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New insight into the leadership of character education in primary and secondary schools provides ideas and guidance for school leaders

23 October 2017

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) with the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and Pearson have today issued case studies of senior school leaders’ first-hand experiences of leading character education, together with a new research-based practice guide.

‘Character education’ can be broadly described as an approach to developing a set of values, attitudes, skills and behaviours that are thought to support young people’s development and contribute to their success in school and in adult life.

These new case studies and guide, drawn from the project, ‘Leading character education in schools’, provide teachers with practical insights and first-hand accounts as illustrations of different approaches to leading character education. A bibliography of recent research, reports and resources was also produced as part of the project.

Commissioned by ASCL and Pearson, the case-studies and guide were developed through working with five schools (two primaries and three secondaries), all past winners of the Department for Education’s (DfE) Character Award - designed to act as “a gold standard for what works in character education” (Morgan, 2016).

Drawing on the findings from the case study visits to schools, the research team have identified five key features of the effective leadership of character education. These emphasise the need for schools to:

Lesley Duff, NFER Director of Research, said: “This project showcases ways in which recognised leaders in the field of character education are driving this important work within their schools. However, a challenge commonly reported by the schools we visited was how to measure the impact of their character education work. Our review of the literature supports their view that further research would be beneficial in helping us find out more about the effectiveness of different approaches to character education leadership and delivery.”

Duncan Baldwin, Deputy Director of Policy at ASCL, said: “Whilst there isn’t a clear definition of character education, school leaders everywhere will identify with its importance, and this report affirms this very clearly. It matters to young people, not just because of their future employability, but also because it helps children become better learners. How they tackle challenge makes a difference here and now.

The case studies in the report show how schools across phases are approaching character education. I commend them, and the report as a whole as an important piece of work, providing helpful balance in the narrative about what matters in education and resonating clearly with values in schools everywhere.”

All the outputs from this project can be found here.

Update: On Monday 9 October, the Department for Education announced that the Character Grant programme “has closed” and been replaced with a £22 million Essential Life Skills programme. It also announced the new programme would provide “extra-curricular activities, such as sports, volunteering and social action projects, which give pupils the opportunity to develop leadership skills”. These are all themes that are explored as part of our case studies.


For further information contact: Jane Parrack 01753 637245 or Sundip Gill 01753 637218 (NFER)

Notes for editors: