New £1 million fund to investigate whether developing “character” can help improve students’ result

Education strategies which aim to develop characteristics like motivation, perseverance and resilience in students will be tested in a new Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) funding round launched today.

Rt Hon Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, will announce a £1 million grant to be matched by the EEF to run trials examining the most effective ways to develop children’s social, emotional and communication skills.

Character strengths or ‘soft skills’ – such as the ability to hold one’s own in a debate, persevere when faced with setbacks or work well in a team – are increasingly considered as important as academic skills in determining positive outcomes for children, including success in school and improved employment prospects. A research review commissioned by the EEF and Cabinet Office found:

  • Factors such as self-control and school engagement are statistically associated with academic outcomes, financial stability in adulthood, and reduced participation in crime.
  • Children’s perception of their ability and their expectations of future success influence their motivation and persistence leading to improved academic outcomes, especially for low-attaining pupils.
  • Within school, social and emotional learning programmes can play an important role in developing key non-cognitive skills.

However, despite strong evidence that skills like resilience, self-control and ‘grit’ are associated with success, much less is known about the best ways to inculcate these attributes. Today’s funding round is intended to address that gap by helping to build an evidence base of what works in developing character.

Trials will be conducted across large numbers of English schools to assess whether there are links between interventions, the development of certain character traits, success at school and longer-term outcomes. These will all be independently evaluated and the results will be added to the Sutton Trust-EEF Toolkit, a resource which offers schools an accessible means of using the latest educational research to inform decision-making.

The EEF has already funded a number of projects that aim to build soft skills in order to improve engagement and attainment at school. These include Changing Mindsets which is running in 36 schools in Hampshire. It is based on the work of Carol Dweck of Stanford University. She found encouraging children to adopt a growth mindset, in which they see their own intelligence as malleable rather than a fixed attribute, led to significant improvements in attainment.

Changing Mindsets tests two models of changing the way pupils think about themselves. The first involves a nine-week course of support from university students and external agencies and the second trains teachers to instruct and reinforce in pupils the concept that their intelligence is malleable. The trial is ongoing and results from it are expected in December 2015.

Dr Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said;

“Although we now know that character and resilience play an important part in determining pupils’ outcomes, we know much less about the most effective ways to develop these attributes in children. By funding further trials in this area we hope to offer schools a rigorous and independent assessment of what really works in this area.”

Today’s funding round is open to schools, local authorities, charities, universities and other non-profit organisations that would like to test other ways of developing non-cognitive skills in students. Projects should have some existing evidence that they are likely to improve outcomes at school, or later in life and also be practical and cost-effective.

Notes to editors