Six Practical Principles for Character Education

Character Education is like the proverbial Marmite – loved by some, loathed by others. 

And given where education debate has shifted over the last few months, there are plenty of pragmatists who already see character education receding in the rear-view mirror.

So why has Enabling Enterprise, which is an organisation that conspicuously has enterprise in its name, created a toolkit of practical principles for character education?


Achievement skills

For us, and in line with the Jubilee Centre’s excellent work on character education, there are three elements to building character:

  • Civic Character Values: Focused on being a responsible citizen and making a contribution to wider society including service, citizenship and volunteering.
  • Moral Character Values: The attitudes that dictate how we respond to different situations, including courage, self-discipline, humility and honesty.
  • Performance Character Values: The behavioural skills and psychological capacities that can be used for good or bad ends which put character traits into practice.

In ‘The Road to Character’, David Brooks separates these into two camps: The first are ‘eulogy virtues’ and the performance values in isolation are the ‘résumé virtues’.

Our focus at Enabling Enterprise is on building these skills that students need to achieve, and coupling them with aspirations and experiences which inform their values. Together, these enable them to act out the best version of their lives.

To us, whether you call them enterprise skills, employability skills, performance character values, resume virtues or achievement skills is essentially about semantics. What all students need is the ability to communicate, to work with others to overcome problems, to aim high and to be resilient.


The Principles

The six principles to build these skills in our new toolkit have been built up from our experience over the last seven years, and with the collaboration of our 230 school partners in the last year. Together they pin down what it takes to consistently and effectively build these skills in a classroom or across a school. They may seem intuitive when written down, but each pushes against a very different reality we sometimes see in schools:

(1) Keep it simple: One of the great challenges of character education is that it is so expansive. Instead be clear on what you are trying to achieve by collectively naming and defining the achievement skills you are focused on. At Enabling Enterprise, we focus on eight skills covering working with others, communicating, problem-solving, building high aspirations and being resilient.

(2) Measure it: As teachers, we often worry about too much assessment – and whether it distracts from activities and learning. What we’ve seen though, is that measuring progress in the achievement skills is possible, can be quick, and helps students to understand their own strengths and weaknesses and make better progress.

(3) Start early and keep going: It sometimes seems that character education can be difficult to define for younger students and only begins to be a focus as students are readying themselves for the world post-school. In our work, we start with children from as young as 5 years-old, building resilience and empathy as tools to unlock learning well before employability is even on the horizon.

(4) Pitch it right: Great character education is often seen as doing as many different activities as possible. In reality though, we rarely get better without working in our stretch zone – and exactly the same is true of building the achievement skills.

(5) Keep practising: In a packed curriculum and school day, there is a temptation to bundle character education up into one-off days, or the occasional lesson. The reality is that constant discussion and reinforcement is what really makes a difference – from having the same achievement skills in every classroom to finding ways to develop the skills in other lesson time.

(6) Bring it to life: Finally, character education falls apart when students make no connection between the classroom and the rest of their lives. Applying their skills to real-life projects and understanding how they would be helpful in employment, entrepreneurship or higher education are also powerful.


Putting it into practice

When we set up Enabling Enterprise, it was in response to the challenges we saw in our classroom. Six years on, having had the privilege of working with over 230 schools and 150,000 students across England, we’ve seen what can be achieved by focussing on developing achievement skills.

The six principles that we’ve explored in this toolkit are ones that we’ve seen time and time again in schools delivering truly outstanding education focussed on developing young people’s skills and attributes. Their students make rapid progress in their skills, unlocking their ability to learn faster in class and setting them up for the rest of their lives.

The good news is that increasing numbers of schools are proof that it can work. Alongside the case studies in this toolkit, hundreds of other schools are making this commitment.

