The Character Nation report adds that character attributes including self-regulation, application, confidence and empathy, as well as “moral and civic virtues”, should be formally embedded into the school curriculum.
Written by the cross-party Demos think-tank and the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham, the report outlines four main categories of “good character”. These are:
Moral virtues such as courage, honesty, humility, empathy and gratitude.
Intellectual virtues such as curiosity and critical-thinking.
Performance virtues such as resilience, application, and self-regulation.
Civic virtues such as acts of service and volunteering.
The character education agenda is a priority for the Department for Education (DfE), with the inaugural Character Awards having taken place earlier this year and financial grants being made available recently for initiatives that promote these skills.
The Demos report draws on recent research into character and skills education, as well as workshops held with teachers, headteachers, psychologists and other experts.
It acknowledges the role that school culture and ethos plays in character education, but also says that “direct teaching” is important.
Quoting a previous Jubilee Centre report, it states: “Character should also be taught because direct teaching of character provides the rationale, language and tools to use in developing character.”
The report also reviewed the winners of the recent Character Awards, focusing on the common traits among their approaches.
It found that a whole-school ethos, including “the consideration of moral issues in a cross-curricular manner”, the involvement of families, and classes in public speaking, philosophy and ethics were all important. Other traits included:
Student-led recording evidence of personal development, accompanying school-led approaches to measure character.
Use of reward or award systems schemes.
Structured reflection periods.
Personal tutors or coaches, or older students working with younger students.
Opportunities to take part in voluntary programmes and social action in school and in the local community.
Among the report’s recommendations, it calls for the DfE to create a National Character Framework based on the four categories of virtues identified in the report. Ofsted inspection should also include an “assessment of the developmental activities of students outside school and in the wider community against the national character outcomes framework”.
It adds: “The requirement of a school to develop students socially, morally, spiritually and culturally should be renamed as ‘character development’ and placed on an equal par with attainment measures. It should also replace the current requirement to encourage ‘British values’.”
Elsewhere, it suggests a new National Baccalaureate for 14 to 19 education that would include character-building aspects such as volunteering, while school performance tables should focus more on “good-quality destination data so that schools are judged on their real-world impact”.
It adds: “Character education should be the explicit responsibility of a senior member of staff at the school, and should be supported by the head and senior leadership team.
“Secondary schools should adopt structured reflection periods and a tutor model of pastoral care, where a specific member of staff is responsible for the character development of particular students.”
Character Nation can be downloaded for free at www.demos.co.uk/publications/character-nation