Character education: teaching through subjects

Dr Tom Harrison, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, University of Birmingham

What have you been working on?

The Teaching Character Through Subjects publication and programme of activities – funded by one of 12 character grants handed out by the Department for Education – is built on our prior research at the Jubilee Centre into what works in character education.

That was based on aspects of virtue ethics philosophy, which looks at what young people – indeed all of us – need to flourish as individuals.

We’ve now done other research into how character education can be implemented within schools, working with experts across 14 subjects to develop a series of materials and resources and programmes of study. These were then passed to their counterparts in other schools to test and try out.

Wrapped around that, we did lesson observations, interviews with teachers and pupils and used various other methods to evaluate the effectiveness of the programme: both in terms of it being a series of usable materials but also the influence it had on the development of certain key character qualities and virtues of young people.

What do the findings show?

There are a number of outputs. The one we are putting out is the most popular – the teacher materials. A film is also due, as is the evaluation report, which will show that the materials have had a good impact within schools.

One of the key findings is that teachers have found they can pick up and adapt these resources themselves and apply the techniques for teaching character within their own subjects.

They have talked about how they can infuse what they’re doing anyway with a greater emphasis on character education and the key qualities that they think link to that subject.

So, for example, in maths the virtues are resilience and sticking with it when it gets hard. In physical education things such as playing fair, sportsmanship, courage . . . In each of the subjects there are a few virtues that have seemed to be much more infused into what happens within the programme of study for that subject.

The research shows that it has been very possible – without distracting from the subject itself – to combine teaching character education with those subjects.

What is interesting about it?

We’ve been working with schools who’ve said character education is something they’ve always believed in, and they’re happy there’s a renewed interest in it at policy level.

For me, most headteachers are interested in how to improve attainment within their schools but have also kept an eye on character education. But it’s been perhaps more of a challenge to do so, given the increasing focus on results and league tables.

This programme allows school leaders to see how character education can be infused within all subjects without distracting from the curriculum and the core knowledge that is taught within schools.

So the school leader who is looking at strategies that can ensure that character education is still a primary aim of their vision and goals for their school, can teach it while still keeping a focus on the important aims of development of knowledge. So it’s really a win-win.

What do you hope its impact will be in the school environment?

That it inspires teachers from other subjects to look at their lesson plans and programmes of study and think about where key character virtues – such as honesty, compassion, citizenship, resilience – could be infused within their own subject areas.

Although we’d like teachers to pick up these programmes of study and lesson plans and use them within their schools, we’re also keen that they take inspiration from the materials that have been developed to enhance their teaching of their subject. This will ensure that character education is taught within the different topics they cover within those subjects.

View the full teaching character through subjects report

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

One comment