ability. 

Craig Haslingden, a lead practitioner at Tapton, did much of the research in defining the Learner Levels, while deputy head Steve Rippin wrote the school’s application for the DfE award.

Tapton’s co-heads have also launched a half-termly raffle to encourage pupils to care for and value everyone. “Acts of decency, like helping a younger student or holding open a door, are worth celebrating,” said Ms Tasker. 

She added: “Each half-term, we draw out 15 names and we give them all a book. It’s a way of saying ‘yes, your exam outcomes are important because they open doors in life but we are interested in so much more about you than that’.”

For more on the Character Awards, including a list of the secondary school finalists among the 27, see SecEd’s previous article at

CAPTION: Character: Tapton School tracks students’ Learner Levels in ‘resilience, reflectiveness, reciprocity, resourcefulness and respect’ (Photos: Tapton School)


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