Reform Ofsted to Assess Students’ Character on par with Grades

New report calls for the new Government to formally embed character education in England’s school curriculum and reform Ofsted to capture students’ participation in civic activities within their broader communities

Evidence shows that character skills and virtues are just as important for securing good jobs, living healthy lives and contributing to society

Recommendations to be presented at the International Conference on Non-Cognitive Skills at the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College, New York, on 5 June 2015


A new report from Demos, published in partnership with the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham, calls for ‘character’ to be permanently embedded in the UK’s educational curriculum – to ensure the next generation of school graduates are equipped with the social and professional skills critical for them to become successful and civic-minded individuals in their adult life.

It demonstrates how strong character attributes – including moral, intellectual, performance and civic virtues – are correlated with higher educational attainment, employment outcomes, and positive mental and physical health. Importantly, these are ‘educable’, meaning that they can be developed and taught with the right guidance.

The report draws together leading research on best practice in character education, and reflects the outcomes of a series of workshops held with education providers, psychologists, policy-makers and social action organisations. It shows how schools with strong character programmes, and other non-formal learning activities such as Scouting, can play a strong role in helping students to become more confident, empathetic and community-minded, and to perform better in classes.

Character Nation calls on the new Conservative Government to ensure that character is developed throughout the institutions of formal and non-formal education across England, through the following key policy changes:

1. Reforming Ofsted – the current requirement for schools to develop students socially, morally, spiritually and culturally should be renamed ‘character development’, and should hold equal par with attainment measures. Also, to assess students’ developmental activities outside of school and in the wider community, as is done in Scotland.  

2. Embedding character into school practice – by ensuring schools develop a clear ethos for character education, and make it the specific responsibility of a senior member of staff. 

3. Creating a character framework for education providers – through a statement of intent for education that strongly emphasises the development of character 

4. Supporting and incentivising character education – by affording more emphasis to the monitoring and evaluation of character education, and ensure the real-world impact of schools is highlighted in league tables. The Department for Education should also provide greater support for schools wishing to develop character education programmes by formalising the Character Education unit, ensuring the Character Awards are formalised and held at least biennially. Employers can also play a role by providing match funding to Government investment in certified non-formal education providers wanting to partner with schools to deliver character programmes. 

5. Supporting teachers to develop character – by ensuring that Initial Teacher Training (ITT) covers the delivery of character education, that schools emphasise candidates’ ethos and values during teacher recruitment, and that an evidence-based approach to character education forms part of teachers’ Continuing Professional Development. 

Commenting on the report, co-author Jonathan Birdwell, Head of the Citizenship and Political Participation Programme, said:

“Character has always been one of the raison d’etres of education, but in recent years it has been crowded out by an obsession with quantitative measures of academic attainment and league tables. Ofsted is the enforcer of this regime, and developing a better approach to character requires significant reforms to how Ofsted operates.

Character is both ‘taught’ in the classroom, but also ‘caught’ through taking part in activities like sport, arts, music and social action, often outside of the classroom. Expanding Ofsted’s remit to focus on non-formal learning and character development outside of the classroom will help schools to develop the ‘whole child’ and encourage schools to partner with non-formal learning providers.

Ofsted should also rename and refashion the requirement for schools to develop the social, moral, spiritual and cultural aspects of pupils to focus on ‘character development’. This should be put on equal footing with academic attainment – which clearly makes sense, given the evidence on the importance of character to success in education and later in life.”

Professor James Arthur, Head of the School of Education and Professor of Education and Civic Engagement and Director of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, said:

“Good character is vital for every role we play in our lives – be it an employee, parent, neighbour or friend.    Therefore, in the interest of individual and societal flourishing, it is incumbent on schools to see the development of good character as a vital component of good education.   This report provides some clear recommendations for how policy makers, teachers and other interested parties can ensure character education is a planned, conscious and reflective part of everyday schooling.”

Notes to Editors

The findings and recommendations of the Character Nation report will be presented by co-authors Jonathan Birdwell and Ralph Scott to the Conference on Non-Cognitive Skills, on 5 Jun 2015 at the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, Hunter College, New York.

This report is supported by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham.


Sophie Gaston, Press and Communications Manager, Demos
[email protected]
ph. 0207 367 6325 (Out of Hours: 074727 45678)