You can download the full toolkit, and explore more about our work at:  

Tom Ravenscroft, Enabling Enterprise

The Nurture Group Network joins the Fair Education Alliance

The Nurture Group Network is delighted to be joining the Fair Education Alliance (FEA) which is comprised of 70 of the UK’s leading organisations from across the education, charities and business sectors that are committed to tackling educational inequality.  FEA’s aim is to work towards ending the persistent achievement gap between young people from our poorest communities and their wealthier peers by 2020.

The Nurture Group Network (NGN) has particular affiliations with one of the FEA’s key aims: to ensure young people develop the key strengths, including character, emotional wellbeing and mental health, they need to succeed in life. For over 10 years, NGN has worked to ensure that every disadvantaged or disengaged child has access to a nurturing intervention to equip them with the skills and resilience they need to make the most of learning and school. We do this by supporting the development of nurturing interventions in schools through training, resources and support; making the case for nurture in schools with policymakers and politicians; and we have an on-going research and evaluation programme to monitor evidence of outcomes.

By encouraging children to form attachments to loving and caring adults at school, nurture groups provide unconditional positive regard, thus providing a powerful mechanism for change.  In this way, nurture groups have been proven to increase the educational attainment for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged students (Cooper & Tiknaz, 2007) including language and literacy skills (Hosie, 2013); effectively reduced school exclusions (Ofsted, 2011; Ofsted, 2009; Estyn, 2007), improve attendance (Cooper, 2011) and have shown to improve social, emotional functioning and mental health over time (O’Connor and Colwell’s, 2002).

Furthermore, NGN hopes to ensure young people develop key strengths they need to succeed in life through the use of the Boxall Profile. As a highly regarded diagnostic and assessment instrument by a large number of teacher and educational psychologists who have used it, the Boxall Profile is ideally placed to both assess children and young people’s strengths and enable practitioners to support their pupils needs.

NGN is looking forward to working with organisations such as Save the Children, Achievement for All, NAHT and Business in the Community among others to ensure that all children and young people develop key emotional wellbeing and mental health strengths and further support the FEA’s wider aim of ending the persistent achievement gap between young people from the UK’s poorest communities and their wealthier peers.


More information about NGN’s work with the Fair Education Alliance can be found here or you can contact our Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer at

England winning the World Schools Debating Championships will hopefully inspire tens of thousands of school children, especially those from the most disadvantaged communities.

It’s now time to give every child in England access to debating.

On Friday, England won the World Schools Debating Championships in Germany, defeating Canada in the Grand Final arguing that “This House believes that states should be allowed to pay other states to relocate and settle refugees”. 54 national teams competed at the tournament and the national team had to navigate 12 debates to get to the final. A remarkable achievement given the huge improvements in the quality of debating worldwide (the last 8 also involved Pakistan, Denmark, Peru, New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong).

Andrew Fitch (a teacher in North London) and I were appointed as co-coaches in September to work with the team of five over 10 gruelling months by developing their speaking ability, sharpening their rebuttal, working on their strategic thinking and broadening their knowledge base (most of the topics at the tournament are announced one hour before the debate without access to the internet or a coach). One of the greatest experiences that any mentor, coach or teacher can have is seeing the young people they work with reach their potential. Now we hope that this victory will inspire thousands of others to reach theirs too.

Debating is an incredible activity. It develops the confidence of young people, it helps them structure their thoughts, which in turn improves their essay writing. Debating also develops a curiosity about the world which encourages young people to read more. By being able to respond to an argument quickly they are more likely to thrive in a university or job interview. The members of this year’s team will use those skills for the rest of their lives. However, there has been a gap in the provision of activities like debating for far too long. Thankfully, things are changing. Incredible organisations such as the English-Speaking Union (ESU) and Debate Mate (both members of the Fair Education Alliance, with the ESU being the sponsor of the England Team) have made huge progress in getting more young people from deprived communities to take up debating. I personally benefited hugely from the ESU setting up a debating club in my school in Newham, one of the most disadvantaged parts of the country. One of the speakers from this year’s championship winning was a participant on the Debate Mate programme. The Fair Education Alliance’s Impact Goal Three recognises that young people developing key strengths like character is the key to closing the education gap. We need to give more support to these organisations to help them transform even more lives.

