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Personal development in schools, part I: Why it matters

As part of our recent webinar, 'Personal Development in a Pandemic', we asked a few teachers from our partner schools what Personal Development means to them, and why they feel it's so important.

“Personal development for me is about everything that’s not part of the curriculum. It’s developing the student as a whole child, and seeing them as a whole child, and not just their GCSE results” – Emma Breen, Assistant Principal, Salford City Academy

1. Privilege

During the webinar, Assistant Headteacher Leanne Earle raised the subject of privilege - not necessarily in the financial sense, but appreciating, as an adult, the role which parents play in developing us as people. She recalled little things like her parents taking her to museums, or showing her around the local university and explaining what a university was. She knows this type of support played a substantial role in her development, but is not something all young people are lucky enough to get—particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"In school today, there are a lot of children who don’t get that kind of personal development at home. And it’s not that parents don’t want to do it; sometimes they can’t, or sometimes they don’t know how to."

It is that privilege - or absence thereof - which Leanne says makes having a strong PR provision in schools so vital.

"To me, personal development in school is so important because it’s something that we can add to a child’s life—so that when they come out of school, they can stand as equals with people who have had that privilege. We need to make sure that everybody gets a fair chance."

2. Gaps in knowledge

Building on Leanne's point about privilege, Emma spoke about assumptions regarding key skills which we often take for granted. She was surprised to see 'basic' skills, such as patience or organisation, rank so highly in Aspirations data as areas students said they wanted to improve in.

"Sometimes they haven’t that role model; they haven’t had people who have taught them how to be organised, how to stay calm, to be empathetic towards others, to be kind to others, to be tolerant towards others."

This awareness of those presumptions, Emma says, has changed the way she views the PD provision at her school.

"I think what I’ve realised is that we have to start with the basics. Don’t assume that students have got certain skills or that they’ve been taught how to do certain things."

3. Connecting with disengaged students

Finally, Emma spoke about using PD as a way to engage students who weren't previously getting the most out of their school experience.

She talked about identifying a group of KS3 boys who had been in trouble a few times for behaviour and weren't engaging well with the Aspire programme or with school in general. Emma and her colleagues ran a group session with them to discuss their interests and learn why they hadn't been participating in any of the after-school activities available.

"Some of it was really simple—some of them were just a bit too cool for school, so unless they’re invited specifically to a club, they’re not going to come because it doesn’t look ‘cool’ within their group."

What Emma found was that, when those students were presented with the list of opportunities available and personally invited to the ones which they showed interest in, they were much more likely to show up - and keep showing up.

"One example was a boy who hadn’t been to anything all year, we looked at what his interests were and he said 'actually, I fancy trampolining', which I run - and next minute we had him there every week."

But of course, trampolining isn't for everyone - and not all of the students found something on the list which they were interested in doing - so Emma and her team had to get creative. Digging deeper, they learned that the students had a shared interest: bike maintenance. After asking around, Emma was able to find a local bike mechanic who volunteered to come into the school and run regular sessions for them.

"From monitoring that group, their attendance in school clubs did improve, their low-level behaviour incidents did decrease... and it engaged them back into school life."

Emma says that spending that little bit of extra time with students who needed extra support in order to discover their interests and invite them to specific activities - or, in certain cases, organise additional ones as part of an intervention - has worked wonders, especially with SEN students.

"If they’re invited to it, they feel more comfortable in attending... that worked particularly well with our SEN students"

So what does this all mean for you?

Now that Leanne and Emma have convinced you how important PD is in schools (if you weren't convinced already!), read on to Part II for their tips on how to go about delivering a great programme—in or out of a pandemic.

If you have any PD stories or perspectives of your own that you'd like to share, we would love to hear from you! Please get in touch on Twitter or by emailing us on

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