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Back to school: top personal development areas to be aware of as you head back to in person teaching

As schools across the country settle back into full time face to face teaching, some pupils will find the transition back to the classroom more challenging than others.

During the Autumn term 2020, we collected insights from over 9,000 students in schools we work with in England to find out which personal development areas were the most important to them.

We were able to gather these insights through our Aspirations programme, which helps schools identify skills gaps for individual students and then embed tailored support into their curriculum.

Our survey focused on 4 key areas for schools:

  • Careers and next steps after school

  • Wellbeing

  • Skills and character development

  • PSHE topics

These insights can help you to identify key areas to focus on for your students and support them effectively over the next couple of months.

Who are the students?

We surveyed 27 secondary schools, many of which are in areas of high deprivation with as many as 60% of students eligible for Pupil Premium. Additionally, 14% of the students surveyed were classed as having Special Educational Needs.

Careers and next steps after school

We were pleased to see a lot of variety in industries when students answered the question: “which of these do you think you might like to work in?” However, only 35% of students said they had properly researched the industries they are most interested in. And, most interestingly, this was as true for Year 11+ as for Year 7.

We also asked students, when they leave school which options were they considering and believed they wanted to do the most. 74% state university, with the most common reason given being “I want to increase my career prospects''.

For those not interested in university, the most common reason selected (by 26%) was “just not interested”. Of these students, 89% do not have a family member who has been to university.

Only 51% of students said they had had a ‘proper’ conversation with an adult about their future and a quarter of these did not think those conversations had been useful. For Year 11 students this figure was slightly higher at 63%.


We use the Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (SWEMWBS) as a way to monitor student wellbeing. We found that 20% of young people reported low mental wellbeing scores. This proportion goes up with age groups, and is also noticeably higher for young people with SEN or who are eligible for Pupil Premium.

When comparing with insights collected before lockdown, there has been a slight downward shift in the average wellbeing score, although the proportion of young people with ‘low’ scores has decreased slightly from 22% to 20%.

Other interesting wellbeing findings were:

  • Some good news regarding getting ‘enough sleep to not feel tired’: 57% of students said 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 years

  • All measure relating to self-esteem dropped with age and are markedly lower for Pupil Premium students than for others

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

  • Pupil Premium students were more likely to say they ‘never’ or ‘almost never’ feel safe at school

Skills and character development

One of the main benefits of our Aspirations programme is that it focuses on identifying students’ needs by engaging with them to find out the support they want and need, rather than basing this on assumptions.

We asked students to shortlist just five of the (many) different areas they have said they wanted to get better at or learn more about. The top 5 topics were:

  • Work experience

  • University and college (full time)

  • Creativity

  • Self-development

  • Sports & Fitness

Although no characteristics made it onto the list of the top 20 areas students wanted to prioritise for immediate development, students clearly indicated they wanted to work on the following aspects:

  • Calmness

  • Persistence

  • Patience

  • Organisation

  • Ambition

PSHE topics

The final quiz relates to topics typically covered through the PSHE curriculum: from the environment to current affairs.

A desire to learn more about finances consistently came out on top, while also scoring second-lowest for current understanding. Staying healthy and staying safe both came high on the ‘want to know more’ list but also scored well for current understanding.

How can insights from the Aspirations programme help my school?

All of the insights in our report were drawn from real students in real schools and captured through Aspire, our online development coaching platform.

When a school joins the programme, we are able to quickly and effectively capture insights specific to the school and year groups. Schools can then use this information to inform the support they put in place for students, whether that be through setting up additional extra-curricular activities or embedding support into the curriculum, such as in PSHE lessons.

The programme starts by asking students to complete ‘quizzes’ covering the topics: Me, My Future, My Feelings, My Wellbeing, My Skills, My Characteristics and My World. Some are designed to help schools get to know their students better and some are to help students self-assess their needs.

Our aim is to help schools systematically measure and then incrementally close the opportunity gap for young people across the UK.

Click here to see the full report.


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