Don’t make schools collect ‘character’ data, insists Morgan

Former education secretary Nicky Morgan has said teachers should not be measured on how they improve their pupils’ character, but experts have warned that regulation is needed if pupil development is to be taken seriously.

Speaking to teachers at a wellbeing conference last Friday, Morgan said her department had debated “endlessly” about whether to set requirements on character education, but her “instinct was we shouldn’t try to measure it”.

“Frankly we would have spent the entire time debating the list of traits to measure,” she told the even organised by The University of Buckingham and the International Positive Education Network. Morgan also admitted she was not “not entirely convinced” that character lessons should be on the national curriculum.

But Sara Fletcher, the vice-principal of Babington College, an 11-16 school in a deprived area of Leicester, said her team designed a programme called ‘Building Character for Learning’ which runs across all lessons, extracurricular activities and school reports.

Pupils receive a termly “character” grade instead of an effort grade, with those grades translating into points totted up at the end of the year.

Pupils with the highest points are graded on a scale that runs from diamond down through gold, silver and bronze. Diamond pupils give a presentation to their peers on their progress, and the school records how many pupils move up from bronze.

The fact that Ofsted aren’t measuring wellbeing is astonishing

Teachers are also trained to include a character-building objective alongside each lesson objective.

For the first time this year, pupils will also undergo formalised testing three times annually, using a resilience test developed by the school. Results will be mapped against a national standard for resilience and support put in place where needed, Fletcher told Schools Week.

Having such a structured system of measurement means developing pupils’ personalities “actually happens”, she insisted. “If we don’t formalise it and make sure it permeates every area, then it won’t achieve our aim.”

However she said that a single way of developing character or wellbeing is unlikely to be as effective as schools developing their own.

Emma Gleadhill, an educational trainer in wellbeing and emotional intelligence who works with schools, disputes the notion.

Gleadhill said headteachers should be encouraged to measure wellbeing or character either through “government regulation” or the inspection framework, and she wants Ofsted to look at “safeguarding and well-being” measures, rather than just safeguarding.

Her words follow a government-commissioned survey of schools which found that only 44 per cent of maintained schools and 49 per cent of academies collect data about pupils’ mental health needs – compared to 77 per cent of alternative provision settings.

Also arguing the government should make it compulsory for schools to measure wellbeing was Gus O’Donnell, an economist who led the civil service under David Cameron.

He told the conference he had tried to persuade Morgan and her successor Justine Greening to formally begin measuring wellbeing or similar standards.

“If there were one thing Justine should be doing, it’s saying to Theresa May that doing this would make a difference,” he said.

The “fact that Ofsted aren’t measuring wellbeing” is astonishing, he added. “So what’s it all about, then? We’re too obsessed by GDP and exam results.”

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  1. I remember the old days when YOU just went to school, and the TEACHERS just taught you something. It was YOUR responsibility to make something of your life, and your parents were there to help.
    Now we are measuring everything, and making the education system dysfunctional.

  2. Debra Kidd

    As soon as we start to ‘measure’ something, we devalue it and make it even harder to obtain. I remember watching lessons in the early 2000s on skills – ‘risk taking, Level 5’ etc. It was excruciating. Character, skills, knowledge – it all needs to be wrapped up in meaningful context. Context is king. As soon as we atomise and separate, we have to make choices. Choices about timetabling, resourcing, funding…It’s perfectly possible to offer children a rich education that values their character, their thinking and their knowledge. It just means we move beyond lowest common denominators and start to think about plaiting purpose together into contexts that are meaningful, transferable and valuable to children. Less measuring and more valuing.