What Makes Barking Abbey Different – Our Character
Character education seems to be everywhere in education discourse at the moment, particularly since its inclusion in the Ofsted inspection framework under the personal development heading. However, the development of good character has been recognised since ancient times as crucial for people and society to flourish and the role that strong character can play in our ability to respond in a wise and compassionate way, remains the same. As teachers we do it, although we may not always know that we are doing it.
In the Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) 2019 report, Getting young people ‘work ready’, they cite that ‘employers are placing increasing importance on character traits to ensure workforces can navigate the future with resilience’. Therefore, an important purpose of the education we deliver is to ensure that our pupils have the right character strengths to thrive into the future.
I hear you say, “I know character education is essential for our students to flourish, and I know it can totally transform our school, but how do I get the rest of my colleagues to buy in? They will think that this is another box-ticking fad!”
Character education will always have a limited impact unless it is woven into every element of the school. It needs to be done through a whole-school approach and this can only be achieved if staff and stakeholders buy-in to what we are trying to do. We need a critical mass of support to get the tipping point so that no longer is there one lonely voice banging the character drum. With a critical mass of staff driving character, it will be integrated into the curriculum, into assemblies, it will feature naturally at parent evenings, within the school newsletter, it will appear in job adverts, and so on. It will run through your school like a stick of rock, like it does at Barking Abbey.
But how do you get this critical mass? The answer is to start with the why and not the how. It can be so tempting to present colleagues with a beautifully formed plan of how character can be woven into the very DNA of the school. But unless time is invested in supporting colleagues to understand why character education is so important, this plan will be seen as just another fad and it will soon fade.
In March 2022, Barking Abbey School was awarded the Kitemark + for its Personal Development Curriculum which includes a 360-degree approach to developing our pupils’ learning and studying habits. We call this our character education programme or our ‘BEST HABITS’, based on our motto: Give and expect the BEST. The award means that we are now officially ‘A School of Character’. Schools of Character support their staff to understand that one significant purpose of the education they deliver is to ensure their pupils have the right character strengths to flourish in the future. They help them to understand why character education is important, not just how it will be implemented.
Our core purpose of developing character is planned and active; we have a purposeful pastoral and academic curriculum that seeks to ensure that our learners develop cultural capital. In our quest to continually strive to establish the best possible standard of conduct, we use our ethos and vision to develop moral reasoning, self-control and respect for others. We encourage students to see the values behind the rules with the emphasis being on following the rules because it’s the right thing to do.
At Barking Abbey, we know that character education isn’t a quick fix for all of a school’s problems. There is no magic wand; the process of embedding character is slow but deliberate, as with any meaningful change, and this began, for us, in 2017. For it to make a difference, it must reach into all aspects of school life. It must have the support of students, staff, governors and school leaders alike, requiring ongoing thought and hard work to ensure its continuation and impact. Our journey has only just started but we believe that character education is where behaviour for learning meets teaching and learning.
Assistant Headteacher I Teaching and Learning I Barking Abbey School