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Need to know: What are schools supposed to do about character education?

Building character and resilience are back on the agenda for government. But what does this mean for schools?

tree climbing, damian hinds, bucket list, character, resilience

Building character and resilience are back on the agenda for government. But what does this mean for schools?

Character-building and resilience are once again back on the agenda. But what will this mean for schools?

Here is everything you need to know.

Resilience in schools

This week the issue will return to the fore as education secretary Damian Hinds give a keynote speech at a Church of England conference on Rethinking Resilience.

Organisers of the conference say that resilience is one of the most common education buzzwords of our day.  They say: “It is a word too often reduced to simplistic ideas of grit, determination, getting through tough times or simply coping.”

The Church Of England’s chief education officer, Nigel Genders, has suggested that the education system should look at resilience as a way of rising to the challenges of budget, staffing, recruitment of leaders and mental health

What does Damian Hinds think?

That building children’s character is all important. It has been a key theme since he took up the post last year. He mentioned it in his first speech as education secretary.

And two months ago he said that said schoolchildren could be encouraged to climb a tree, go stargazing and try yoga, as they tick off items on a character-building list.

Extracurricular goals

Mr Hinds is due to publish a series of extracurricular goals for pupils to achieve every year – which could include exploring a cave, knitting and growing vegetables – to develop their resilience.

He explained: "Bluntly, it is about doing stuff that doesn't involve looking at a screen. It's about getting out and about."

"We put a lot of effort into making sure we can share really good curriculum plans and teaching materials," he said. "This is an equivalent of that for stuff outside the curriculum, in recognition of the fact that what you do academically is only part of the story."

What will be expected of schools?

The focus on character-building activities is by definition extracurricular but it comes at a time when Ofsted is also looking in more detail at how school’s are developing their pupils.

The new inspection framework, which is set to come into force from this September, will split personal development and behaviour into separate categories to increase the importance of both areas in inspection judgements.

Inspectors will be judging schools on how they promote the resilience, confidence and independence – of their pupils.

It means schools could be praised for holding debating societies, cadet forces as part of a drive to recognise those which prioritise extracurricular activities.

Haven’t we been here before?

Yes. In December 2014 Nicky Morgan, as education secretary, launched the £3.5 million Character Grant scheme, which she said would be  “a landmark step for our education system”.

The government hailed it a the time as no less than a “multi-million-pound push to place England as a 'global leader' in teaching character, resilience and grit to pupils.”

However, it was quietly shelved some years later under Morgan’s successor, Justine Greening, with the department saying it had been replaced a £22 million Essential Life Skills programme restricted to the government’s 12 "Opportunity Areas".

Now character education is coming back. It will always make an appealing soundbite for politicians but with both the DfE and Ofsted talking about it, this could signal a real expectation from Whitehall that they want teachers to put extracurricular activity more at the centre of school life. 


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