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Character in Marginalised Young People

Project Overview

The Character and Values Amongst Marginalised Young People project is designed to deepen understanding of why some young people appear disengaged from education, employment and society, often referred to as ‘NEETs’, and how paying attention to character may help to address some of the underlying causes of that disengagement.

This work will contribute to understandings of character amongst young people and how interventions may address some of the difficulties some young people face.

Read Dr. Sandra Cooke's Virtue Insight blog post on 'Polarised debate that pits moral responsibility against social conditions is creating a “damaging impasse”




The research will involve mixed methods and will be in three parts:

  • A questionnaire completed by young people in different contexts (n=2000) to establish what the differences are, if any, in the perceptions, attitudes and motivations of young people in society;
  • The development of a structured intervention which will be the subject of pre- and post- testing to assess impact (n= 300);
  • A qualitative study of 20 young people who will co-construct their educational narratives, using a variety of media, describing how they have come to be where they are and how they envisage their futures.

Literature Review & Findings

Hundreds of thousands of young people in the UK are disengaged from education and employment, with costs to the individual and to wider society.

Marginalisation can be seen on a continuum from the extremes of people who are involved in illegal, hidden and antisocial behaviour, through those who have seemingly ‘lost their way’, to those who are deemed to be at risk of marginalisation but remain in mainstream settings.

The context of society has changed; there are more choices, the transition from child to adult is more fractured and complex. It seems those who have support – from schools, family, community – and have a sense of purpose may find this easier to manage, but those without these things can be left behind and marginalised.

Healthy and nurturing relationships with adults – teachers, family, mentors – seem to be a central part of young people’s engagement with society.

Project Milestones

During this project, 300 young people not in education, employment or training, will take part in newly developed character and values educational programmes. The project is currently working with 32 schools and 18 youth organisations from across the UK.  Read more about the development of character education resources for marginalised young people in this blog post by former Research Fellow, Jenny Higgins.


Young people aged 14-16 will be equipped with capacities, in addition to academic or vocational qualifications, to support them in the future.

Participants will better understand the skills and attributes that will help them realise their goals. They will have a clearer path and know what steps to take to move forward successfully.

Find out more about each stage of the project, and how you might be able to get involved, below:

Stage 1 - A survey of young people in different contexts

For the first part of the project, thousands of young people aged 11-18 in a variety of different contexts will be invited to complete a survey exploring what they think it means to ‘flourish’, to reach their full potential and to live a 'good' life. 

The questionnaire is in four parts:

  • the first part will ask the young people for some demographic information;
  • the second section will ask some questions about what kind of person they are;
  • the third section will explore what it means to the young people to flourish or to live a ‘good’ life and who influences this; eg. parents, schools, their peers, media;
  • the fourth section will ask about their moral identity, and how important various virtues and character traits are to them.

The questionnaire has been developed in order to be engaging and more than just ticking boxes.  It can be completed in a number of ways and with varying levels of adult and audio-visual support to ensure as many young people as possible can access it.  It should take around 30 minutes to complete.

The survey was piloted by young people in January, and the main survey is currently being completed by young people across the UK.

Stage 2 - Resources and Intervention

Nine different UK youth organisations have been working with the Research Team to build upon the current Programme of Study to develop a ‘bank’ of character based resources suitable for use in a variety of contexts, roughly grouped into three broad areas:

  • Formal Education / PRU   Delivering formal yet adapted education to those not in mainstream education
  • Individualised    Tailored, intensive one-to-one or very small group working. Often working with those who are not in education and who may be involved in the criminal justice system.
  • Extra-Curricula    Interventions delivered as add-ons to the main education young people receive.  This could include one-off sessions or sessions delivered in school, or involve sport being used as a delivery context.

A framework for the resources has been created and work will continue on them in early 2016.  The resources will then be piloted with and consulted on by young people, before being professionally designed and produced.

The resources will be launched in September 2016 and delivered by organisations as part of their provision.  Research will be carried out with the young people taking part to evaluate impact.

Once the research has been completed, the resources will be available for all to download and use.

Stage 3 - Educational Narratives

Up to 20 young people will be invited to work with a researcher to co-construct their educational narratives.  Research methods for this stage of the project are currently being developed.