Fencing and philosophy part of award-winning character education


A Cheshire school has won a national character education award for promoting traits like grit and resilience in its students.

King’s Leadership Academy, a secondary free school in Warrington, was declared the overall winner of the Department for Education (DfE)’s new Character Awards at a ceremony in London earlier this month.

King’s Leadership Academy was one of 27 regional winners, each of which won £15,000 and went forward to compete for the overall prize. The 280-pupil school took home a further £20,000 for winning the national title.

Since opening its doors in 2012, King’s Leadership Academy has embedded character education in many aspects of school life. The school prides itself on its “seven pillars of character” – aspiration, achievement, self-awareness, professionalism, integrity, respect and endeavour. These permeate the curriculum and extra-curricular activities and inform the day-to-day running of the school.

As well as running weekly public speaking, philosophy and ethics classes for each year group, the school enrols pupils on an 18-week programme of fencing led by an Olympic coach.

All the students participate in the school’s brass orchestra, do three hours a week of formal team sports and are encouraged to take on leadership roles. Everyone gets the chance to do martial arts, rowing and take part in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme as they progress up the school.

Principal Shane Ierston held an impromptu assembly for the pupils to announce that the school had won the prestigious award.

“They were very proud and delighted,” said Mr Ierston. “We really want our students to think morally when they are making decisions and we feel that through our focus on character the children will become successful citizens in tomorrow’s world.”

Last year Ofsted praised King’s Leadership Academy for its students’ outstanding behaviour and “firm values and principles”. It has never excluded a pupil and attendance is well above the national average.

The winning schools and organisations were chosen by a panel of experts. Each entrant had to show that their work had improved student outcomes in terms of exam results, behaviour, attendance and job prospects. 

The DfE has recently invested £4 million to reward and spread the character work of schools and charities, and £1 million to research the most effective approaches.

“Investing in the character of young people will not only help them succeed academically but will also improve their job prospects and help them bounce back from setbacks,” said education secretary Nicky Morgan, who presented the awards.

“Character education is a central part of our plan for education. Teachers across the country are doing excellent work to promote character. King’s Leadership Academy is leading the character charge and I hope other schools can learn from its success.”



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