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Measuring Character Education

In our last post about the character education fund, we explored why character education is important since there is a clear need for the soft skills it refers to. What seems to be a little trickier however, is how character education could be measured. Indeed, this seems to be another point of contention for Eleanor Doughty who calls it ‘immeasurable’. However, having a clearer definition of what is meant by the term does enable a route into more effective measuring. Yes Futures has settled on four key skill areas that we believe are vital to a young person’s success in life: 1) confidence, 2) resilience, 3) communication and working with others and 4) self-reflection and motivation. We can then measure the impact of our extra-curricular programmes through an evidence-based approach, which has been developed through much research and in consultation with leading organisations in the educational field.

Character traits, (we like to call them ‘Talents’) are measured through two tools which track students’ development and their progress towards individual targets through several evidence-based assessments. This information is triangulated with the views of parents and teachers to provide reliable and comprehensive monitoring data. The actual programmes themselves are also based on in-depth evidence-based research within the fields of behavioural development and education. For example, studies suggest that outdoor adventure experiences not only enhance ‘social and behavioural development’ but also allow participants to discover 'new interests and capabilities’.

Yes Futures’ approach towards measuring the impact of our programmes reveals that while tricky, it is not impossible to measure success in this arena. Character education is far from ‘immeasurable’ as Doughty suggests. In fact, while an evidence-based approach can be used to measure effectiveness on an individual level, a broader way of measuring the effectiveness of the government initiative is by using the fund’s aim as a benchmark to measure against. Since the fund aims to improve the soft skills of school leavers and thereby their ability to succeed in life after school, business leaders can be surveyed about the change in soft skills possessed by their employees after a certain time period. Alternatively, the percentage of students’ entry into work, apprenticeships or university could be measured against schools who have applied for and utilised the grant to develop ‘character education.’ As Doughty states, the point about measurability of the fund really is an ‘arguable’ one ( as there are clearly several ways the fund’s impact can be measured and how the government plans to do this may not be immediately clear) and we argue that ‘character education’ is far from an ‘immeasurable concept’. The government obviously recognises the importance of measurements as it has announced separate funds that will be used to research the best way of monitoring the effectiveness of character education.

At this point, it is important to also remember the value of qualitative measurement. For a concept as broad as character education, it may be better suited if qualitative measurement is used alongside quantitative methods. The ‘soft skills’, whose absence is noted within young graduates are, after all named so because they are hard to quantify in and of themselves. Either way, difficulty in monitoring need not dismiss the need for and importance of ‘character education’ in the first place.

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