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Schools lack time to build pupils' character, research shows

Character education is being crowded out of the school day despite receiving a £10 million funding boost, government research finds

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Character education is being crowded out of the school day despite receiving a £10 million funding boost, government research finds

Competing time pressures – such as a focus on academic subjects – is constraining schools from building pupils' "character", research has found.

This is despite the fact that nearly £10 million has been spent on projects aimed at helping schools to teach character, resilience and grit.

New research from the Department for Education (DfE) reveals that more than half (57 per cent) of school staff said in a survey that competing time demands were a significant barrier to developing desirable character traits among their pupils.

These pressures were reported to largely come from the introduction of new curriculum specifications and other requirements – such as performance-related pay and inspections – that encouraged a focus on academic results. 

In recent years, an increasing emphasis has been placed on character education by the government – including significant investment by the DfE in projects aimed at developing desirable character traits in children and young people.

Distinct 'character' lessons

But the new survey, which was completed by almost 900 schools, revealed that: 

  • Only one in six (17 per cent) of schools had a specific plan or policy in place for character education.

  • Only a quarter of schools had a lead member of staff for character.

  • Two-fifths (41 per cent) of schools offered distinct character education lessons.

  • Only 43 per cent of schools offered all staff members training relating to the development of character traits among pupils.

  • Just over half (54 per cent) were familiar with the term "character education" prior to being approached to take part in the research. 

As well as highlighting pressures on time, the survey revealed that nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of schools reported a lack of knowledge or information as a barrier to character development. 

Few schools reported a lack of priority for character education, but a lack of time and capacity was identified as a key constraint. 

The DfE wants to see more work in this area, including research into effective practice and gaps in provision.

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