The momentum from this win should be used to set out an ambitious but achievable goal for 2020 - that every child in England should have the opportunity to be part of a debating programme or a debating club. This goal can be reached with the backing of a government that wants to put social mobility at the forefront of its agenda and the willingness of a number of organisations to work collaboratively.

Moreover, this year’s team also highlighted why diverse team perform better. The team had pupils who were born overseas, pupils who had been educated in different types of schools and pupils who had different academic interests. There was no trade-off between diversity and success – our diversity helped contribute towards our success.

The sustainability of the team’s global success can only be truly secure when every child, in every type of school has the opportunity to get involved in an activity that can potentially change their life forever as it has done for Ed Bracey, Ife Grillo, Archie Hall, Rosa Thomas and Kenza Wilks – the new World Schools Debating Champions.

Lewis Iwu
Director of Fair Education Alliance
Co-coach of the England Schools Debating Team

Teachers and school leaders confirm the importance of supporting students to make a difference in the community and say more can be done to promote social action in schools

Almost all Primary and Secondary teachers in England recognise the value of students taking part in social action activities like campaigning, fundraising and volunteering. And yet, only a third of them feel social action is part of their school culture, according to a Teacher Voice Omnibus survey carried out the NFER for the #iwill campaign.

The study indicates that social action is more widely understood and embedded in Secondary Schools – over half of teachers surveyed felt it was part of their school culture. The majority of Primary teachers however, either didn’t know whether social action was part of their school or hadn’t thought about it. This comes at the same time as additional research shows that young people who are committed to social action often start before they reach the age of 10.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) joins a growing number of education partners that also includes the Fair Education Alliance, backing the #iwill campaign to make social action part of life for more 10-20 year olds in the UK by 2020.

General Secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, Russell Hobby said; “NAHT is proud to be supporting the #iwill campaign. Youth social action provides the opportunity for young people to develop and demonstrate their character strengths while benefitting others. School leaders already recognise the value of this for young people. NAHT will be working with #iwill to celebrate activity and raise awareness among school leaders and teachers about the benefits of social action amongst pupils.”

Alongside these new findings, there is a growing body of evidence that young people who take part in high-quality social action initiatives, develop exactly the kind of 21st century skills and character qualities that employers are calling for. Many school leaders are already seeing the benefits.

“Transforming a community is about changing perceptions of young people towards their community. Youth social action encourages young people to look with fresh eyes at their communities and to see ways in which they can help make a difference.” Andrew Day, Executive Director, Northumberland CofE Academy.

“I am totally committed to social action because it makes a real difference to our students’ academic education and their social education. For me, the foundation of our school is about good citizenship. We think giving children the opportunity to make a difference should happen as soon as they start Primary school.” Rekha Bhakoo, Head Teacher, Newton Farm Nursery, Infant and Junior School, London.

Students themselves want more chances to make a difference. 81% of secondary school pupils in England say they want their schools to do more to help them participate in social action (Ipsos MORI 2015).

The Fair Education Alliance have been working with the #iwill campaign to ensure young people develop key strengths, including character, wellbeing and mental health, to support high aspirations. Director Lewis Iwu said: “The Fair Education Alliance are proud to support #iwill campaign. We know that for young people, participation in social action is associated with positive levels of wellbeing and the #iwill campaign is a great example of a project that successfully inspires young people to serve their community.”

“We know that great Head Teachers already make social action a central part of their school culture. This has the double benefit of ensuring all of their students have the chance to make a positive contribution to their communities whilst developing the character qualities & skills that will set them up for life. We are delighted that NAHT have joined the #iwill campaign, and look forward to working with them to encourage even more Head Teachers to transform the life chances of their students through youth social action.” Charlotte Hill, CEO Step Up To Serve and the #iwill campaign.

Another key finding from #iwill campaign research is that just 41% of students in schools are getting involved in social action, and that there is a significant socio-economic gap in participation.