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Top award for character-based free school with fencing for all

Nicky Morgan announces the national winner of the Character Awards.

A school that has embedded character education in every aspect of school life - while teaching all pupils fencing - has been named the best school in the country for instilling character traits such as grit and resilience in pupils.

Character Awards winner: King’s Leadership Academy

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has awarded King’s Leadership Academy, a secondary free school in Warrington, Cheshire, with a total of £35,000 for its outstanding work in promoting virtue in pupils. The school says the funding will be used to spread the teaching of character to other schools across the country.

The Character Awards are designed to highlight the most effective ways of ensuring pupils leave school ready for life in modern Britain. Last month the 27 regional winners - each winning £15,000 - were announced, with King’s taking home a further £20,000 as yesterday’s national winner (16 March 2015).

Measures adopted by King’s Leadership Academy include:

  • providing weekly public speaking, philosophy and ethics classes
  • enrolling all pupils on an 18-week programme of fencing led by an Olympic coach
  • ensuring all pupils participate in the school’s brass orchestra and have 3 hours a week of formal team sports
  • empowering pupils to take leadership roles within the school
  • sharing the best character education approaches with schools across the country, including Eton College
  • working with 8 local schools to adopt character education and accrediting more than 300 pupils last year with a leadership award

Last year Ofsted praised the school for its ‘outstanding’ behaviour, resulting from its ‘firm values and principles’. Ofsted also noted that the values of ‘integrity respect and endeavour’ give pupils a strong ‘motivation to succeed’.

Since opening in 2012 the academy has never excluded a pupil and pupil attendance is well above the national average.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said:

Teaching character not only benefits children at school - it also plays a vital role in ensuring young people leave school prepared for life in modern Britain.

Investing in the character of young people will not only help them succeed academically, but also improve their job prospects and help them bounce back from setbacks.

Teachers across the country are doing excellent work to promote character. King’s Leadership Academy in Warrington is leading the character charge and I hope other schools can learn from its success.

Character education is a central part of our plan for education, and we are investing £10 million to ensure pupils develop the resilience and grit they need to succeed in later life. Schools now have the tools and support they need to ensure they develop well-rounded pupils ready to go on to an apprenticeship, university or the world of work.

Winners were chosen by a panel of experts and all had to display evidence that their work has improved pupils’ outcomes from exam results to behaviour, attendance or job prospects.

The government’s plan for education includes a £5 million pledge to ensure more pupils leave school prepared for the challenges of life in modern Britain, including £4 million to reward and spread the character work of school and charities, and £1 million to research the most effective approaches. An additional £5 million has also been awarded to life-changing projects run by former armed services personnel.

Character Awards panel

The winners were judged by a panel of experts from a broad range of sectors, representing the diverse approaches of character education. The panel consists of:

  • Chair: Vicky Beer CBE, Chair of the Teaching Schools Council and Executive Principal for the West Trafford Learning Partnership (Ashton-on-Mersey and Broadoak schools)
  • Maggie Alphonsi MBE, England rugby player, Athlete Mentor Manager and Rugby World Cup 2015 Ambassador
  • Professor James Arthur, Head of the School of Education, University of Birmingham, and Director of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues
  • Rob Wall, Head of Education and Employment Policy, CBI
  • Dr Kevan Collins, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation, a research-based charity raising the educational attainment of disadvantaged pupils
  • Charlotte Hill, CEO of Step up to Serve, a charity that aims to increase the number of young people participating in meaningful social action
  • Jill Litchfield, Headteacher at Bournehall Primary School, Bushey, Hertfordshire, and part of the national teaching schools network
  • Diane Reynard, Principal of the East Specialist Inclusive Learning Centre in Leeds, and a member of the Teaching Schools Council

Character Education Awards: full list of winners

South West

  • Bath Rugby Foundation, which works with children from disadvantaged backgrounds to raise their confidence and life chances by imparting the values found in rugby - camaraderie, loyalty, discipline and respect. ‘Stickability’, their flagship programme, has increased students’ confidence alongside improving their academic achievement and literacy
  • Shaldon Primary School in Devon, which is driven by a set of values including aspiration, responsibility, determination, friendship, passion and excellence. The school encourages problem-solving and enquiry in pupils through activities such as working with local craftsmen to make 2 full-size regatta dinghies
  • Gordano School in North Somerset, which has developed a measure of effort, focusing on pupils’ resilience, independence, self-management and challenge, which is used to inform dialogue with parents, staff and pupils

West Midlands

  • St James’s Church of England Primary School in Stourbridge, West Midlands, which is founded on values including respect, honesty, kindness, responsibility, perseverance and friendship. Parents and pupils voted on the values and character traits they want to see developed by the time they leave school. Pupil ‘learning ambassadors’ and ‘eco warriors’ act as role models to promote character traits such as independence and resilience in the school and through the wider community
  • Queensbridge School, a secondary school in Birmingham. Life at Queensbridge is underpinned by responsibility and rigour. Pupils use an ‘iMap’ - a personal portfolio - to record the evidence of their personal development through residentials and extra-curricular activities. The school has pledged to match fund their prize to expand their model with other schools
  • The Haywood Academy in Stoke-on-Trent, which offers a rich array of character-building activities through personal, social and health education (PSHE) days, motivational speakers, army cadet units and theatre programmes. The school gives regular feedback to pupils on the development of their character traits and behaviour


