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Schools of Virtue

Project Overview

The Schools of Virtue project was launched on 19th October 2017 at the University of Birmingham School by Gary Lewis, Chair of the Association for Character Education.  The project focussed on three schools in Birmingham that place the development of their pupils’ character at the heart of their educational vision. This report demonstrates how a neo-Aristotelian conception of character education can be brought to life in different types of schools with the aim of providing evidence for policymakers, and inspiration for educators and other interested parties, who are progressing their own approaches to developing pupils’ character in the interest of human flourishing. 

Summary of Key Findings

  • Staff outwardly ‘bought into’ and supported the school’s vision for character education and this consistency between vision and action reinforced pupils’ engagement in character education. Staff recognised that they are character ‘educators’ and ‘role models’.
  • The vision of character education was implemented in each school through intentional and careful planning. The teaching of character education was intended to develop pupil’s virtue literacy and was embedded within the curriculum and within discrete lessons.
  • Pupils in all three schools prioritised moral over performance virtues and pupils in the secondary schools scored higher on moral functioning tests than the national average.

Summary of Recommendations

  • Character education should seek to develop the intellectual virtue of critical thinking, and this can be facilitated through embedding pupil reflection within character education.
  • Schools should consider the self-evaluation of their character education provision, with reference to the Jubilee Centre’s Character Education: Evaluation Handbook for Schools.
  • The contribution that character education makes to school outcomes, such as increased employability, increased positive behaviour, and improved attainment, should be investigated further.

* The findings of the study have been used to revise the Jubilee Centre’s A Framework for Character Education in Schools*

Project Summary

Schools of Virtue has sought to explore character education provision in 3 ‘beacon’ schools. The project aimed to highlight and champion schools that place character and virtue development at their heart. The impact on pupil behaviour, attitude to work and attainment, and social behaviour will be monitored and tracked. 

In particular, the project addressed the following research questions:


  • What is the impact on young people and teachers when character and values education are placed at the heart of the school philosophy. What is the impact on the behaviour, attainment and future mindedness of the young people?
  • What should a successful school based on character education look like? What pedagogy should teachers adopt and what should the learning environment be?
  • What interventions have the greatest impact on transforming the character and values of young people?

Read our Virtue Insight piece on the Character Education: Evaluation Handbook for Schools.

Read our blog post on 'Why classroom character and virtues should be in Justine Greening's in tray'. 

The 3 beacon schools include the University of Birmingham School and provide access to Year 7 and lower Sixth Form pupils. The School has an explicit focus on character education ‘to support the development of happy, fulfilled young adults’. Researchers will spend extended periods of time in each of the 3 schools, designing appropriate interventions, delivering them, and conducting important evaluation to determine their effectiveness.

The project worked with the operational hypothesis that an over-emphasis on academic rather than character development in schools in Britain leaves them unable to meet the needs of the young people and communities they serve. 

It is expected that this work will make a significant contribution to our understanding of virtue and character amongst young people and how interventions may aid the moral development of young people in schools. The project will deliver a research report, teaching and learning resources, and a head-teacher’s report for each school on the effect and impact that the project has had.

Read our Virtue Insight blog post on 'The Rise of the Academy Chain'. 



Read our Virtue Insight blog post on 'closing school "exam factories"'.