As we start the year, UFA is operating in a world where education press releases and think tanks highlight how it is all about grit and character. Where leadership skills, resilience and communication are seen to be the essential skills mix to ensure our economy thrives. Where mental health and well-being of our young people is a concern and a priority.
After an increasingly narrow policy focus on academic attainment this broadening of what it means to receive an education is welcome.
But is it new?
The words change and different voices say them but for UFA and many others in education the development of ‘character’ attributes has ever been a core part of our work. Since 1996, UFA has worked in partnership with schools reaching over 750,000 young people with evidence led programmes that support the develop of – what might previously have been called – life skills, soft skills, work skills, etc.
We know – as do so many schools – that the development of leadership dispositions, behaviours and competencies supports rather than detracts from academic success. The young person who can lead their own learning, has good metacognition, can transfer learning approaches etc., is much more likely to engage with education and the links with attainment have been well evidenced. Peer support, for example, which we deliver in our structured Peer Tutoring programme, is rated by the Education Endowment Foundation as one of its high value approaches to narrowing the attainment gap.
And it is in the work of EEF and other research bodies that we might see something that is really ‘new’. The evidence base for this work is developing and with that its standing within the education community. UFA welcome the announcement this week that EEF are taking applications for organisations wishing to research the impact of ‘character education’ and we are interested in the work of organisations like the Jubilee Centre and others who are pulling together thinking on how best to measure progress.
As 2015 moves on, UFA expects to be at the centre of the character debate but also its implementation. We will be launching our Centre for Young People’s Leadership, increasing the reach of our National Citizenship Service Provision and working with schools to take Peer Tutoring and other leadership programmes into even more settings.
But most of all we will be lobbying to ensure that access to opportunities to develop ‘character’ is an entitlement for all young people and not just those able to access extra-curricular activity or to be fortunate enough to be in a school that does it well. Because whatever its name this year, the impact of this work on young people remains exceptional.