  • The Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in Islington, which has partnered with Hogan Lovells, a multinational law firm, to develop a programme of character-building challenges from years 7 to 9. The year 9 challenge culminates in pupils organising a charity event and fundraising for the London Air Ambulance
  • City Year UK, a youth charity, which brings 18- to 25-year-olds into 22 schools across London, Birmingham and Manchester to promote civic and personal character traits in children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The 50 acts of greatness club helps pupils with behavioural problems develop relationship skills and social-emotional awareness
  • School 21, a new school in Newham, one of the most deprived boroughs of London. The school’s overwhelmingly disadvantaged children abide by the 6 attributes of professionalism, grit, spark, eloquence, expertise and craftsmanship, which are developed through a focus on speaking skills and coaching

Yorkshire and the Humber

  • Tapton School, a secondary school in Sheffield, which has developed a system to track students’ progress in resilience, reflectiveness, reciprocity, resourcefulness and respect. Students take responsibility to develop their own range of behaviours, skills and strategies, and set improvement goals based on these levels as they progress through school
  • Bushfield Road Infant School in Scunthorpe, which is leading an innovative approach to introduce character traits linked to enterprise into the curriculum. Teamwork, effective communication, creativity and innovation, positivity, initiative and financial literacy are traits used across the school in order to prepare children for success in later years
  • The Mirfield Free Grammar and Sixth Form in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, which runs a variety of character-building programmes throughout the school. The school has used Dr Art Costa’s ‘habits of mind’ to embed positive habits across the curriculum and tutor programmes to foster development of traits such as perseverance, resilience, drive, confidence and ambition

East Midlands

  • Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Derbyshire, which has placed student wellbeing at its core. The character-based tutorial programme is supported by extra-curricular activities. All year 7 pupils undertake a project to explore character traits and behaviours, and the programme permeates the whole school
  • Babington Community College in Leicestershire. The college’s pledge, which is read daily at assemblies, emphasises the importance of democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law, tolerance and respect for others
  • Oakthorpe Primary School in Derbyshire. The school’s ethos focuses on the traits of reciprocity, reflection, resourcefulness and resilience. The school council has developed a positive behaviour rewards system to help children reach their ‘ideal selves’, and their whole school approach has led to an increase in pupils’ self-reported ability to bounce back from challenges

South East

  • Future Foundations, an independent organisation that runs programmes for young people from age 10 across Berkshire to create a generation of inspirational, confident and optimistic young people. Through social-action projects and residential courses, supported by tailored coaching, the programmes have improved character traits such as confidence, motivation and creativity. With the award, the organisation plans to open their flagship global social leaders programme to students from the Berkshire area who wouldn’t otherwise have the means to attend
  • Therfield School, a secondary school in Leatherhead, Surrey, which has developed a record of personal excellence (ROPE) programme to track, monitor and celebrate students’ progress in developing character and involvement in activities that engender character building
  • Lane End Primary School in Buckinghamshire, which bases school life on core values of honesty, consideration, respect, endeavour and courage. The school has adopted a reward system to build character traits such as honesty, kindness, independence and perseverance in their pupils

East of England

  • The Diana Award, a charity that works with over 3,000 schools annually across the east of England and the UK to develop confidence, tolerance and resilience in young people, who are empowered to drive change within their schools and communities. As a result of the social action programmes, teachers have witnessed improvements in behaviour and attendance of the pupils
  • The Sweyne Park School, a secondary school in Rayleigh, Essex, which has a core motto of respect for others, for oneself and for the community. The school has developed an ‘employability for life’ charter that has been adopted by Essex local authority as a model for best practice
  • Kings Langley School, a secondary academy in Hertfordshire. The school has built their ethos on perseverance, self-regulation and empathy. Alongside improvements in attitudes to learning and self-regulation that demonstrate the success of the programme, Ofsted notes that ‘students develop the qualities of character to become successful citizens’

North East

  • Emmanuel College, a secondary school in Gateshead. Pupils are challenged to take responsibility for others, developing core values of courage, determination, honourable purpose and compassion. The school focuses on tailored character building through an awards scheme in years 7 and 8, and through developing personal development plans in years 9 to 11
  • Percy Hedley School in Newcastle upon Tyne, a special school for children with cerebral palsy and/or speech and language difficulties. The school has developed programmes focusing on social communication in order to develop problem-solving and ‘can do’ attitudes in pupils
  • Northumberland county council youth service, which has developed innovative programmes that develop confidence, responsibility and social skills in partnership with Cramlington Learning Village. The Northumberland Challenge helps young people to undertake voluntary, outdoor and enterprise activities

North West

  • St Michael’s Church of England Primary School in Alkrington, Rochdale, which fosters respect for ourselves and others, while encouraging responsibility for our actions. The school’s curriculum has driven up standards in literacy through engaging children in experiences that build empathy
  • Bolton Lads and Girls Club, a social action programme. The club, through its young citizens programme, helps to build resilience, responsibility, self-confidence and self-control in 10- to 14-year-olds in schools across Bolton. Many of the children come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and feedback from schools proves that the programme impacts on children’s attainment. The group hopes that in the future every school in Bolton can host its own young citizens programme
  • King’s Leadership Academy in Warrington, Cheshire. ‘7 pillars of character’ - aspiration, achievement, self-awareness, professionalism, integrity, respect and endeavour - permeate the curriculum, direct extra-curricular activities and inform the day-to-day running of the school. All children are issued with a ‘King’s passport’ to develop their character, and pupils attend weekly public speaking, philosophy and ethics lessons

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