Character counts

Julie Booth, head of SIMS Independent, on how schools can inspire children to improve their character, as well as their exam results

Did any of you see the flurry of news stories following a recent survey of parents, in which 87% indicated that they thought schools should focus on building a child’s character and not on their academic ability alone?

The results of the survey certainly made interesting reading. But they also got me thinking about what it is that schools can do to build character in their pupils.
One dictionary definition of the word ‘character’ states that it is ‘a combination of qualities in a person that makes them different from others’.
This would suggest that if schools want to turn out well-rounded young adults who have the right academic qualifications and personal attributes to differentiate themselves from their peers, they need to give children as many opportunities as possible to try something new.

Being different

On one level, exposing children to new experiences might seem a simple task for schools. Alongside academic credentials, an impressive list of co-curricular activities is often an important factor that attracts parents to a school in the first place. But while it is heartening to know that your child could join the polo team or go scuba diving, how likely is it that they will try something unfamiliar?

Schools have an important role to play in encouraging their students to take part in activities that take them out of their comfort zone. This can offer huge potential for enriching school life in many unexpected ways.

A sports fanatic might discover a hidden talent for the guitar, or a quiet child might find their voice in the school debating team. Students could also be encouraged to interact with different groups of people, both inside and outside school – the sixth formers could help students lower down the school in maths, run homework sessions or organise fund raising events for local charities.

This all adds to the diversity of the school and the development of its pupils’ character, in the truest sense of the word.

Learning about yourself

There was a time when co-curricular activities might have been regarded as an add-on to a school’s existing timetable. But increasingly, many of the highest performing schools weave them into the very fabric of the school day.

With good pastoral support, children gain confidence from participating in new opportunities and importantly, learn not to be afraid to fail. Ultimately, a child will know whether or not a new activity is for them, but there might be more value in discovering this than in simply acquiring the skill itself.

Getting inspiration from others

To be truly successful, a co-curricular programme needs to be carefully monitored. Schools could track which students have taken up what activities to ensure balance and measure the outcomes.

In some of the best schools, character-building activities complement the academic; and careful timetabling and use of resources will ensure that schools are delivering a holistic experience of education.

Staff have much to offer here too. Some of the independent schools I speak to take on teachers not only for their teaching skills but also for the value their own interests and hobbies can add to school life. A teacher who is happy to talk about their passion for climbing or singing in the local choir can be a real source of inspiration to their students. These schools recognise that in order to develop character, you need to employ teachers with character.

By giving children the chance to learn new skills in a supportive environment, with a bit of healthy competition thrown into the mix, schools can indeed play their part in ensuring our children become the stronger, happier and more capable young people of the future.

For more information on SIMS Independent click here

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