Do character skills really matter?

Helen Marshall, Ambition’s Chief Executive discusses the growing importance of character education and the youth sector’s role within it.

Resilience, confidence, self-awareness and motivation of young people are words we are hearing a lot in the youth sector and, reassuringly, in formal education too.  As the Chief Executive of an organisation that encourages all young people to achieve, I believe the personal character traits and skills which help young people to make the most of opportunities and overcome adversity, can be developed with the right opportunities and support.

Anyone who works in the youth sector will know that character education is at the heart of what we all do and always have done.  I’m hopeful that the Character Awards  from the Department for Education marks a step-change in recognising and rewarding the expertise within the sector and breaking down the barriers between formal and informal education.

The importance of acquiring such skills is also increasingly being recognised by employers, like McDonalds, as of equal importance when recruiting school and college leavers. This is echoed by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) who comment:

“Businesses feel very strongly that the education system must better prepare young people for life outside the school gates, or risk wasting their talents.” John Cridland, CBI Director-General

This focus on character is timely, as the latest school league tables reveal a growing gap in the GCSE attainment of children from affluent and disadvantaged backgrounds.There is also a growing body of evidence2 to suggest that character education is especially effective for young people facing economic and social disadvantage, typified by those accessing community programmes through our membership network.

Our experience delivering the hugely popular programmes like Skills for Adolescence and Action Up has proven that youth work principles and programmes can work with schools, increasing those soft skills, promoting positive choices and supporting better educational outcomes.

The youth sector has been fairly criticised for not evidencing the impact we have on young people’s lives, but in the last two years we have seen a huge shift in response to this criticism. At Ambition, we are committed to evidencing the impact of our work and building a solid evidence-base to demonstrate the long-term outcomes for young people.  This is important for the sector but even more important for the young people with whom we work.  We want to ensure we deliver the best support possible in developing character that makes a difference to young people’s future chances.


1. The Observer,

2. Paul Tough,