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Personal development in schools, part II: How to get it right

This post summaries some of the key insights and tips given by a panel of Personal Development experts during our recent webinar, based on their experience running programmes in their own schools. It follows on from our last blog post, which focused on what PD means to our panellists and why it's so important to them.

In no particular order, this is what they recommended:

1. Get buy-in from staff & SLT

“You’ve really got to have senior leadership on board” – Emma Breen, Assistant Principal, Salford City Academy

Effecting any kind of change in a school is hard; if you don't have buy-in from your colleagues it will be nigh on impossible. Ensuring that your colleagues/employees understand the value of PD in schools and are on board with the plan to deliver it will go a long way towards setting you up for success.

“You’ve got to get the buy-in of your staff… show them something simple that they can offer can have a really big impact on students” – Phil Harter, Director of Engagement, Hyndburn Academy

2. Use data to drive decisions

Take the time to understand what your students want and need to develop. That way, you can direct your efforts where they can have the most impact—either because it's an easy win, or because you know a lot of students will want to engage.

“Look at the data, and work on the things that you can really see an impact in” – Emma

3. Ask for help

You can't do everything yourself! Everyone working in education has one thing in common: we want to help young people reach their potential. If you ask around, you'll find there are plenty of ideas for activities and opportunities - and colleagues willing to lead them!

“Utilise other people as much as possible because you can’t change things yourself! Share ideas, work with other staff – there will be loads of staff who will help on leading on this and delivering it for your school” – Emma

4. Start small

“Keep it manageable.... don't be tempted to do 50 different things to try and tick all the boxes.” – Phil

Whether you're running the Aspirations programme or not, if you followed tip #2 and started off finding out what your students want then you'll no doubt have a laundry list of skills and topics your students want to learn! But biting off more than you can chew is an easy way to undermine your own ability to deliver a valuable PD programme.

“Start small… Get little wins in early, then you can start to do bigger things” – Emma

Sometimes, starting small and working your way up to bigger and better things is best. Remember that you can't please everyone, and that doing one or two things really well is much better than struggling to do lots of things – especially at the moment!

5. It doesn't have to be perfect!

“At the minute the easy option is to do absolutely nothing. To say 'right, we’re in a national lockdown period – so extra-curricular or enrichment or education with character, we’re not interested in it'... but we're doing what we can" “If it isn’t quite right, it’s okay, we tried it. What we know for sure is that a lot of the students wouldn’t get that experience unless they were doing it through us.” – Phil

Chasing perfectionism can lead to overthinking, 'analysis paralysis', and ultimately your students missing out. It's much better to try something, have it not go perfectly, and learn how to make it better, than to spend so long planning that nothing happens.

6. Track your impact

Data doesn't come just at the start! Remember to keep gathering intel on how students are engaging with and benefiting from your plan, and what they (and your staff) think can be done to improve it.

“Knowing the impact that [activities and interventions] have on our students is really vital so that we know what things work, what things don’t, being able to track them. Having an identification and tracking system in place means that we know we’re doing the right things, and that we’re not just doing things for the sake of it.” – Leanne Earle, Assistant Head, Harrop Fold School

7. Be Adaptive

This one builds on everything we've discussed above. Being flexible and adjusting to the shifting needs and interests of your students, the staffing and resources available, and even at the moment to lockdown measures, is hugely important.

“We're using the Aspire data and making sure that we get it right if we can - but it’s okay if we don’t… We’ll be honest with ourselves and say, you know, their feelings might have changed over time, the offer we’ve got might not be quite right… We're prepared to change direction and say “well, we've had a fair go but we’ll go down a different route this time.” – Phil

Closing thoughts

Planning and delivering an effective PD programme isn't easy, but if that's what you're setting out to do we hope the tips above will come in handy.

If you're looking for PD activities or inspiration for your students, and in particular online resources you can recommend during lockdown, you might find some of our free resources useful:

  • Our PD Calendar, in which we provide weekly activities for KS3, 4 & 5

  • Our Resource Bank, containing a wealth of free online resources which your students can use independently to develop key skills and characteristics, or to learn about careers or post-school destinations

  • Our 2021 Aspirations Calendar, charting key dates and observances to inform and inspire themed PD activities

If you have any PD tips 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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