A character education SEF

Written by: Matt Bawden | Published:
Image: MA Education

Make a difference to personal development, behaviour and welfare – Matt Bawden explains how character education might set the tone across a school and offers a self-evaluation framework

“Pupils understand how their education equips them with the behaviours and attitudes necessary for success in their next stage of education, training or employment and for their adult life.” School Inspection Handbook, Ofsted, 2015

All schools have a duty to prepare pupils for their futures and within this to flourish in a wide variety of settings, to make the most of opportunities, and to respond well to whatever life might throw up. Schools have an affective role in this development, but seeing what needs to be done, when, can be difficult.

Having trawled the School Inspection Handbook and considered the implications of the Educational Excellence Everywhere White Paper, it is possible to see a trend in expectation. Therefore I propose a possible route forward in both recording your school’s progress in personal development, behaviour and welfare, and in setting a direction for school-wide improvement.

Schools are not required to record their self-evaluation in a particular fashion, but should always be informative and enable their own development. This model is one with character at the heart, designed for pupils, and providing a wealth of neat boxes to locate evidence. Such categorisation helps pupils, parents, governors, and the community to see exactly what their school represents.

Sections 2 to 6 are common aspects of school self-evaluation, but the first is more unusual. In brackets I add references to aspects of SMSC, British Values, the Prevent Duty and mental health – yet these labels are only the beginning. There are also links (also bracketed) to different domains of virtue as defined by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues (see further information). I could easily have gone further and added in more specific references to behaviour, or welfare, or even personal development.

Section 1: Qualities

  • Honesty (moral).
  • Community spirit (moral and social – civic).
  • Curiosity (moral and spiritual – intellectual).
  • Resilience (moral – performance).
  • Pride (spiritual – in our school and in personal achievements).

This section is key to the success of all the others below. The list features five virtues commonly found in character education, but they can be replaced with others a school might feel are more appropriate.

They are drawn from those virtues that appear within much of the recent Department for Education (DfE) output, and are ones with a defined role in the classroom, corridors, and play areas of schools anywhere. More importantly they have an impact on all other areas of school life.

Section 2: Skills

  • Confidence/self-assurance (spiritual).
  • Self-discipline (spiritual).
  • Behaviours and attitudes for success in work both now and the future (spiritual, moral, social, cultural).

As pupils develop and prepare for the next stage of their lives these skills are central. I have not highlighted resilience, though it could have featured here, as it is in the qualities above. Instead resilience can now be seen to have an impact on all three bullet-points, just as other qualities (such as honesty and pride) also have key roles. Pupils who are encouraged to be honest when struggling in lessons grow confidence, and those who take more pride in their work will be more self-assured.

Section 3: Values

  • A sense of awe and wonder (spiritual).
  • A safe and happy atmosphere (spiritual and social).
  • An atmosphere of mutual respect (British Values/Prevent, cultural, particularly in discussion/debate).
  • The use of student voice (British Values/Prevent, cultural and social).
  • The appropriate use of choice (British Values/Prevent, moral and cultural).
  • The fair application of rules (British Values/Prevent, moral, cultural and social).
  • Understanding of people who have different beliefs – encouraging diversity (British Values/Prevent – spiritual and cultural and mental health).
  • A sense of valuing school life possibly in your subject, lesson, House or more widely (spiritual).

Having a self-evaluation section called “Values” invites comparison with British Values and the wider debate surrounding them. The DfE’s five “British Values” do feature here, reworded, but are part of a larger consideration of those that prepare pupils for the next stage of their lives regardless of their community, background, or outlook.

They should apply to anyone anywhere. Curiosity, from Section 1, is essential for a true sense of awe and wonder, quite apart from the notion that a curious pupil will seek answers and make more progress.

Section 4: Emotional and Mental Wellbeing

  • The making of informed choices to ensure emotional wellbeing (spiritual).
  • The making of informed choices to ensure mental wellbeing (spiritual).
  • The engagement of parents/carers in their child’s wellbeing (spiritual and Prevent).

Looking at emotional and mental wellbeing is never easy. Reducing the self-evaluation to just three key areas hones the approach, forcing increased clarity. Community spirit matters, meaning the making of informed choices and involvement of parents or carers cannot be seen as a solo act on the part of an individual pupil – it becomes a joint enterprise.

Section 5: Bullying

  • Bullying (including online and prejudice-based) is addressed by pupils and staff to make incidences rare (social and moral).
  • The creation of a safe and happy environment (mental health and social and Prevent).

Safeguarding and e-safety are complex areas and often ones in which schools seem readily able to evidence and demonstrate clear planning. Breaking it down in two allows schools to evaluate key information with clear heads. Again honesty matters, but so too does curiosity. Schools need to be honest when reflecting on bullying, and the development of a culture of curiosity helps identify problem areas before they become more serious.

Section 6: Physical Health

  • Pupils keep themselves healthy by eating appropriately (cultural).
  • Pupils keep themselves healthy by keeping fit (cultural).

This final section could be included in section 4 with little loss of clarity, creating an emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing section. This may be a better option for smaller schools where one leader has oversight for all three. However, I have kept them separate as in my experience of schools, section 4 often falls under the brief of a pastoral/safeguarding manager, and section 6 on those responsible for physical education or PSHE.

This latter approach is fraught with danger, as those outside of these roles who also have a key role to play in physical, emotional or mental wellbeing may not fully develop their leadership opportunities, deferring to those they see as more obviously responsible.


In this article I only begin to touch on how this evaluative process might work. I have not really mentioned the need for triangulation of evidence from across staff and pupil voice, as well as input from qualitative and quantitative data.

Sections 2 to 6 might be best informed by using the focus of the particular qualities outlined in the first section. The rich evidence that schools may gather also needs mapping – for example, in the vast field of youth social action or the approach to examinations, parental contact or a myriad of other elements.

  • Matt Bawden is the former teacher-in-residence at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues. He is now an assistant headteacher at QEGS Ashbourne and editor of the Association for Character Education eJournal Character Matters.

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