Character and resilience are essential to becoming educated (but so is their religious education for Pakistani children!)

The all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on Social Mobility has published a report (Paterson, Tyler and Lexmond 2014) which has placed the development of character and resilience centre stage for young people’s education.

They set out to answer a number of questions. Why do some talented children grow up to fulfil their ambitions and become leaders in any number of fields, while others never realise their full potential? What can be done to help more people succeed in life?  How do we create a UK in which a person’s life chances are determined by their talent, not the circumstances of their birth? In conclusion their “research findings all point to the same conclusion: “character counts.” Experts from across the board pointed out to them: “whatever qualifications you might have, where you are on the character scale will have a big impact on what you can achieve in life”.

The report has drawn attention to the current realities within our education system where education is often seen as synonymous with achievement of benchmark grades at GCSE. For the APPG, if the education system also focussed, on what they refer to as ‘’soft skills’, it would enable young people to leave school and university much better equipped.

The report has recommended that Ofsted should factor ‘extra’-curricular activities more explicitly into the inspection framework and the participation in such activities should become a formal aspect of teachers’ contracts of employment.

Possibility of funding

The Education Secretary Michael Gove said in a speech recently:

“As top heads and teachers already know, sports clubs, orchestras and choirs, school plays, cadets, debating competitions all help to build character and instil grit, to give children’s talents an opportunity to grow and to allow them to discover new talents they never knew they had” .

Although much of what is in the report has been known already, it is to be welcome that the current government has decided to devote its attention to this essential aspect of learning.

The previous government had also prioritised this matter, in a ten year strategy document (DCSF 2007). It was acknowledged that how young people spent their leisure time really mattered. Like the current report, it acknowledged that “improved social and emotional skills are essential to building young people’s resilience and allowing them to fulfil their potential.” Ofsted (2008) have also stressed the importance of education outside the classroom. For them, when planned and implemented well, such activities can contribute significantly to raising standards and improving pupils’ personal, social and emotional development.

Unlike before, this time there appears to be likelihood of funding being provided. It is not clear, however, whether this will be in the form of new money or an extension to the Pupil Premium. However it is done, one thing is for sure that little will change without financial support being made available. It is well known that it is the children from poorer backgrounds who often do not participate in extra-curricular activities and miss out on its valuable educational benefits.

Sutton et al (2007) pointed out how well-off children had a longer learning day. Whereas the poorer children had few opportunities to benefit form out of school activities, the wealthier children often began their learning day well before school and finished long after the formal school day ended. Lareau (2003), provided many examples of middle class parents who supplemented their children’s education through paid-for activities as well as through the many conversations they had with them and taught them knowledge, skills or particular way of seeing the world.  Evans (2007) made a similar point about middle class children whose whole lives were filled with structured activities oriented towards learning valuable skills in art, music, sport and drama and so on. Wikeley et al (2007) researched into extra-curricular activities and its benefits for young people in their formal education and later in life. They pointed out that such activities enabled young people to gain specialist knowledge; develop self control and confidence; learn about learning and greater agency. One of my earlier publications (Iqbal 2013) was devoted to developing resilience and self-efficacy and covered some similar ground.

The implications for Pakistani pupils

While the AAPG’s report applies just as much to Pakistani children – my current focus – in order to implement its recommendations, account will need to be taken of their Islamic religious education including the learning of the Quran. This has been the conclusion I reached based on my doctoral research into their education. The research was conducted in three Birmingham state schools, including one Grammar School. Their population ranged from almost all-Muslim to very few Muslim pupils. Research involved interviews with Year 11 Pakistani boys, their parents and teachers. A questionnaire was completed by over 200 Year 11 young people from all ethnic groups. Local authority reports and documents were also consulted, going back more than ten years.

It is worth pointing out here that a quarter of Birmingham’s pupils are already of Pakistani heritage and will, in the foreseeable future, become its largest pupil ethnic group. Since 2011, Muslims have been the largest religious group in local schools. Data from Birmingham Local Authority has shown that each year over 1000 Pakistani pupils leave local schools without the benchmark qualifications. Therefore, these issues are a matter of mainstream concern.

Key findings from my doctoral research 

For the Pakistani children, the research showed:

  • Parents and the children value secular education and the opportunities it can provide.
  • Children are taught respect for education, by their parents and mosque teachers
  • Their religion was more important for Pakistani pupils than all other ethnic groups
  • Ever since the Pakistani families and children arrived in the UK in the 1960s, parents have seen it as an obligatory duty, farz, to educate their young as Muslims. My research has shown that for many parents and their children this has been the norm throughout the past 50 plus years and continues to be so now. All the young people interviewed were either currently attending religious classes at a mosque or had done so until recently. Many of them started such activities while they were at primary school.
  • Some children also struggled to complete their homework, either because of a lack of time or because they did not have appropriate help from parents.


In the context of the APPG report, for Pakistani children to take part in extra-curricular activities, it would require integration of such activities with their participation in Islamic religious classes, including learning the Quran.  This could be arranged by ‘bringing the mosque into the school’. The children already have a long learning day; they come to school and then spend many hours at a mosque. Instead of doing that, they could have an ‘extended’ day at the school, say, 8am to 6pm. They could devote some of the time to their Islamic education and some to extra-curricular activities.

Although, a few of the parents I spoke to about this expressed support for the idea, the policy would require wider consultation with the Pakistani community. It will also require the full involvement of imams and other religious leaders. They could be employed within the education system which would be an excellent way to integrate what the children do in their two, often disparate, worlds; each with its own distinct philosophy and approach.

Such an approach to broader education would mean that children are taught, more efficiently and effectively, what parents value. It would also mean they would have time to take part in extra-curricular activities. More critically, it could provide the children opportunities to do their homework, in a place where they have access to teachers and other resources.

The APPG report has recommend that there should be a respected, official ‘School Leaving Certificate’ that reflects a child’s achievement across a broad range of activities rather than just exam outcomes. For the Pakistani children, this could also include their achievements in Islamic education and learning of the Quran.

Greater opportunities for Pakistani children to participate in extra-curricular activities would also be good for community cohesion. It would enable them to spend social and informal time with children from other backgrounds, currently something they have little time or opportunity for.



DCSF. 2007. Aiming high for young people: a ten year strategy for positive activities

 Evans, G. 2007. Educational failure and working class White children in Britain:  Palgrave

Iqbal, K. 2013. Working-class underachievement: developing resilience and self-efficacy: Amazon Kindle.

Lareau A. 2003. Unequal Childhood: University of California

Ofsted. 2008. Learning outside the classroom

 Paterson, C. Tyler, C. and Lexmond J. 2014: Character and Resilience Manifesto: The all-party parliamentary group on Social mobility

Sutton et al. 2007. A child’s- eye view of social difference: Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Wikeley et al. 2007. Educational relationships outside school:  Joseph Rowntree Foundation




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