Character Education Awards process lacks rigour
The Department for Education has now confirmed that information submitted by schools, as part of their application to receive a prize fund drawn from a £5 million Department for Education scheme (DfE), will be verified before awards are made.
Schools Week today published an investigation challenging the rigour of the DfE-led Character Education Award process which opened for application last week.
The aim of the award is to celebrate the excellence and diversity of provision existing within schools who use extra-curricular clubs, community service and other projects to develop character.
In order to win one of the awards, ranging between £15,000 and £35,000, schools must explain how character education projects in their school develop 18 ‘character’ traits in their pupils, including qualities such as perseverance and tolerance. (See box right).
Winners will be announced at the end of February, with money awarded the following month.
However, Schools Week has learned that schools must only answer six questions of up to 1,500 characters each – roughly equivalent to 250 words – to be in with a chance of scooping the prize pot.
The questions ask for descriptions of the activity (see Step 1, below) and one asks “What evidence do you have to show that the character education you provide is effective? How do you monitor its impact?”
Information on the DfE website gives judging criteria for the award are provided online for the awards, with answers to the question designed to discover applicants’ suitability.
Submitting “supporting evidence”, however, is entirely optional (see Step 2, below) and applicants are clearly told on a second screen that any evidence submitted beyond the questionnaire will “not be assessed as part of the judging process” but will be “used for case studies or clarification”.
The award information does not describe any independent checks that will be made to verify application claims.
When asked about the judging process, the DfE said: “Applicants for the Character Awards must provide the judging panel with evidence that their proposals have had a real impact on young people’s education, behaviour or employment outcomes.”
A spokesperson has confirmed that “everything in the evidence will be verified and will not be taken at face value.”
The ‘evidence’ referred to by the DfE are the short answer questions. Additional evidence will not form part of the judgement.
Education data writer, Jack Marwood, has analysed previous government award schemes, such as the Pupil Premium Awards, and is concerned at the apparent lack of vigour in the judging process.
“It would appear that, at best, schools will have to summarise their work on ‘character’, and there seems to be little opportunity for judges to see any independent assessment of a school’s claims. It does not seem to be a particularly rigorous application process.”
He also raised concerns about the speed of the awarding process.
“The judgement timescales make it clear that any check on the evidence would be perfunctory at best, which is surprising given the amounts of money which will be given out.
It is hard to come to any conclusion other than that these awards are a gimmick.”
When announcing the awards, education secretary Nicky Morgan said: “The new Character Awards will help give schools and organisations the tools and support they need to ensure they develop well-rounded pupils ready to go on to an apprenticeship, university or the world of work.”
Character Education Grants
This week, the DfE also put out a tender to charities who can apply for a ‘Character Education Grant’. Distinct from the awards, which focus on rewarding current school activities, the grants are for expansions of current projects or future plans of external organisations to work with schools. Groups will be able to secure up to £750,000 to work with schools on developing character as part of a further £3.5 million in grant funding to be handed out between April and next March.
Groups are asked to provide details of their projects – such as extra-curricular activities and mentoring programmes – which should be implemented in partnership with a school or college.
The DfE information pack says the grants will be judged based on how well they score under the government’s criteria, and applicants will be subject to financial checks.