Students need a little bit of pluck, says charity

28th March 2014 at 00:00
Organisation aims to build character with new resources

Grit, loyalty and determination should be central topics in Scottish classrooms, the charity Character Scotland has said.

Speaking at the launch of activities to promote character education and support teachers in this area, the organisation's chief executive, David Lorimer, said that such values should be taught as explicit topics rather than implicit themes.

The charity believes that students should be encouraged to think carefully about the concept of character and explore their own strengths using quizzes and activities that prompt discussion with their classmates.

Professor James Arthur, chair of the charity and director of the University of Birmingham's Jubilee Centre for Character and Values, said that paper qualifications were simply "not enough". Making values, virtues and strengths a focus in schools was "terribly important", he added.

"Scotland is well placed to focus more on character in ways that are explicit, deliberate, planned and recognised as a key area of professional practice," said Gary Walsh, executive officer at the charity. "Character education is already recognised by many practitioners as central to the aims and purposes of Curriculum for Excellence, but there is much more that can be done."

The charity's drive to bring character education into the classroom is part of a UK-wide trend towards the idea of explicitly teaching young people about the concepts of grit and resilience. Anthony Seldon, master of top private school Wellington College, has been at the forefront of promoting the concept; now state schools are also warming to the idea, as TESS showed earlier this month ("Heavy mettle", Feature, 7 March).

Tristram Hunt, England's shadow education minister, also called last month for character to be taught in schools, saying that its development "should not be left to chance".

To support the drive, Character Scotland is launching the Character Development Network - an online portal giving teachers access to resources and activities. These include a "character tree", where children will be asked to attach leaves with their names on to strengths written on the branches.

At Gracemount High in Edinburgh last week, the charity announced its first set of "character champions" - classroom teachers from across Scotland who are already tackling the subject with young people (see box, left). Gracemount High students also took part in an online international premiere (along with 1,500 other schools worldwide) of a new film, The Science of Character, which stresses the need to focus and build on one's strengths from a young age.

Gracemount has been involved in character education for a number of years, most recently through the INSPIREgt;ASPIRE: Global Citizens in the Making programme. This aims to help schools across the Commonwealth develop aspirations in their students using the Commonwealth Games as inspiration.

Religious education teacher Adelle Fleming, who was named as one of the character champions, told TESS that the students got a lot out of it. "It is giving them space to think about who they are and who they want to become," she said. "They do not get a lot of time to think about what is important to them. They think about exams, but not about who they are and about what they want from life."

Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, told TESS she was interested in Character Scotland's message. "The older children get, the more they need the input of respected adults who are not parents, to work out who they are and what is important to them," she said.

"This is really part of health and well-being in the curriculum and is an important element of the journey to adulthood for our youngsters."

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