Character Building

Character! What a loaded word. With different meanings in different contexts, it’s hard to know exactly what schools must actually do when told to develop character in their pupils.

To complicate things further, this year, up to £2 million has been allocated to fund projects that have “a military ethos approach to develop character”. The money is part of a £6 million fund that is available to grant-fund projects in the 2016-17 financial year. Grant awards are expected to be in the region of £50,000 to £75,000, so a sizeable sum, but what is it actually for?

The Department for Education has said that it wants to fund a diversity of approaches that will increase the number of children aged 5-16 involved in “activities and environments that promote character education” and that develop “key character traits, attributes and behaviours” that support academic attainment, enable children to make a positive contribution to British society and that are valued by employers.

In the absence of a precise definition of what “character” might mean, we can assume that team work might perhaps play a role as well as competitiveness. Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson stated that “whether it’s fencing classes, debating clubs or drama societies, I want schools across the country to seize the opportunity to help pupils thrive by broadening the range of activity that they offer.”

Schemes such as Commando Joe’s and Challenger Troop have been favoured by the DfE. They use the expertise of former armed services personnel with the aim of instilling resilience in children. But it still seems unclear what a “military ethos” means in the context of our schools. Duty with honour, perhaps? Self-discipline? Selflessness? Heroism? Courage? Integrity? Loyalty? Perseverance? Respect for others? Values and standards in alignment with the armed forces? All values that are shared beyond the forces.

Without utterly precise definitions, we will always struggle to know exactly what initiatives schools should be pursuing and why they should be pursuing them. Naturally we want our children to be resilient and to be able to live with positive values, and most of us have experience of working in schools where that is the case and schools where that isn’t always the case. But I do think that we could do better at drilling down into meanings of, and intentions behind, the terminology that gets used.

I also wonder whether such funding might be extended to younger age groups too. As a regular attender at toddler rugby with my two-year-old (and yes, there is a huge amount of parent participation, to the point where I am now adept at basket catches on the run and “cracking the egg”!) I can see first-hand the benefits of these kinds of experiences, but the intentions are very clear – to encourage enjoyment of the game of rugby and to help to develop confidence and skills such as running and catching. Perhaps it’s easier to be precise with such a young age group, but I can’t help thinking that if ever we are vague about our intentions, success will be harder to achieve.

If you want to apply for funding, you need to act quickly. You have until June 23rd to submit a proposal and it is expected that grants will be awarded by the end of September. You can find out more here!

Have a good week!

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