Character, the community and your school ethos

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

Character education is at the heart of personal development and often defines a school’s ethos. But how best can we deliver these messages of personal development to parents and into the community. Matt Bawden looks at some different approaches

Every school loves a good student leader. In the last year I have visited many great schools across England, and each had a superb brigade of smartly dressed prefects, house leaders, or other similar sign of student voice. Interestingly, many include students who are not leaders, but are doers – young people who have a range of other talents and who prefer not to be leading.

Character qualities are plentiful in them and around their schools. The same qualities are featured in inspection frameworks, on school websites, and in the statements of intent we place on classroom walls and discuss in assemblies.

Yet how much do those outside our walls really know or understand the qualities that these students embody and which we aspire to instil? We can have the greatest possible programme of PSHE, a fantastic approach to anti-bullying work, and excellent monitoring of provision across the curriculum – but if we cannot effectively disseminate this beyond our gates, we just make extra work for ourselves.

Clearly we, in schools, are there for our students. More and more people are writing and speaking about our overarching purpose as one of enabling human flourishing. This growth occurs through a rich diversity of endeavour, but not in isolation.

When we increase parental and community involvement we make this growth smarter, we make the flourishing more vigorous, and we wring every drop of opportunity from our efforts.

So how can we really make the most of what we do to raise parental and community awareness? Below I include a few examples of common approaches seen in schools I have visited.

The parent/carer evening

Parents’ evenings are an excellent way to disseminate core messages and to gather views. Have students on hand who can explain their personal development – perhaps via a stall, or as they are sat in front of their teacher. The student might outline what their teacher will say clearly showing confidence and self-assurance and outstanding personal development.

The open day

Annual or more regular showcases where everyone is scrubbed up and everything is at its best can be a lovely way to air our approaches to personal development.

More and more schools encourage students to lead open days, taking parents round, running surveys, organising refreshments. They also then have the opportunity to talk “frankly” and to share their journey.

The parents they will be meeting are largely starting out on their journey with the school. This is great because they will begin fully aware of the opportunities and possibilities for their children.

The advance guard

Here I include all those times when our students might be “out there” in our community. This could be the school trip, the work experience week, a sports field, or perhaps some form of volunteering. In these cases the students are our ambassadors.

It might be that they have a stall at a local fair in the summer or are helping out at a fundraiser. Wherever they are, there is a great opportunity to show the sort of young people the school produces.

Many people get to see them, and we get to see them in a different light away from the classroom and out in the wider world. Character can be shown here in so many ways, whether through the giving of time or the demonstration of personal qualities.

Alumni and volunteers

The “Amazing Parents and Carers and Former Students Association”! Every school tends to have a (hopefully large) core of parents who are happy to help out. There is also often a collective of former students who keep in touch. They know the school, and what it stands for.

They often campaign tirelessly for funds and stand watch at school events offering vital moral and organisational support. Former students return for events and to see their old teachers. Include them in your plans and all their businesses, shop fronts, surgeries, places of worship suddenly become places you can hang a poster, and in each one a person who can explain why what you do matters.

There is nothing like a parent (except maybe a child) to explain why something is important to other parents. While they clearly care about qualifications they are all desperate for their offspring to flourish in the broadest sense possible too.

The letter home

Schools often still send blanket letters to all parents and carers. Some schools now post their letters to the ether and send texts prompting parents to read the missives on their site. Some go so far as to rank them in order to help parents decide which to read or not. In either case, the message can only be brief – and that must be a good thing. Clarity matters. As one governor I met recently said, the message needs to be clear enough for him to explain it to his aunty in a lift. This is particularly true if the message is to be carried by social media.

Local and in-school press

The local press lives or dies on local readers – and that means your parents. Offering them quality ideas for stories that show students doing noteworthy things can make great articles, especially if you can offer good photos as well. An advert can cost a lot, but providing an interesting article will probably be free – even more so if a student writes it.

As Michelle Ward, a colleague at my school – QEGS Ashbourne – explained: “Using a student journalism team to get the message out works really well. We wanted to encourage parents we don’t normally have so much contact with to become involved in building an observatory for our astronomy club. Having an article written in our local paper really helped.

“Our students have written about trips and other things and in each piece they make it clear how they have benefited as individuals and as members of our school.”

Clearly such things take time and a certain degree of oversight, however they also offer the chance to explore other areas, including literacy. Students’ participating in the creation of articles and possibly their distribution allow them to develop skills such as leadership, independence, reliability and more.

Then of course there is always the school website, a vital portal to promote your character and personal development work. I will tackle this in my next SecEd article, due out on November 17.

  • 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. He is a former teacher-in-residence with The Jubilee Centre for Character & Virtues. Follow @ourschoolday. To read his previous articles and SecEd’s other best practice relating to character, visit



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