The recently published report by the Department for Education into Character Education (August 2017) could be viewed as an exercise in re-branding but I think there is more to take from it than that. The reference to character traits in the report such as resilience, self-esteem and confidence, communication skills, self-regulation, perseverance and motivation, respect, tolerance and empathy, may lead an outdoor learning professional to think that they might be at the heart of a school’s approach to delivering Character Education. Think again! The survey of schools behind the report makes little to no reference to outdoor learning.
So how are schools seeking to develop the character traits listed above?.... and more importantly in the context of Horizons, how might outdoor learning professionals ensure their interventions support schools in their work?
The survey findings make it clear that schools do not see Character Education as a separate topic but rather behaviours role modelled by teachers and taught through quality relationships. They see its delivery as being supported by the way teaching and learning takes place. Many of the schools participating in the survey viewed Character Education as personal development leading to well rounded individuals; something that starts with the leadership and culture of the school. It’s hard to argue with that and heartening that it is seen as being led from the top but what are the implications for the many providers of outdoor learning for schools?
I think the starting point is to remind ourselves that our outdoor learning based interventions are part of a rich tapestry of influences that help to develop a young person’s resilience, self-esteem, confidence etc. Testing how we fit into the tapestry has to be important. Testing that with the persons with the best overview and most influence must be a good starting point. Knowledge of what happens prior and post our interventions can help in the design and delivery of our programmes and sessions within them. I suggest if you take that knowledge and help a young person reflect on their journey to date and consider future opportunities, you are strengthening the programme’s impact. Please don’t think this doesn’t apply to a ‘generic activity programme’; it is as equally important on such programmes. It is even more the case where outcomes relate to Character Education; something that is viewed by schools as an on-going school leadership led exercise.
Whilst we’re on the topic of ‘Character Education’ and personal and social development, it’s worth reflecting on other government voices over the summer. To quote the chief inspector of schools:
“An over-cautious culture has developed in our schools, that is holding back children and limiting their experiences. This deprives children of rewarding experiences, of the opportunity to develop resilience and grit and which makes it hard for them to cope with normal everyday risk”
Let’s not forget that whilst Character Education is being promoted as a responsibility for schools, the outdoor learning profession has a key role to play influencing the culture of those schools. The profession’s understanding of, and ability to, develop risk appreciation and management amongst children and young people is of course equally valuable to the wider teaching profession. Whilst the Institute and others continue to offer CPD to teachers to assist this, you as the practitioner have the most opportunities to influence teachers (and youth workers) directly. Can I encourage you to continue to explore with teachers how they can draw on outdoor learning to develop risk management and wider Character Education. Consider how often you comment on your professional judgement and decision making with others to enable them to better appreciate the potential of your work.
....and keep seeking to understand where your valuable practice best fits in contributing to those future well rounded members of our society