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9712 students, 143 questions: Aspirations Insights 2020

You can find a link to download a PDF printable version of this document at the end of the page

This report contains data and insights collected from 9,712 students across England over the course of the Autumn Term 2020. The data was collected through the Aspirations programme, a way for schools to enhance and measure the impact of their personal development programmes through the use of student data.

We have tried to pick out the most interesting and useful trends to include—although as we have well over 1 million data points from 143 questions, we have had to leave a huge amount out!

We hope that this data will prove highly relevant and useful to anyone involved in child development—whether in a school setting or otherwise. We have steered clear of making any inferences or recommendations based on our findings, instead focusing on the data itself. Meanwhile, you can find a bit more information about the questions we asked in the Appendix.

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


Who are the students?

Our data comes from 27 secondary schools around the country, from the Northern borders right down to the South coast. Many of these schools are in areas of high deprivation, some with as many as 60% of students eligible for Pupil Premium. However, just over a quarter of students are from schools with Pupil Premium rates lower than the national average of 17.3%.


Careers and next steps after school

The chart below shows the most commonly chosen industries in response to the question “which of these do you think you might like to work in?”. While it’s great to see so much variety, it should be noted that only 35% of students said they had properly researched the industries they are most interested in—and more concerningly, this was as true for Year 11+ as for Year 7.

In terms of next steps after school, we asked students what options they were considering and which they believed they wanted to do most. 74% of those asked are considering university, with the most common reason given being “I want to increase my career prospects”.

For those who weren’t interested in university, the most common reason selected (by 26%) was ‘just not interested’—closely followed by ‘too expensive’. ‘I’d rather do something else’ was fourth on the list, selected by just 19% of those students not considering university. Of those students who listed ‘just not interested’ as one of their reasons, 89% do not have a family member who has been to university.

Finally, we asked students whether they had had a ‘proper’ conversation with an adult about their future. Only 51% said yes—although one quarter of those students did not think those conversations had been useful. The figure was higher for Year 11s, although at 63% perhaps not as high as we might like to see.



Mental Wellbeing: My Feelings

My Feelings uses the Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (SWEMWBS) as a way to monitor wellbeing. While it was designed for use at cohort level, it provides a useful data point (alongside others) for schools to identify individuals who might need additional support.

Our data shows that 20% of young people report as having low mental wellbeing. This proportion goes up with age groups, and is also noticeably higher for young people with SEN or eligible for Pupil Premium. However, those groups also have (slightly) higher-than-average proportions with high mental wellbeing.

Interestingly, while there is no clear correlation between levels of Pupil Premium and the proportion with low scores, the proportion of students with high scores was noticeably greater in areas with over 30% PP—at 16%, versus 11% for those in schools with less than 30% PP.

Comparing these numbers with data collected prior to lockdown there has been a slight downward shift in the average wellbeing score, although the proportion of young people with ‘low’ scores has slightly decreased from 22% to 20%. Looking at different cohorts, including year groups, distribution shifts are minimal and too small to conclusively say there has been a meaningful change. This mirrors data collected and analysed by other organisations, including in the Department for Education’s State of the Nation 2020 report which concluded that “children and young people have had quite stable personal wellbeing during the coronavirus”.

Other safeguarding and wellbeing questions

The SWEMWBS questions are accompanied by a second quiz covering various topics related to safety and wellbeing, from getting enough sleep and healthy eating to feeling safe at home and in school. Responses to some of these questions, from 8,667 students, were as follows:

Some of the things we found interesting when digging around in a bit more detail:

  • As they get older, fewer students consistently get enough sleep to not feel tired. However, there was some good news on this metric: it was the only one to improve significantly following lockdown! Now, 57% say they get enough sleep all or most of the time—up from 51% pre-Covid.

  • Students are getting less exercise as they go up through school, with the biggest ‘drops’ between Year 8–9 and Year 10–11.

  • All measures relating to self-esteem dropped with age and are markedly lower for PP students than for others. 17% of students never or almost never feel comfortable with the way they look; the same proportion never or almost never believe it when someone says something nice about them.

  • Of the 2% of students who reported ‘never’ or ‘almost never’ getting enough to eat, only 40% were eligible for Pupil Premium.

  • PP students are more likely to say they ‘never’ or ‘almost never’ feel safe at school—at 9.1%, versus 5.4% for non-PP students. This was also one of the statistics that varied the most by school, from 3% to 15%.

  • Meanwhile, Year 7 students are the most likely to say they feel safe all or most of the time (80%, versus an average of 75%). We checked our pre-Covid stats to see whether this was perhaps the result of bubbling—as many students who say they don’t feel safe say it is due to older/bigger kids, or bullies—but no, last year more Year 7’s felt safe all or most of the time too.


Skills and character development

We also collect a lot of data regarding students’ skills and characteristics—asking how they rate themselves now against objective scales, as well as whether they want to improve. Finally, we ask students to shortlist just five of the (many) different areas they have said they want to get better at or learn more about as a priority for this term.

Many of the most commonly chosen topics named by students as a top-5 priority to focus on this term were skills—including Work Experience, Creativity, Self-development and Sports & Fitness. The former is particularly popular, coming out as the most prioritised area by students—closely followed by University and College (Full Time).

Meanwhile, while no characteristics made it onto the list of the top 20 most prioritised areas for immediate development, students clearly indicated that they wanted to work on a number of these aspects. There was also a strong correlation between those characteristics in which students self-rated the most poorly, and those which students stated they wanted to improve at.


PSHE topics

The final quiz relates to topics typically covered through a school’s PSHE curriculum—from learning about the environment to current affairs.

Looking across all our schools, a desire to learn more about finances consistently came out on top—while also scoring second-lowest for current understanding. Meanwhile, staying healthy and staying safe both came high on the ‘want to know more’ list but also scored well for current understanding.


Appendix: Background & Context

All data was captured using Aspire, an online development coaching platform for students.

Aspire starts by asking students to complete ‘quizzes’, covering the following topics: Me, My Future, My Feelings, My Wellbeing, My Skills, My Characteristics, and My World. Questions are asked in a variety of ways, for a variety of purposes: some are to help the schools get to know their students (e.g. asking about responsibilities at home in order to identify any young carers); some are to help students self-assess for specific skills or characteristics against descriptors, in a way that raises aspirations and boosts confidence; some are to learn what students want to develop in order to better tailor support.

Many quizzes draw on existing, well-researched question sets and frameworks; for example My Feelings consists of the SWEMWBS questions and My World covers many topics recommended by the PSHE Association.

PD in a Pandemic - Insights from our stu
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