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Personal Development during Covid: 6 things learned from our students and teachers

Updated: Jan 17, 2021

This edition of the Aspirations blog explores what’s changed (and what hasn’t) for our students, and some of the things our schools are doing differently to support them.

This blog was born from the Aspirations Newsletter, which you can subscribe to here!


1. Students’ priorities are…. almost exactly the same as before

Although it may feel incredibly different day-to-day, there is a tremendous amount which hasn’t changed since last academic year. When we looked at the data collected so far this term—from over 8000 students—we found that the vast majority of trends relating to career interests, self-reported wellbeing, and desired improvements to skills and characteristics were relatively unchanged. Good news for anyone who used school closures to plan ahead for this year!


2. Every school’s experience this term is different

Some schools have found it almost impossible to access computers due to timetabling issues. Others have had multiple Covid cases, resulting in half the school being sent home with no notice. Almost all of you seem to be constantly re-planning and adapting as the status quo shifts.

In short: your experience, and your capacity, is not going to be the same as that of others. If you are focused on keeping things together in chaos, some of these ideas might be out of reach for now—and that’s OK! Small actions and improvements, when you can make them, will build up.


3. Form time has taken on increased importance

As other opportunities for extra-curricular activities have diminished, many of our partner schools have used form time or registration periods to deliver focused, data-driven enrichment sessions for students. For example…

Teaching Life Skills

One school, after receiving data which showed that this was a top priority for their students, launched “Finance Fridays”—using their form time sessions to learn about the topic. This was followed by “First Aid Fridays”, addressing their students’ desire to learn more about health.

Group Mentoring

Another school has been using this time to run small group mentoring sessions for students who reported lower confidence or self-esteem.

Having Meaningful Conversations

Finally, a few schools are using tutor time to have 1-1s with students, focusing on those who say they have never had a 'proper' conversation about their future with an adult, while the rest of the class catches up on independent work or reading.


4. Wellbeing remains a high priority

Wellbeing has been a major focus for a lot of schools this year—including running targeted 1-1s or group mentoring sessions for students with low wellbeing scores.

The government’s recent State of the Nation report (SoTN) indicated that, on average, wellbeing among children and young people has held fairly steady during the COVID-19 pandemic. This fits with our data, which showed no change in the distribution of wellbeing responses across >5000 students. While it is good news that things haven’t got worse, it remains true that a concerningly high number of young people live with poor wellbeing and mental health.

One contrast between our data and the government’s SoTN report was that, while SoTN found little change in students’ attitudes towards the future, we saw a small but meaningful increase in the proportion of students responding “not much” or “not at all” to the question “Overall, how excited are you about your future after leaving school?”—up 18% from last year, now at 8.5%.

Wellbeing for SEND students

The SoTN report also reported that anxiety levels may be higher among SEND students, as well as those from disadvantaged family backgrounds or minority ethnic groups. The finding for SEND students is consistent with our observations, with far higher proportions of SEND students reporting “low” wellbeing versus the average.

In order to provide more targeted support to their SEND students, we’ve seen an increased level of coordination between Aspirations Leads and SENCO—using Aspirations data to ensure inclusive offers with the aim of improving wellbeing through enrichment.


5. Virtual assemblies and clubs are being used in place of in-person ones

While in-person extra-curricular clubs have declined substantially this year, some Aspirations schools have continued to run clubs and activities for small groups of students—particularly where they are able to offer outdoor options like sports clubs, gardening, or Duke of Edinburgh.

Meanwhile, there has been a huge increase in virtual offerings, including:

  • After-school clubs for activities like art and student leadership

  • Drop down days. For example, one school partnered with their local council to run a “Virtual Learning for Life” day in which students attended their preferred webinars on career options and interview skills, health and wellbeing, challenging gender stereotypes, different cultures, and more

  • Assemblies and talks. One school invited past students now attending university to run a live Q&A session, as well as their local police service to give a virtual assembly on knife crime


6. Using Online Resources

A lot of schools have taken advantage of the very many extra-curricular online resources, either for group activities or to encourage independent development.

If your school is running the full Aspirations programme (“Achieve”), your students already have access to our curated library of high-quality extra-curricular resources, which will provide tailored recommendations to your students based on their interests.

If you aren’t part of the Aspirations family yet, or are running the shorter “Assess” programme which doesn’t include access to the online curriculum, you can find our recommendations for targeted (and free) student resources in blog posts from the summer, including Wellbeing, Careers and Knowledge.


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