Demos’ Character Programme


The importance of developing good moral ‘character’ has historically been considered one of the core purposes of education. Much of this attention has been driven by research showing that character attributes like self-regulation (the ability to control one’s emotions), application (the ability to commit to and complete a task) and empathy (the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes) – to name a few – are correlated with higher educational attainment as well as good mental well being, good health and better outcomes in the labour market. There has also been increased attention on developing moral and civic virtues among young people.

With the support of the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan MP, character education has become a key priority in the Department for Education. Demos is leading the way in making the social and economic case for developing students’ characters through both formal and non-formal mechanisms, and setting out how best it can be incorporated and embedded into the UK’s education system.

In 2016, Demos is continuing its successful programme of research on character through a number of exciting projects, including:

  • A project that will develop a holistic understanding of what England wants its young people to look like on leaving full-time education, in terms of knowledge, skills, capabilities and attitudes. This would involve a series of structured deliberative discussions with members of the public. The project would also seek to draw lessons from other education systems, including the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence. This would enable all who work with young people and aid their development – including schools, colleges, youth workers, employers and civil society – to better collaborate to achieve these joint aims.
  • Demos is currently evaluating a co-curricular intervention being delivered by the Scout Association in six schools across the UK, supported by the Department for Education’s Character Grant. ‘Character by Doing’ is a 12-month pilot project which seeks to tackle the barriers to character education through non-formal educational methods by giving school decision makers, teachers and teaching assistants, parents and adult volunteers in Scouting the confidence to work in partnership. This project seeks to test delivery models of Scouting with schools in deprived areas within the East Midlands and South East, evaluating their successes and their impacts on participants across a range of outcomes, including character capabilities like empathy, grit and self-regulation, as well as wellbeing, attendance at school and academic progress.
  • Demos is also undertaking an evaluation of the DfE character grant-funded pilot On the Front Foot, delivered by Premiership Rugby, to measure its impact on character and academic outcomes. The evaluation will include a survey with participants and project leaders, case study interviews and other qualitative monitoring.

These projects will build on our 2015 research programme, which explored the concept of character education through a number of lenses:

  • Learning by Doing – which presented our research into how non-formal learning could play a stronger role in schooling, and highlighted disparities in character attributes amongst students.
  • Character Nation – which provided a series of policy recommendations for the Government to ensure that character development is embedded across the education system
  • Mind Over Matter – which explored the concepts behind, evidence supporting and application of ‘growth mindsets’ – a linked concept to character – through qualitative and quantitative research