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Research demonstrates rugby union’s effectiveness in building character in children

Premiership Rugby can today confirm that an independent evaluation by Demos, one of the UK’s leading cross party Think Tanks, shows that a new,rugby-based character education programme has had ‘statistically significant and positive impacts’ on the character development of school children.

Created and delivered by 14 Premiership Rugby clubs, the pilot scheme, called On the Front Foot, started in April 2015 and involved more than 17,500 children at primary and secondary schools in England in a six-week long course designed to boost character, confidence and social skills. The classes were run as part of the PHSE (Personal, Social and Health Education) and PE curricula and after school.

To see the full report click here

According to Demos’ Head of Citizenship, Ralph Scott: “The evaluative evidence presented in this report shows that, on average, participants experienced a significant positive change in their character capabilities over the course of the programme. This was particularly the case for secondary participants, who reported positive change across every character measure that we assessed, although there were many positive outcomes for primary participants too. This leads us to conclude that it is possible for rugby-based education programmes to develop various character capabilities in participants – including those associated with performance, problem-solving, leadership and social skills – as assessed through self-reported psychometric measures.”

On the Front Foot was delivered in schools across the country by Premiership Rugby, the organisation, which represents the top-flight professional rugby union clubs in England, after they won a grant from the Department of Education’s character education fund as part of the Government’s push to make England a ‘global leader’ in character education.

The 14 Premiership Rugby clubs whose community coaches deliver On the Front Foot in their region are: Bath Rugby, Exeter Chiefs, Gloucester Rugby, Harlequins, Leicester Tigers, London Irish, Newcastle Falcons, Northampton Saints, Sale Sharks, Saracens, Wasps and Worcester Warriors. London Welsh and Bristol Rugby coaches also delivered in schools as part of the scheme. 

Minister of State for Children and Families Edward Timpson said: ‘We are determined to spread educational excellence everywhere and promoting positive character traits is at its heart. One way of doing so is through rugby, which instils resilience and the ability to bounce back from defeat.
‘That’s why last year we announced funding to send the best rugby clubs into schools to transform the lives of disaffected and disadvantaged children – and I am delighted to see the programme going from strength to strength.
‘Sport can play a vital role in instilling character and to help this we recently announced that the primary PE and Sport Premium will double to £320m per year from September 2017. Schools can put this towards extending after school opportunities, buying new equipment and hiring specialist sports coaches to work alongside teachers.’

Wayne Morris, Director of Community and CSR at Premiership Rugby, said: “This evaluation proves that, if packaged and delivered expertly, professional rugby union’s values and the appeal of professional sportspeople and brands can help children improve vital characteristics, which have a positive impact on their success in the classroom, in their social lives and in the world of work. We are ready to share the learning’sfrom the pilot and scale up the programme further with the support of the Department of Education.”

Commenting on the successful implementation of the scheme, Ralph Scott said: “This evaluation strengthens the growing body of evidence underpinning the need for greater investment in character education. It demonstrates the significant potential that extra-curricular sporting activities such as rugby can offer children to develop the essential skills they will need to succeed in life. We were impressed by the outcomes at an individual level, and also the wholesale support the programme received from both parents and teachers alike.

“The Government’s recent announcement on increasing funding for extra-curricular activities in 25 per cent of schools are a positive step; but there is a strong argument to go further and embed character development as a permanent fixture in the UK’s education system, and to ensure that good quality opportunities are extended to a much larger number of children across the country.”

Wayne Morris said: “The results of this programme are timely, not just because of the Government’s Education White Paper but also because of the new Strategy for Sport launched by the Department of Culture Media and Sport last year.  We believe that professional sport has a unique ability to inspire young people and to change lives for the better. We hope the Government will continue to pursue its ambition of using sport across different departments and for different policy objectives.”

Teachers interested to find out more about ‘On TheFront Foot’ will be able to download, free of charge, thesuite of programmes resources from April 22. Six weekly lesson plans and tips on how to run the programme will be available on the Premiership Web site:
Key findings: On the Front Foot
Secondary School Participants

  • Increases in self-reported performance character and confidence: grit increased by 7 per cent, self-efficacy by 9 per cent, problem-solving by 9 per cent, creativity by 8 per cent and locus of control (a measure of how much one feels in control of one’s life) by 5 per cent.
  • Improvements in character capabilities related to social skills: empathy increased by 8 per cent, communication by 10 per cent, co-operation by 8 per cent and leadership by 9 per cent.
  • To measure these capabilities, participants were asked to rate themselves on a 0 to 10 scale across a range of statements which correlated to these outcomes, and it is the change in these that is reported. As the baseline for these tended to be around 6.5 out of 10, the maximum possible change (all participants reporting 10 out of 10) would be 54 per cent.
  • To put these results into context, previous uses of the questionnaire on other programmes found variable results across these measures, ranging from no measurable effect, to a moderate increase of 5 per cent, to a large increase of 11 per cent – demonstrating the programme generally had a large or moderate effect.
  • Participants felt the programme had not only improved their character but also their performance at school, with 42 per cent feeling significantly more focused, 46 per cent more confident, and 47 per cent saying it had led to better marks at school.

Primary School Participants:

  • Increases in empathy of 5 per cent, leadership of 4 per cent increase in leadership, self-regulation of 3 per cent increase and a 3 per cent increase in self-efficacy.
  • Participants said the programme encouraged them to expand their horizons and try new things; made them better at working with others; helped develop respect, teamwork, cooperation and resilience and determination.


  • All teachers surveyed thought the programme had had a positive impact, and the vast majority also thought that the impact would last for the long-term.
  • The majority of both participants and teachers involved in the programme who were surveyed enjoyed participating, would do it again, and would recommend it to another school.
  • The involvement of professional coaches was referenced by participants and teachers as being important to the programme’s success.
  • Our respondents cited the practical, sport participation element of the programme as a highlight, though they also valued the classroom aspect and could see how one improved the other.
  • Teachers were unanimous in saying that the programme did not demand too much of them.
  • The majority of teachers though the programme was scalable, not seeing any major barriers to delivery in other schools.


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