What parents think about character and resilience

26 July 2019
Recently, the government closed its consultation on character and resilience. They had invited interested parties to submit their knowledge and expertise to an inquiry into how the teaching of character and resilience can be introduced to schools in England.

We conducted a focus group with parents at the Department for Education’s Westminster office, but we also opened up a parent survey and used those responses to reply directly to the consultation.

How much interest is this to parents?

Our Annual Parent Survey 2018 told us that parents overwhelmingly choose self-confidence among their top attributes of a successful school. 64% of parents say children should leave primary school with it, and 57% say the same for secondary. The option was the most popular at both educational stages. When we ran a survey with a small sample of parents in Dotdigital, 81% strongly agreed that character and resilience are important in enabling young people to be successful and to thrive in later life”.

Which activities do parents think are most effective?

Parents’ comments revealed how invested they are in developing character and resilience in their children.

Among their suggestions were:

  • Participatory activities that involve group working
  • Being given responsibility and opportunities to make choices about their learning
  • Celebrating failure and seeing it as a way to learn something new
  • Sports, drama, arts, adventure, exploration, interaction, service to others
  • Working with other young people in a team e.g. being involved in planning a youth event
  • Being given the chance to fail, not constantly striving for academic achievement but trying other things too 
  • Sport, board games. Learn that you don’t always win but can have fun and praise others for doing well
  • Involvement in community activities with a cross-section of people to help children develop a context
  • Building strong relationships with adults inevitably helps them grow confidence
  • Discussing true life events and how they would have dealt with it
  • Growing plants
  • Helping them to feel secure and role modelling relationships skills
  • Scouts, guides, dance drama sports
  • Getting feedback on success and ways of doing it differently to get a different result
  • Physical Education gives lots of opportunities to work in teams, build relationships, challenge yourself and bounce back from losses
  • Opportunities to do extra-curricular activities and a challenging curriculum
  • Problem-solving, team-building, challenging, social skills, growth mindset

When schools are looking to introduce character and resilience to their curriculum, they should seek to engage the parent community for their input as well as feedback. Character and resilience is a prime area for homes and schools to collaborate, and effective two-way communication is key to getting it right. As such, DfE guidance for teachers and schools on Character and Resilience should include the need to collaborate with and consult parents. Our Blueprint for Parent-Friendly Schools offers a complete framework for successful parental engagement.

Do parents consider that teaching character and resilience has a positive impact on their child?

Our parent respondents said that they had overwhelmingly noticed a positive impact after their child had taken part in character development activities (at school or elsewhere). This breaks down as:

  • Slight positive impact 41%
  • Big positive impact 34%
  • Don’t know 9%
  • No change 6%

What notable differences had parents seen?

They noted:

  • Happiness and mental health improvements, life chances and opportunities open up. If you can do one activity and enjoy it, there may be similar ones worth trying
  • Improvement in self-confidence which affects all areas in school and out of it. Very positive
  • Increase in self-belief, empathy and staying positive
  • Building self-esteem and confidence
  • Overall this increased their happiness levels and in turn increased their resilience to change, making them happier and less stressed
  • A sense of fairness and justice, greater patience, more compassion
  • Caring for younger members of extended family going through difficult times
  • More motivation to achieve and focus, actively discusses school values and understands the link to behaviour. Definitely takes responsibility for behaviour more. Worth noting that these values are in line with our own values at home, so the reinforcement is powerful
  • Calmer and able to deal with knockbacks
  • My child talks about kindness and caring and how she has helped other children during the day. She is more self-aware

Why parental engagement is key to the success of character and resilience

Our respondents noted the importance of parental engagement in ensuring schools add character and resilience to the curriculum in the following ways:

  • It will help schools and parents/​carers to understand each other’s roles and aid with helping the young people get the education and follow up they deserve
  • It is the role of school to educate children, but parents are ultimately accountable for their child’s development. Plus, parents know the teacher better to have franker conversations.
  • Parents and school have the same expectations, use the same language, adults are seen as secure/​trustworthy
  • Gives parents a better understanding of school life and the challenges children face today
  • By involving parents, children can see that it isn’t just something to be done at school
  • It’s important for the child to see home and school as a joint force — not separate!
  • Children learn by example and will be influenced by parents who are invested in their school lives. The two should not be separate
  • It helps by building bonds between parents and school staff so there is a reduced level of them vs us”
  • Positive role models, showing enthusiasm to support them
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Important for parents to see and support the opportunities provided
  • The problem for children from deprived backgrounds is that any input from school that is not backed up by matching positive input at home seems to make no difference to outcomes for the child. Only if the school can reach and involve the family positively is there a discernible, long-term positive outcome for otherwise deprived children
  • By being involved in school life, we role model to children that both they and their education are important, that that they are worth investing time and effort in, and thereby help to build a child’s self-esteem and self-worth
  • Seeing parent engage in a respectful and constructive manner sets an example for the child
  • Consistency — as can be continued to be built upon outside of school. Inclusive — parents like to be involved in the education of their children but options are usually limited to receiving feedback at parents’ evening

As our respondents recognise, parents are a vital part of the link in seeing the impact of teaching character and resilience. They see that the subject contributes to giving their child a rounded education that effectively prepares them for life beyond school. When parents are considered partners in education and given the information and tools to support learning at home, they can reinforce the messages about character and resilience that their child learns at school. This enhances the impact of what children learn about character and resilience in the school setting.

Involving parents by consulting them and actively seeking the contributions of those who wish to more fully engage, will be a key part of the success of introducing character and resilience to the curriculum. Parents are, after all, the first educators of children, as well as role models for most children, and highly influential in children’s behaviour and worldview. If parents know what is being taught in character and resilience and how that learning may be applied outside of the classroom, then children’s understanding of the core components will increase greatly.

Parentkind’s Blueprint for Parent-Friendly Schools is a great foundation for all parental engagement, not only when it comes to character and resilience.