With many children out of school for much of the past couple of terms, delivering the core curriculum has been a real challenge, but perhaps even more difficult has been ensuring pupils also have access to more holistic aspects of learning, such as character education.
Keen to deliver personal development opportunities for all pupils, during normal school time as well as through COVID-19, one school have developed an innovative and online approach to facilitating character education, whether online or in the classroom.
Here, Rebecca Moors, Assistant Headteacher at Woodbrook Vale School, offers an insight and practical demonstration into this approach, and the impact of the Futures Award app, for both staff and students.
"Taught not Caught" (Education in the 21st Century, Nicky Morgan 2017) is a message that completely optimised the journey Woodbrook Vale have taken to develop and enhance our formalised character provision. A journey which began at our 2019 governors strategy away day. A day where SLT and governors push around ideas and strategy with the intension of discussing the direction of the school, how and sometimes when to move forward. A message that screamed load and clear from both SLT and the governing body was that Personal Development needed work. It was good, but was it good enough?
This initial question led SLT to explore what we wanted this to look like. We wanted our children to have a certain set of essential life skills, to understand them and actively practice them-but how could we achieve it? What we did know was that it wouldn’t just happen, it had to be taught.
Ultimately we had a school full of great students, students that would typically do the right thing, behave well and work hard. After all, Ofsted had praised us for our progress and behaviour in our most recent inspection earlier that year. However, what we came to realise was that our job was broader than that. We wanted our students to do the right thing because it WAS the right thing, not because the adults around them expected them to behave in a certain way. It is that internal moral compass that requires a structured programme of support to fully understand what character is and more essentially, how to actively behave in a characterful way. After all, if we ask an 11 year old child what initiative really means, could they tell us, accurately, without any help? What about Grit? Fortitude?
Rachael Fraser, Headteacher, made the strategic decision to shift Personal Development away from a middle leadership Head of Faculty post to be led by a senior leader, to ensure that the drive was whole school and reflected the gravitas we felt it needed. I began to oversee this provision and had the exciting responsibility of launching something totally new and innovative. Our biggest challenge? How do we get students to engage in something that they don’t get a grade in? How do we make it interesting? How can they build upon their skills as they progress through school and how can we produce a programme that is as essential for an 11 year old as it is for a 16 year old?
The key - take it online. This led us to developing our whole character provision around a web based app in which students submit quality pieces of evidence to meet certain performance indicators linked to character specific skills. We had an exciting first year (much of which was in lockdown) in which our phase one was launched, it worked! One year group submitted over 1000 pieces of evidence towards their Futures Award and 93 awards issued. They engaged, learnt and their work was reflected in their behaviours. What more could we ask?
"The only way to share this practice effectively is to showcase the app and how it works. Prepare to be impressed!"
Click below for a demonstration of how this app works
Nevertheless, we could do more- we needed to develop the app to work for more year groups, ensuring a year 7 and a year 11 got as much out of the work they were doing. More crucially, we needed to ensure that our groups, specifically SEND and Pupil Premium, are getting an equal level of support and exposure to their character curriculum, this needs to be measured and at times positively discriminate support to ensure equity with peers. This led to developing a higher level of functionality, an ability to run reports and therefore measure its impact accurately as well as introducing the Future Leaders Award for KS4. All before lockdown number 3. So when the news of closure hit in January 2021, we had an opportunity, where this part of our curriculum could flourish and these skills could still be developed.
All of a sudden, our character provision, noted by the Association for Character Education as innovative in its approach, became more significant, relevant and essential to building a character in a time where it has never been more necessary.
To explore more ideas for creative and holistic teaching and learning opportunities, why not download our free IG Schools Handbooks? Featuring guidance from sector leaders and transferrable best practice, this guide provide insights and advice for SLT and teaching staff alike.