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Personal Development Post-Pandemic: an open letter to the Department for Education

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

May 2021

FAO: Sir Kevan Collins

Department for Education,

20 Great Smith St,



Personal Development following the Pandemic:

An open letter to the Department for Education

Dear Sir,

As we start to emerge from the pandemic, educators across the country are turning their attention to personal development for students. At this critical point of supporting students, we must ensure the focus is not only on academic attainment, but also on supporting children beyond the grades.

On the 14th April 2021, a panel including Sir Jon Coles and Edwina Grant OBE, and an audience representing a broad range of the education community, met to discuss their recommendations to the DfE and yourself as Recovery Commissioner. A link to the conversation can be found here. This letter is a result of the discussion, where we hope to address concerns within the industry and suggest appropriate solutions for the coming months and years.

There was a great deal of consensus about the ways in which educators will be able to address anticipated challenges in the area of personal development. The recommendations fell into three primary areas for consideration:

1. Make personal development relevant and cohesive. The voice of the young person needs to be more than just a headline. Bespoke support for individual students and increasing the relevance of the support offer to each young person is the right thing to do. The Big Ask is a good starting point; however, we need to continue to think carefully about the information we need, and how this collection of data will be followed up. We should aim to create a common set of goals for the sector to unite around, retaining the sense of community created over the pandemic. For example, if young people would most benefit from work experience, sport and creativity, what are the practical solutions to enable schools to provide this?

2. Take community into account and support brokerage, not just initiatives. Regional variation and a local understanding of how particular geographies and communities have been impacted, means that a focus from central government on supporting the work to improve commissioning and integration of services between schools and regional institutions is crucial. The local support out there is good - let’s get it to the people who need it.

3. Opportunity not anxiety. We need to create a narrative that neither encourages anxiety around catch-up, nor conveys to young people that they have ‘gaps to fill’, when they have made sacrifices to support those at greater risk. We now have a unique opportunity to ‘reset’ and develop a system of education and development in the UK that is about more than exams; one that is laser-focused on providing relevant opportunities for every young person to excel.

We have a duty to rise to this challenge and start repaying the debt to our young people. For example, digital literacy has come on leaps and bounds in the last twelve months and a coherent strategy should underpin the recovery that blends the best of in-person and digital delivery.

I hope you find these points pertinent as you lead Covid recovery planning in schools. We look forward to your response and to finding out how this community can support you in developing this vital programme of change.

Kind regards,

Matthew Lees

Founder, East Learning

“Personal development is important because education is personal development. It’s about developing people: that’s the purpose of our work, all of the time. The broader aspects of personal development beyond academics are much harder to measure, so they can get lost or overlooked. Even though in our private lives as employers, work colleagues or friends, we think about all of these broader qualities as absolutely fundamentally important.”

Sir Jon Coles, CEO, United Learning

East open letter final
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