Demos’ Evaluation of Pioneering Rugby Pilot Demonstrates Enormous Potential of Character Education

Demos’ independent evaluation of Premiership Rugby’s ‘On the Front Foot’ pilot scheme has found “statistically significant and positive impacts” on the development of secondary school children’s character.

The pilot, which began in Autumn 2015 and involved over 17,000 children at schools in England, delivered sessions that bridged classroom learning and sport participation in order to boost character, confidence and resilience.

Recognised for its leading research in character education, Demos was selected to evaluate the project as part of the Department for Education’s character education fund. Using validated measures, Demos analysed a series of robust surveys to measure the impact that participation in On the Front Foot had made to participants’ core social and emotional skills and resilience.

Demos found the Premiership Rugby pilot had increased secondary school participants’ levels of:

  • Grit (+7%), self-efficacy (+9%), problem-solving (+9%), and creativity (+8%); and
  • Empathy (+8%), communication (+10%), cooperation (+8%), leadership (+9%)

Participants also felt the programme had improved their performance at school, with 42 per cent feeling significantly more focused, 46 per cent more confident, and 47 per cent saying it had led to better marks at school.

Teachers were also supportive of the pilot, with surveys conducted by Demos revealing the vast majority felt it had produced long-term impacts.

Commenting on the findings, Demos’ Head of Citizenship, Ralph Scott, said:

“This evaluation strengthens the growing body of evidence underpinning the need for greater investment in character education. It demonstrates the significant potential that extra-curricular sporting activities such as rugby can offer children to develop the essential skills they will need to succeed in life. We were impressed by the outcomes at an individual level, and also the wholesale support the programme received from both parents and teachers alike.”

“The Government’s recent announcement on increasing funding for extra-curricular activities in 25 per cent of schools are a positive step; but there is a strong argument to go further and embed character development as a permanent fixture in the UK’s education system, and to ensure that good quality opportunities are extended to a much larger number of children across the country.”

Children and Families Minister, Edward Timpson, said:

“We are determined to spread educational excellence everywhere and promoting positive character traits is at its heart. One way of doing so is through rugby, which instils resilience and the ability to bounce back from defeat. That’s why last year we announced funding to send the best rugby clubs into schools to transform the lives of disaffected and disadvantaged children – and I am delighted to see the programme going from strength to strength.

“Sport can play a vital role in instilling character and to help this we recently announced that the primary PE and Sport Premium will double to £320m per year from September 2017. Schools can put this towards extending after school opportunities, buying new equipment and hiring specialist sports coaches to work alongside teachers.”

Director of Community and CSR at Premiership Rugby, Wayne Morris, said:

“The results of this programme are timely, not just because of the Government’s Education White Paper but also because of the new Strategy for Sport launched by the Department of Culture Media and Sport last year.  We believe that professional sport has a unique ability to inspire young people and to change lives for the better. We hope the Government will continue to pursue its ambition of using sport across different departments and for different policy objectives.”’

Notes to editors:

Demos is Britain’s leading cross-party think-tank: an independent, educational charity, which produces original and innovative research. Visit:

‘On the Front Foot’ was created and delivered by Premiership Rugby, the organisation that represents the 12 professional rugby union clubs in England. It is funded by a grant from the Department of Education’s character education fund.