The extent to which the current school curriculum is fit for purpose is a debate that rumbles on and on. On one side of the fence, it can be argued that there are more Ofsted-judged ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools than ever before. If this is the case, surely it points to the curriculum being successful? However, the counter-argument sees plenty of concerns about the narrowing of the curriculum, and accusations that schools have become little more than ‘exam factories’.

In the midst of all of this, businesses perennially complain of skills shortages. Many recruiters also bemoan the fact that many candidates – even at degree level – seem to lack the necessary ‘soft’ skills that are needed to be successful in the workplace.

The school curriculum, or its direction of travel, is not going to be rewritten any time soon. However, schools need to look beyond the normal boundaries of traditional academic and vocational routes and explore opportunities to develop and nurture valuable skills and qualities in young people.

One such example is character building.

Character: a boost to inclusion and social mobility

In recent months, an advisory group, chaired by Tenax Schools Trust CEO, Ian Bauckham, has been considering the best ways to build the character and resilience of pupils. Character building is seen as a strong way to boost inclusion, motivation and social mobility. New guidance from the Department for Education also focuses on the importance of promoting ‘cultural capital’ in schools.

How can pupils’ character be built?

The government guidance sets out various benchmarks that can be used for character building in schools. The first step is for a school to carefully consider what type of school the institution is, and the extent to which a sense of pride and belonging is created for members of the school community. Identity is crucial here.

Alongside feeling a strong sense of identity, the actions of those within a school community are vital when it comes to building character. Schools need to consider how mutual respect and consideration – between pupils and staff – are promoted. A school curriculum needs to be ambitious enough so that it also guides students about how to progress in society through their ‘cultural capital’.

Extra-curricular activities will always be pivotal if a school is to make the most of opportunities to build pupils’ character. Therefore, the likes of the National Citizen Service and Duke of Edinburgh’s Award are important. Pupils obviously need to have suitable access to such opportunities, but it is also vital that such programmes are valued and celebrated by the parents, pupils and staff of a school.

It is also really important that a sense of civic duty, and the value of service and volunteering within the local community are promoted. This not only builds character, it also emphasises the need for young people to contribute to wider society.

Equality of provision and opportunity is another crucial cog in the wheel when it comes to character building. Therefore, students from all backgrounds need to feel as if they belong to the school and local community and are valued by it.

The research sees ‘character education’ as a highly important driver for social mobility and it is now a recognised element of Ofsted inspections.

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