DfE plans new Gatsby-style ‘benchmarks’ for character education

The government will develop new “benchmarks” for character education against which schools will be required to assess themselves, Damian Hinds has said.

The education secretary announced today that he is assembling an “advisory group” to draw up recommendations for developing “character and resilience” in pupils and new character benchmarks to measure performance of schools.

He wants the new benchmarks to be “similar” and to “do the same job” as the Gatsby benchmarks for careers guidance. The Gatsby benchmarks are statutory – meaning schools have to use them to rate their own work on careers – but the government doesn’t currently take action against those that don’t comply.

However, Hinds insisted he was “not piling on extra chores to a school’s to-do list”.

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.

The education secretary also set out his “five foundations” for character education, and pledged to improve access to extra-curricular activities for poorer pupils.

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  1. Hinds says he doesn’t want to put extra burdens on schools and then immediately contradicts this by saying he wants Gatsby style benchmarks so schools can measure how well they develop ‘character’ (something which is more dependent on what happens in families and communities than in school).
    What is character, anyway? It’s more than resilience. The Spartans, for example, were keen on developing ‘grit’ but I don’t think that’s what Hinds has in mind.

  2. Glad to see DfE giving more detail:
    ‘…Education Secretary announced the 5 foundations for building character – sport, creativity, performing, volunteering & membership, and the world of work – and made clear his commitment that all children should be able to access at least one activity from each of these foundations.’
    Sounds much like what most schools do anyway without any fanfare or grand announcements. We don’t need an advisory group to state the obvious. And ‘at least one activity’ under each heading seems rather unambitious if it extends over a pupil’s school life.

    • Let’s not forget the often under-stated – The Gatsby Foundation gave schools in the North East pilot areas £9k direct funding plus access to a £250k innovation fund. This “evidence-based approach” was ignored by DfE and CEC, instead schools are expected to fund this themselves.

  3. Andy mellor

    At what point are the Dfe going to leave the state education system to deal with what we already have with 10% less funding?
    When he talks about schools does he mean all schools. Gatsby benchmarks apply to secondary education so does this just apply to secondary?
    And as mentioned above, what does he mean by character education and is this going to be ideologically defined.
    Please talk to the profession mr hinds before you create additional workload for schools.