One safe  prediction for 2015

Character Education will still be on the agenda 

The new focus on character education and the support for non-cognitive skills development is now firmly on the education agenda, backed by all political parties. This will continue after the May  2015 election.

Education is not just about retaining and   regurgitating knowledge over the short term to satisfy an examiner. ( Although some would argue that the way incentives are structured in our education system that this  is  precisely what the system  is designed to deliver).  Certainly achievement tests do not,  as things stand ,adequately capture a tranche of non-cognitive skills ie resilience, perseverance, self-control empathy etc which admissions tutors and employers find attractive.  And we know that  much that is good that happens in schools is not easy to measure or capture in data or tests.

The challenge now is how to provide practical support for character education , and how this should be assessed and evaluated.  Should character development be part of the mainstream curriculum? Should it be cross-curricular or extra-curricular (or co-curricular  a term that  is creeping in  ) including voluntary and community work,  or a combination of the above. And how should parents and other influencers  be involved, given that character development is not just about schools but involves the influence and complex sets of interactions  between  young people, parents, extended  families, friends and peer groups.  Some Heads and teachers remain bemused by all the fuss over character education. They see  support for non-cognitive skills development  as already integral to everything they do  throughout their   schools.

Politicians, in the meantime, are struggling to develop a joined up evidence based approach in this area. If sport is important for character development, which many believe it is, its   not very clever to still be selling off  school sports fields.   If adventure training,  the Duke of  the Edinburgh’s Award, community service, social action, visits to museums, residential fieldwork    and even Combined Cadet  Forces help character development, then it would make  sense to ensure schools have access to all these, and the funding, but at the moment  such  access  is very patchy.

OECD research indicates that the character trait of resilience is important for success at school and in life, but that it  is in  relatively short supply in young people. Around a third of disadvantaged pupils succeed in school,  against the odds , but to do so they need resilience in spades.

The independent evaluation report ‘Evaluation of pupil premium’ and the Ofsted report ‘The pupil premium: how schools are spending the funding successfully to maximise achievement’, both published in 2013, state that residential fieldwork and museum visits are amongst the activities on which some schools chose to spend this funding.

The Department for Education has assessed the evidence of the impact of learning outside the classroom on attainment, social skills and other outcomes. In 2008, Ofsted reported that good quality education outside the classroom led to improved outcomes for pupils, including better achievement, standards, motivation, personal development and behaviour. This report is published online at:

In addition, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), which is funded by the DFE , found that outdoor adventure learning  interventions consistently show positive benefits on academic attainment and wider outcomes such as self-confidence. The research found that, on average, pupils who participate in adventure learning interventions appear to make approximately three months additional progress over the course of the year.


There are claims that you can’t really measure non-cognitive skills and, indeed, by seeking to measure them you could slay the golden goose.   But in the States researchers believe that there are already   reliable measures of non-cognitive skills. The researchers say that it is important to realise that non-cognitive skills are measured   based on the performance of some relevant task and that the different skills to achieve that task can measured.

And, indeed  psychologists already have an established taxonomy for measuring non-cognitive skills which we won’t get into that here( if you are interested see the paper below)


But whatever you think about the issue, it is on the agenda and we will be hearing much more about it in 2015.

OECD Education Working Papers Fostering and Measuring Skills: Improving Cognitive and Non-cognitive Skills to Promote Lifetime Success


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