In its first inspection under the new Ofsted Education Inspection Framework, Aylesford School in Kent has been praised for its focus on character education. Receiving an overall grade of ‘Good’, inspectors commended the transformation of the School since its last inspection. In particular, the report states that ‘Leaders have a strong focus on building character education. This has transformed pupils’ behaviour and attitudes to learning. Pupils approach their learning positively’. The report also highlights that leaders at the School ‘have high expectations of pupils. They are ambitious for pupils to develop ‘strong character strengths and reach their academic potential’. This has improved pupils’ attitudes and raised their aspirations. One parent commented, ‘The character education means he can demonstrate real success as a rounded individual, not just academically’. The report also concluded that character education at Aylesford, ‘prepares pupils well for life in modern Britain’.
Aylesford School began its explicit focus on character education in 2017, at a time when the leadership of the school felt a new direction was needed to revitalise a school requiring improvement. The School’s character education journey began with the school community helping select a set of virtues – inspired by the Jubilee Centre’s A Framework for Character Education in Schools – around which the school ethos could focus. In the period since, the School has worked to ensure that character development is now integral to all aspects of school life, becoming one of the first schools to obtain the Association for Character Education’s ‘School of Character’ Kitemark in 2019. As a result of its focus on character, the School has witnessed many positive outcomes, including improved attendance, greater staff wellbeing, greater academic achievements and being oversubscribed for the first time in the School’s history.
The Jubilee Centre has worked closely with the Aylesford on several projects over the last two years. Most recently, senior leaders and teachers at the School contributed significantly to the Centre’s online CPD programme, Leading Character Education in Schools. Aylesford are one of eight schools who provide an insight into character provision and what this looks like in practice for those learning on the programme. The work at Aylesford will also be celebrated in the Centre’s upcoming Windows into Schools: Celebrating Character brochure by the Jubilee Centre.
Aylesford’s inspection outcome provides further evidence of the importance of character education within Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework and subsequent School Inspection Handbook. Since the Ofsted School Inspection Handbook was published in May 2019 and came into effect in September 2019, the Jubilee Centre has been interested to see how Ofsted’s attitudes towards character education in schools would differ. The Handbook states that inspectors’ judgements in this area will take into account how schools are ‘developing pupils’ character, the set of positive personal traits, dispositions and virtues that informs their motivation and guides their conduct, so that they reflect wisely, learn eagerly, behave with integrity and cooperate consistently well with others’.
It is very pleasing to see Ofsted celebrating the work schools such as Aylesford are doing by placing emphasis on character development in their inspection report. This could be a major turning point for character education in England; where all of England’s 22,000 schools will be asked to explicitly demonstrate how they develop the character of their pupils.