Character education to be brought centre-stage

18 Apr

On 7 February 2019, secretary of state Damian Hinds pledged that the government would develop benchmarks for character education.  Schools and academies will be invited to assess themselves against these criteria.   The first step he will take is to appoint an advisory group to make proposals to grow “character and resilience” in pupils and propose benchmarks against which schools/academies will be rated in the area.

The benchmarks are to mirror the Gatsby ones for careers guidance. Gatsby benchmarks are statutory. (See Annex.)  Schools/academies must use them to rate their own work on careers.  However, no action – punitive or otherwise – will be taken by the government against institutions that fail to comply with them.

Addressing the Church of England’s Foundation for Educational Leadership conference, the education secretary said he expected the advisory group to report its recommendations in September, “with a view to implementing next year”.

“I’m going to be setting up an advisory group on how best we can support schools in their efforts to build character, and that group will be made up of leaders and experts in the field, people from the arts, from sport, from the voluntary sector, and, of course, from schools themselves.  One key area that I want that group to focus on will be developing a set of benchmarks for schools to use so they can deliver their own approach to developing character and assess themselves on how they’re doing.

“We already have something similar for careers guidance called the Gatsby benchmarks, and I would like this advisory group to work out something similar to do the same job on character.”

Hinds also expressed his desire to reintroduce the government’s national character awards, which were introduced by Nicky Morgan but shelved in 2017 by Justine Greening. It follows calls from Morgan for the return of the awards last year. In 2014, Morgan launched a £3.5 million fund for schools to expand or set up character education projects. In 2016, the scheme was expanded, with £6 million made available for such projects.

The education secretary set out his “five foundations” for character education, i.e. sport, creativity, performing, volunteering and the world of work, and pledged to improve access to extra-curricular activities for poorer pupils.

The government ran character education awards in 2015 and 2016 to recognise schools, academies, youth projects and pupil referral units which demonstrate commitment to the government’s character education aims. Nine regional winners received £15,000 prizes, and a national victor got an additional £20,000.



What are the Gatsby Benchmarks?

The Gatsby Benchmarks originated in a research report (Good Career Guidance) from the Gatsby Foundation in 2013.  The report was commissioned by Lord Sainsbury.

Sir John Holman was appointed to lead a research team to focus on international evidence for ‘what works’ in career development.  The research provided a comprehensive study of career development exploring key elements of good career development, the cost per school/academy for good career development and the economic benefit of career development to the economy.

PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) was commissioned to provide the latter. In its summary, PwC mentioned that the cost of every NEET (a person Not in Employment, Education and Training) individual to the government is the same amount required to provide the benchmarks to 280 pupils. The overall annual cost to the government for implementing a good careers guidance strategy is £207 million in the first year and £173 million per year thereafter.  The study explored international evidence from The Netherlands, Germany, Hong Kong, Ontario- Canada, Finland and Ireland.

The report found eight benchmarks of best practice, which are now more commonly known as ‘The Gatsby Benchmarks.’  They are:

  1. a stable careers programme;
  2. learning from career and labour market information;
  3. addressing the needs of each pupil;
  4. linking curriculum learning to careers;
  5. encounters with employers and employees;
  6. experiences of workplaces;
  7. encounters with further and higher education; and
  1. personal guidance.


[1] See Annex to learn more about the Gatsby benchmarks

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