The Role of Character Education in Ofsted’s New Inspection Framework

Jonathan Beale, Researcher-in-Residence, CIRL

17 September 2019

The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (‘Ofsted’) published their new Education Inspection Framework in May, which has been implemented this month. The new framework states that in future inspections, Ofsted will monitor how schools develop pupils’ character. What does the framework say about character? The second blog post this academic year from CIRL looks at what, exactly, Ofsted’s new inspection framework says about character.

The Independent Schools Inspectorate (‘ISI’) – the inspecting body for association independent schools, which are those independent schools that are full members of the associations which form the Independent Schools Council – has not yet announced any revisions to their inspection framework. However, personal development – the area of Ofsted’s inspection framework that includes an assessment of character education – is also a key area of the existing ISI inspection framework. This post also looks at what the existing ISI framework says about character.

This topic relates to the focus of CIRL’s next conference, on 13 November, which is on character. A Call for Posters is now open for the conference.

Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework outlines four areas where ‘Key judgements’ are made in inspections: ‘quality of education’, ‘behaviour and attitudes’, ‘personal development’ and ‘leadership and management’.[1] The section on ‘personal development’ outlines the basis on which inspectors will form judgements about the quality of character education:

Inspectors will make a judgement on the personal development of learners by evaluating the extent to which: […]

  • the curriculum and the provider’s wider work support learners to develop their character – including their resilience, confidence and independence – and help them know how to keep physically and mentally healthy.[2]

Ofsted’s new handbooks outline which aspects of character form the basis of assessments. Among the sources of evidence that Ofsted inspectors consider when assessing personal development is how well leaders in schools develop pupils’ character.[3] Ofsted’s 2019 School Inspection Handbook for maintained schools and academies and their Non-association Independent School Inspection Handbook contain the following identical information on the assessment of character education.[4] The section under ‘Personal development’ elaborates on the information in the Education Inspection Framework as follows:

This judgement focuses on the dimensions of the personal development of pupils that our education system has agreed, either by consensus or statute, are the most significant. These [include]: […]

  • developing pupils’ character, which we define as a 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. This gives pupils the qualities they need to flourish in our society.[5]

The sections on ‘personal development’ include other requirements relevant to character education, such as the importance of building confidence and resilience, and the relationship between these and maintaining good mental health;[6] teaching pupils how to engage with society;[7] ‘developing responsible, respectful and active citizens’; ‘developing and deepening pupils’ understanding of … fundamental British values’; and promoting equality and inclusivity.[8] Each of these is relevant to many of the virtues character education seeks to develop, such as civic virtues and performance virtues. (For an overview of the types of virtue that character education aims to develop, see the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues‘Framework for Character Education in Schools’.)

The handbooks provide the following descriptor for what a school must achieve to be rated as ‘Outstanding’ for how it supports pupils’ personal development:

  • Personal development is exceptional.

In addition, the following apply:

  • The school consistently promotes the extensive personal development of pupils. The school goes beyond the expected, so that pupils have access to a wide, rich set of experiences. Opportunities for pupils to develop their talents and interests are of exceptional quality.
  • There is strong take-up by pupils of the opportunities provided by the school. The most disadvantaged pupils consistently benefit from this excellent work.
  • The school provides these rich experiences in a coherently planned way, in the curriculum and through extra-curricular activities, and they considerably strengthen the school’s offer.
  • The way the school goes about developing pupils’ character is exemplary and is worthy of being shared with others.[9]

The Independent Schools Inspectorate (‘ISI’) has not yet announced any revisions to their inspection framework following Ofsted’s revisions. Since character education now occupies a place within Ofsted’s inspection framework for maintained schools and academies and non-association independent schools, it may also occupy a place within a revised ISI framework in the future.

Personal development – the area of Ofsted’s inspection framework that includes an assessment of character education – is also a key area of the existing ISI inspection framework. The section on ‘personal development’ in the existing ISI framework states that,

Educational quality inspection focuses upon the two main outcomes: pupils’ achievement, and their personal development. In so doing, inspection will identify the key features of the school’s provision that contribute to those outcomes and help to explain why the outcomes are as they are.[10]

In their evaluations of the ways in which schools develop pupils’ personal development, ISI evaluates the extent to which pupils develop character traits such as self-esteem, self-confidence, resilience, social awareness, awareness of moral responsibility, respect for diversity, independence, sensitivity and tolerance.[11] Inspectors assess these by reference to the curriculum, extra-curricular activities, staff role models, opportunities provided by the school, the role of boarding, resource provision, processes of monitoring and evaluation, and a school’s wider culture.[12]

The new Ofsted framework mentions areas such as community engagement and its impact on character development in their handbooks, again under the sections on ‘personal development’:

Schools can teach pupils how to build their confidence and resilience, for example, but they cannot always determine how well young people draw on this. Schools are crucial in preparing pupils for their adult lives, teaching them to understand how to engage with society and providing them with plentiful opportunities to do so. In this judgement, therefore, inspectors will seek to evaluate the quality and intent of what a school provides (either directly or by drawing on high-quality agencies and providers, for example the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, Cadet Forces and the National Citizenship Service) … [13]

The revisions to Ofsted’s inspection framework will exert a significant influence on the development and direction of school policies and educational research in the coming years. Interest in character education is, therefore, likely to only increase, both in terms of educational policy decisions and educational research.

Character education is a central area of research at CIRL and we have recently published new work in this field, including research on the relation between community engagement and character development. Last week, CIRL Research Associate, Dr Iro Konstantinou, published a report written with Dr Tom Harrison of the University of Birmingham’s Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues on community engagement and its impact on character development in sixth form students.  


[1] Ofsted, The Education Inspection Framework (2019), §24, pp. 8-9.

[2] Ofsted, The Education Inspection Framework (2019), §28, p. 11.

[3] Ofsted, School Inspection Handbook (2019), §223, p. 61; Ofsted, Non-association Independent School Inspection Handbook (2019), §215, p. 55.

[4] In the following references, these are cited as ‘Handbook A’ and Handbook B’, respectively.

[5] Handbook A §215, p. 58; Handbook B §205, p. 52.

[6] Handbook A §§214-5, pp. 58-9; Handbook B §§204-5, pp. 51-2.

[7] Handbook A §214, p. 58; Handbook B §204, p. 51.

[8] Handbook A §215, pp. 58-9; Handbook B §205, p. 52.

[9] Handbook A §224, p. 62; Handbook B §216, pp. 55-6.

[10] ISI 2017, p. 7.

[11] ISI 2017, p. 13.

[12] ISI 2017, pp. 13-4.

[13] Handbook A §214, p. 58; Handbook B §204, pp. 51-2.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s