The Blog

Could Schools Be Doing More to Build Children's Character?

Giving children the opportunity to develop abilities such as understanding how their behaviour affects others, learning from their mistakes and trying out new activities would all be considered an important part of character education.

I've been reading some of the articles featuring schools that triumphed in the government's character awards recently with great interest. There are some truly inspiring senior leaders and teachers in our schools.

The awards are designed to recognise the importance of some of the so-called 'softer skills' that children need in life - and employers are increasingly looking for in their staff.

But how can schools incorporate the development of qualities such as perseverance, integrity and community spirit into their teaching?

Exploring the 'softer' side of education

Giving children the opportunity to develop abilities such as understanding how their behaviour affects others, learning from their mistakes and trying out new activities would all be considered an important part of character education.

In many good schools, activities that could fall under the banner of character teaching are already happening - and often quite regularly.

Imagine your child's school arranges a cake sale to raise funds for a new sports hall, for example, and each class is tasked with planning and cooking a selection of treats to be sold in the playground at lunchtime. There is likely to be at least one child in the school who has never cooked before. By encouraging them to get involved in producing a display of delicious cupcakes you could, arguably, help to increase their confidence or inspire them to become more conscientious as they learn a new skill.

There may be a child who burns a whole batch of chocolate brownies and has to start all over again - a good opportunity for a child to show perseverance and even optimism. And how about a pupil who comes to the aid of their classmate after they drop all their ingredients on the way in to school? What a great example of neighbourliness and community spirit that would be.

Recognising and rewarding character

There can be a temptation to think of soft skills like determination and courage in a sporting context, but they could be just as applicable to a shy child who reads a piece of poetry out in an assembly for the first time. And it is just as important to recognise and reward children for displaying these attributes on the rugby pitch as it is on the stage.

Many teachers already use marksheets in school to record their pupils' academic achievement. This information can then be shared with parents, either in the regular pupil report, online - or in some schools more immediately, via text or email.

As a parent, wouldn't you love to hear about some of the ways your child is developing their character? Schools could simply make relevant notes on their marksheet and share the details with you. Teachers could even look at the skills your child is accumulating over time and encourage them to take part in activities that strengthen some of the personals skills they may not have worked on yet.

When you think about the teaching of character, many of the activities that our children get involved in - both inside and outside school - are already helping them to become the rounded adults that they need to be to succeed in whichever career pathway they decide to take in the future.

So what is the message behind schemes like the character awards?

Preparing children for a future unknown

As is the case in any high performing school, academic success is frequently regarded by parents as a given in many of the independent schools I visit. More often than not, for families who have made the decision to educate their child privately, it is the opportunities that are on offer beyond good exam grades that are seen as of most value when they are making school choices.

The variety of co-curricular offerings from sports to drama and music are held in high regard, but it is sometimes the positive and nurturing culture in a school and the importance it places on demonstrating how pupils are being encouraged to develop their softer skills that will put it ahead.

The essence of education is changing. In a previous blog, I have talked about the challenge schools face in preparing children for jobs that do not yet exist. How can we be sure that children today are gaining the qualifications and skills they need to succeed in the as yet unclear world of work tomorrow? The simple answer is that we can't.

But qualities such as resilience, tolerance and honesty can be just as important in helping us to navigate through the ups and downs of life as good exam results and the character awards are just one way of highlighting this.

As parents and educators, we need to work together to raise the profile of these softer skills so that they are more highly regarded not only by our children - but also by their future employers. Talking about them in schools and making sure children are aware of their own abilities, is a great way of doing this.

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