'Character’ is a word that we are hearing a lot at the moment.

Nicky Morgan has put it at the heart of her education policy and entries have just closed for the 2016 DfE Character Awards, the Department for Education stating that “all young people deserve opportunities to learn:

  • how to persevere and work to achieve
  • to understand the importance of respect and how to show it to others
  • how to bounce back if faced with failure
  • how to collaborate and build strong relationships with others at work and in their private lives”

While the idea of character education is topical at the moment, it is nothing new. Many schools and youth organisations have been providing these opportunities for years. Outdoor education has played a key role, and people who have experienced challenging outdoor adventures both as leaders and participants will recognise the characteristics outlined above. Residentials, like those provided by Brathay Trust, from one or two nights to multi-day overseas expeditions can provide the perfect opportunity to learn lifelong lessons. 

Character education in action - Atherton and Tyldesley Sports Association (ATSA) triathlon

This weekend, 32 children representing 8 schools from Atherton and Tyldesley came to Low Bank Ground Outdoor Education Centre on the shores of Coniston Water to participate in a mini ‘triathlon’ of activities. 

Atherton and Tyldesley Sports Association (ATSA) was formed in 2011 and in 2014 was formally recognised by winning ‘Outstanding Contribution to Local Education’ from the local National Union of Teachers. The first ‘triathlon’ was held in 2014 and has become a regular event, and there have now been over 100 different sporting events.

ATSA’s strapline is ‘Friendship Through Sport’. Mark Grogan, Head teacher at Atherton St George Primary School and ATSA founder says that ATSA:

...is ideal for our young people as no matter what colour school uniform the children wear, no matter what team they represent, they are all members of the Atherton and Tyldesley community and, for me, our events should form the basis of lifelong friendships. This is the same for the staff, many of who have become ‘friends through sports.
Girls in the countryside

The weekend starts with icebreakers and some team challenges, but not in their school groups.  New teams are formed where people don’t know each other and given challenges that they can only solve if they communicate and engage with each other. Children quickly overcome their not knowing each other and the friendships that start then continue throughout the weekend and beyond, with teachers seeing a rapid improvement in problem solving and team-working skills as the evening progresses. 

Over the following two days, the schools compete against each other for a series of individual and team trophies in orienteering, kayaking and running. The weather provides further challenges that really test everyone’s resilience and determination - on the lake we saw children showing what character and grit really look like.  The conditions were hard and the course was tough. We could have stayed on the sheltered pond, but the challenge was accepted and everyone went for it.  No one gave up, no matter how hard they found it, and everyone contributed towards their schools overall effort. In the orienteering and running events as well, it was inspiring to see the amount of effort that every single young athlete put in.