The revamping of school coursework would see an end to “desk-based projects” and shift its focus onto preparing young people for later life, Demos has said.
Its report proposes that volunteering-style tasks be introduced, or what it calls “service learning”.
Ideas put forward for this new-look coursework include pupils researching and giving guided tours of local historical monuments, teaching pensioners IT skills, or coaching younger pupils to play new sports.
It comes as the recent political debate has centred on skills education. Education secretary Michael Gove said earlier this year that employers are looking for young people who are “self-disciplined”, while Labour’s education shadow Tristram Hunt has said that “character education” should be included in initial teacher training and that “resilience” should be on the curriculum.
The Demos study – Scouting for Skills – was commissioned by the Scouts Association and researchers interviewed 100 young people who had grown up attending a Scout group.
They found that teaching in a real-life setting helped students to develop a range of skills, such as team-work, determination, public speaking and mixing with people from different backgrounds.
A Demos poll of 500 teachers also found that 88 per cent believe that volunteering benefits students the most in terms of improving their soft skills.
Elsewhere, the report also advocates engaging local businesses with community learning projects via work experience or employer fairs and says that organisations like the Scouts should create “vocational-based awards” for the specific skills that young people might need for their future education.
Jonathan Birdwell, head of the citizenship programme at Demos, and author of the report, said: “Philosophers have written about character for centuries. Finally politicians from all parties are beginning to recognise character has a vital role in the modern world, and that schools need to play a central role in nurturing it.
“The concept of character stresses the value of skills like team-working, leadership, confidence and communication. Our research suggests that these abilities are most likely to be taught to young people through activities that get them outside of the classroom and into their communities.”
Wayne Bulpitt, chief commissioner of the Scout Association, added: “The current political focus on how we build character among young people is something which the Scouts welcome. For too long, there has been a belief that character and resilience were either something children inherited through their genes or that such qualities were too old-fashioned.”