All children must have access to a wide range of activities to help them build the character and resilience they need to succeed, Education Secretary Damian Hinds said today (7 Feb).

Character and resilience can be as important as GCSEs in helping young people succeed in life and evidence shows that skills like the ability to deal with setbacks and focus on long term goals can even improve academic outcomes.

However children from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to be able to access character building activities than their more affluent peers – this needs to change.

Calling time on the phrase ‘public school confidence’, Mr Hinds wants children from all backgrounds to be able to develop such confidence through character building activities.

Addressing the Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership conference today (7 February), Mr Hinds laid out the 5 Foundations for Building Character and pledged to work with schools and external organisations, including membership bodies and charities, to help every child access activities within each of those foundations.

To make this happen the Education Secretary announced:

  • Plans for an audit of the availability of out of school activities across the country, to help understand where more focus is needed to increase access and choice. The Government will also work with organisations to look at how it can support greater provision in areas where it is limited.
  • A call on businesses and charities to offer more work experience and volunteer placements to young people.
  • Relaunching the Department for Education’s Character Awards, which highlight innovative or outstanding programmes that develop a wide variety of character traits including conscientiousness, drive and perseverance, as well as virtues, for other schools to learn from.
  • A new advisory group, led by Ian Bauckham - who led the work to update the Relationships, Sex and Health Education guidance for schools - will now develop a new framework to help teachers and school leaders identify the types of opportunities that will help support their pupils to build character. The framework will also provide a self-assessment tool for schools to check how well they are doing.

Alongside this work Mr Hinds also underlined the significance of pupils learning about the importance of positive personal attributes – such as self-respect and self-worth, honesty, courage, kindness, generosity, trustworthiness and a sense of justice - as part of the new Relationships, Sex and Health Education curriculum.

These wide ranging proposals are aimed at building on the great work already being done by many schools to ensure young people build strong and positive relationships and embrace the character and resilience needed to deal with life’s inevitable challenges.

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The 5 foundations are:

  1. Sport – which includes competitive sport and other activities, such as running, martial arts, swimming and purposeful recreational activities, such as rock climbing, hiking, orienteering, gym programmes, yoga or learning to ride a bike.  
  2. Creativity – this involves all creative activities from coding, arts and crafts, writing, graphic design, film making and music composition. 
  3. Performing – activities could include dance, theatre and drama, musical performance, choir, debating or public speaking.
  4. Volunteering & Membership – brings together teams, practical action in the service of others or groups, such as volunteering, getting involved in the #iwill campaign, litter-picking, fundraising, any structured youth programmes or uniformed groups like Beavers, Brownies, Cubs, Guides, Scouts, Cadets and Duke of Edinburgh.
  5. World of work – practical experience of the world of work, work experience or entrepreneurship. For primary age children, this may involve opportunities to meet role models from different jobs.

All children should be able to access at least one activity from each of these foundations, so that every child has the opportunity to try something they enjoy and want to stick at.

With thousands of providers offering these activities both inside and out of schools across the country, lack of information of what is available must not be a barrier to young people taking up these opportunities. He pledged to improve the sharing of information between organisations and schools, so pupils, parents and teachers can be signposted to character building activities near them.

In his speech the Education Secretary said:

“I want to make sure every child gets to build up their character and resilience by testing themselves from a range of enjoyable and activities. These activities don’t have to be a result of a physical exertion. They can just as easily be something you do at school or at home or in an office or that isn’t a hobby…

“I am proposing the 5 foundations for building character, broad areas of activity which will help develop character and resilience in young people. All of them combine elements that will stretch and challenge and will help young people think, develop and grow and which will enhance their self-esteem and confidence. This is a distillation of what I have heard repeatedly from teachers, parents, children…

“We need greater co-ordination to increase awareness of all the opportunities available. I want to make clear that I’m not piling on the extra chores to a school’s to-do list. What I’m asking for is a joined up effort from the entire community. We all have a vested interest in making sure that young people are resilient, resourceful and confident in their abilities. It’s not something that we can subcontract to schools…

“We want our children to be happy, but lasting happiness can also involve doing some things which in the very immediate term may seem a bore or a chore. So when the opportunities are there, let's encourage children to grasp them with both hands.”

Following a roundtable on the schools sports action plan, the Government will be exploring how to make it easier for schools to access information on the activities available and help schools and sports governing bodies become more linked up, so pupils can embrace these opportunities.

There will then be further work to look at how to signpost schools to other local opportunities such as entrepreneurship programmes, social action and community projects, public speaking and debating workshops.

The 5 foundations for building character, encompasses an extensive list of activities, which through team work, trying new things, and opening minds, can help young people build character.

The evidence shows that the vast majority (81 per cent) of 11-18 year olds take part in at least one regular activity either in or outside of school. The Department for Education supports activities like the Cadets and National Citizen Service which many young people are benefiting from.

Other external organisations like Scouts, Guides and sports clubs are providing opportunities outside of school. This ambitious plan is designed to ensure all of these opportunities are available for all children to take advantage of. 

Rachael Saunders, Education Director at Business in the Community, said: 

"It is vital to develop self management  skills in young people - this has can have far reaching benefits in education and as they progress into employment"

Dame Julia Cleverdon, Co-Founder, Step Up To Serve & the #iwill campaign, said:

“As co-founder of the #iwill campaign, which brings together over 900 organisations to increase opportunities for young people to help others and the environment through youth social action, I am delighted with the Secretary of State’s aspiration to increase the quality spread of his 5 foundations of building character activity areas, which will strengthen the role our education system plays in supporting the character development of our young people.”

“The #iwill campaign recognises that taking part in sport, creativity, performing, volunteering & membership and the world of work can have a double benefit when the experiences are delivered through social action. By experiencing the 5 foundations of building character whilst helping others and the environment, young people taking part not only develop their own character and resilience but also make a positive difference to others, and the communities around them”

The 5 foundations for building character, builds on the My Activity Passport, launched in December to support parents and primary schools in introducing children to a wide variety of experiences and fulfilling activities like flying a kite, learning something new about the local area or putting on a performance, in order to spark their interests in activities from a young age.

HM Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman said:

“Fundamentally education is about making sure the next generation have everything they need to realise their potential. That means offering them a broad and rich curriculum which gives them the knowledge and skills that will set them up for success in further study and the world and work. 

“But it shouldn’t stop there; a young person’s time in education should help to build their confidence and resilience, helping them to deal with life’s ups and downs. That is why the new framework we are currently consulting on will have a specific personal development judgement, to recognise the work that schools do to prepare children and young people to take their place as adults and active citizens in modern Britain.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“It’s good that the Secretary of State is recognising the important part played by extra-curricular activities, which have a proud tradition across schools and colleges of all types. Such activities don’t lend themselves to school performance tables, but they should be an essential part of every child’s experience.”

Paul Drechsler, Vice President of the CBI, said:

“The world of business has always been clear that whilst academic achievements can help get young people through the door, it is their strength of character that helps them lead happy and successful lives. The CBI know that youth social action not only helps young people shape their sense of purpose, their skills, aspirations, networks, as well as improve their mental health & wellbeing, but it also leaves a positive impact in the communities they help. I applaud this focus on developing character from the Secretary of State for Education and look forward to hearing more about how this work will help young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, access high quality opportunities as part of their education experience.”

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