At the beginning of this academic year an advertisement went out for an Education Research Secondment working alongside Tamsin Little from our central team, researching and writing a criteria for a learning platform that would provide opportunities for our pupils to develop their learning characteristics. I jumped at the chance to develop my ideas and vision around learning, character and curriculum further and was lucky enough to be successful in my application.
Since starting the post in October, I have read countless articles, texts, books and listened to podcasts and watched YouTube videos all about the idea and the importance of “Personal Development and Character” in education. The more I have read and discovered, the more links I have made back to my previous experience in the classroom over the last ten years.
Soft skills, learning powers, habits of mind, character strengths, non-cognitive capacities – there are many names used for these vital skills that some educationalists, such as Baroness Morgan, believe should be “Taught and not caught.” As a trust we call them “Learning Characteristics” and have identified eighteen of these split across the three main drivers – Personal Development, Creative Development and Community Engagement. One of the main tasks of my Secondment has been to write the three milestone criteria for each of these Learning Characteristics so that we can be clear in where we want our children to achieve by the time they leave primary school in relation to, for example, collaboration, risk taking or resilience.
A common question in the schools that I have worked in has always been “what can we do to make our children more resilient?”. This is where I started with my research, and it led me to the idea of “character education” and how many schools and curriculums around the world have a far greater focus on it than the UK. For example the KIPP Charter Schools in America see Character Strengths as key to their pupils success in the future so much so that they grade their pupils character on their report card in such categories as Zest, Grit, Self-Control and Curiosity. I also researched how the Australian curriculum includes Personal and Social Capability and Critical and Creative Thinking in their Seven Capabilities alongside Literacy and Numeracy because they want their children to be able to live and work successfully in the twenty-first century.
There are three main authors and educationalists who have been the basis for the majority of my reading and who I would highly recommend to anyone who is interested in the future of education. The late Sir Ken Robinson and his superb books on creativity such as “The Element” and “Creative Schools”, the second of which looks at everything that is currently wrong with our education system and is a call to arms for us working in it to transform it for the better. Paul Tough who is an American author who wrote “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character” and its follow up which you can read online for free “Helping Children Succeed: What works and why”. Both of these texts dive deep into the idea of character and its importance, they look at key studies and strategies that have been used to develop character and the impact they have had on pupils. Professor Guy Claxton is a cognitive scientist who created “Building Learning Power” which he has adapted and improved over the last ten years into “The Learning Power Approach”. His book “Educating Ruby” has been a key text in the basis for the criteria I have been putting together as part of this secondment.
We are now at the stage where this research is directly feeding into the ‘My learning Pi’ platform that our developer is creating. Our hope for this platform is that it will provide focused opportunities for our pupils to develop their own “Learning Characteristics” both at home and at school and to enable them to see their areas of strength and the areas they need to continue to develop further. This platform is going to be trialed on a small scale during the summer term and we are planning for it to go live across all our schools from September 2021.
A secondary outcome of this research post has been the development of our curriculum as a school at Rendlesham. Debbie Thomas, our headteacher, has used the first few months of 2021 to create a research hub at the school where we are regularly using staff meetings and extra time available to read and discuss articles by many of the authors mentioned above. This has led to great debates about what we want for our pupils and a rapid development of our curriculum planning linked to the already mentioned Learning Characteristics. I am very excited to see where this takes us as a school and as an Academy Trust over the next few years.
Joel Vaughan, Researcher/Class Teacher, Rendlesham Primary School