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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, London SW1P 3BT 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
Beyond the Grades: Personal Development post-Pandemic
On the 14th April we gathered a panel of experts for our roundtable event, discussing how best to support students’ personal development in the coming weeks, months and years. The personal development of students is a priority for all schools, even more so post-pandemic, where we know that the opportunities students have lost out on go considerably beyond their grades. Our panel included representatives from across the education industry: Sir Jon Coles, CEO of United Learning Edwina Grant OBE, Executive Director Education and Children’s Services, Lancashire County Council Mel Haselden, Principal of Salford City Academy Jay Richards, Founder of Imagen Insights Matt Lees, Founder of East Learning As a result of the discussion, we have put together an open letter that we will be sharing with Sir Kevan Collins at the Department for Education, who is in charge of Covid recovery planning in schools. It was a brilliant conversation and we have produced an overview below. Because there were so many compelling points made during the event, we will be sharing more detail about each of the discussion points in further blog posts - watch this space! “It is really important to listen to young people” Sir Jon Coles The first point was that the voice of the young person should be more than just a headline. Bespoke support for individual students and increasing the relevance of the support offer is the right thing to do. They don’t want to be told, ‘you need to do this’, instead, they want to be asked about their interests and aspirations, and be given the appropriate support. Our latest research shows that only 50% of students feel like they’ve had a conversation with an adult about their future. “Defining what we really need and trusting the professionals in our area, are the 2 things I want to see.” Edwina Grant, OBE There are lots of regional variations when it comes to support for students, as well as a local understanding of how particular geographies and communities have been impacted. This means that it’s going to be more important than ever for central government to focus on improving commissioning and integration of services between schools and regional institutions. The local support out there is good - let’s get it to the people who need it. “What I’m most proud of with lockdown is the community ethos, we’re in this together, building on the strengths we have in our local community” Mel Haselden Our panel spoke about making sure schools are aware that relevant support exists in their local area, the need for some kind of process to set up arrangements to support schools in areas where this does not currently exist, and how can support be provided in a way that works for schools and their timetables . "We don’t need to get anxious about this – adding anxiety will not help our young people.” Edwina Grant, OBE 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 throughout the past year. We need to take time to define the terms ‘recovery’ and ‘catch up’ so we have a deep understanding of it and can apply this knowledge to our support offering for students. “This is a great opportunity for a ‘reset’ within education, we should be open to trying new things” Jay Richards We should all be open to trying new things and leave behind our fear of innovation that can be so prevalent within the education sector. This is our chance to try something different and test what really works rather than relying on pre-pandemic assumptions. Again, we want to say a huge thank you to our panelists for participating in such an insightful and thought-provoking discussion. It was truly inspirational to hear experts within the industry speak passionately about what we can learn from the pandemic and how we can improve our support offering for young people, beyond their grades. If you’d like to find out more about our Aspirations programme and how we can support your school and students with personal development beyond the grades, please do get in touch!
Beyond the grades: how some of our schools are supporting students with PD in the Summer term
We’re passionate about student-led personal development, which is at the heart of our Aspirations programme. As we come to the end of the term and schools have settled back into face-to-face teaching, it’s time to start thinking ahead and planning for personal development in the Summer term. We’ve already seen some great ideas from schools we’re currently working with, so if you’re looking for inspiration, take a look at some of our favourite initiatives below! Podcasts Audio resources are currently popular with students and a podcast is a nice break from looking at a screen all the time. So why not think about starting your own next term? Hyndburn Academy created a popular ‘sports podcast’ for students to listen to over lockdown, and it’s been so successful that they’re continuing with this even now students are back in school. All you need is an area to talk about, some willing student and teacher volunteers and a laptop or computer to record your conversation. Extra-curricular clubs If you haven’t already, then now is the time to start getting extra-curricular clubs up and running again ready for the Summer term. It’s important to make sure students continue to have plenty of opportunities to develop skills beyond the grades. Extra-curricular clubs are also great for their well being. Our schools are back to running extra-curricular clubs, with sports such as football and rugby starting as well as performing arts. Some clubs are also continuing to run virtually, such as art clubs. Talk to your students We believe that students should be the ones to identify their priority personal development areas, which is why the Aspirations programme gives them the chance to identify areas for improvement and specify what is important to them. We also know how important it is to students to engage in those 121 development conversations with an adult. Even with a year of lockdowns, Irlam & Cadishead Academy have conducted 121 conversations with 86% of their students & logged them onto our platform. This tracking system has enabled the school to monitor which students have had a development conversation and who still needs to be followed up with, as well as to quickly see what the conversation was about and how the student is feeling. Live Q&A sessions about careers Careers often comes out as a priority for students to learn more about and is frequently identified as an area where they need more support, especially in Key Stages 4 and 5. One example from a school actively promoting different career paths is Seahaven Academy, where they have introduced ‘Seahaven stories’. This involves careers professionals doing live Q&A sessions with students about their career paths; so far they’ve had speakers from the Director of Coaching at England Rugby and a London Police Officer. Next term it’s expanding to include Seahaven alumni to try and encourage students to feel they are able to relate to the speakers. PSHE drop down days or lessons There’s going to be a lot of focus on assessments and grades in the Summer term, but education isn’t just about the academics! PSHE drop down days or lessons are back, with students focusing on relationships and sex education (RSE) as this is something that was missed over lockdown, as well as areas such as LGBTQIA. Enrichment programmes During lockdown many schools kept up their focus on Education with Character, through introducing weekly ‘character’ challenges, such as learning a new hobby or practising a skill. Some school are continuing with their ‘weekly character calendar’ post-lockdown, with activities such as learning magic tricks or listening to TED talks. Hopefully these ideas have been helpful and have given you some inspiration about how to prepare to support students with personal development in the Summer term. If you’d like to find out more about our Aspirations programme and how we can support your school and students with personal development beyond the grades, get in touch with us.
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%. Wellbeing 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.
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
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
The 2021 Aspirations Lockdown Calendar
We recently shared our Personal Development resource bank including hundreds of online resources—from articles to courses to games—suitable for students to help further their knowledge and skills beyond the academic curriculum. While these are all available within the Aspire platform for registered students (including personalised recommendations based on their age and chosen priorities), we hoped teachers might also find the bank useful to identify and share specific resources with their students. To accompany this—and to make the task of identifying and setting tasks that little bit easier—we have also launched a Personal Development Lockdown Resources calendar. The calendar consists of two weekly themes each week: one based on developing key skills & characteristics; and the other focused on world knowledge, careers, or post-school destinations. Each theme has been chosen to reflect the interests, needs and ambitions of over 13,000 students as indicated in their Aspirations personal development plans last term. You can read about what we learned from the first 10k of these students here, and more about Aspirations here. Each week we'll recommend a different resource and activity for each theme for KS3, KS4 and KS5. We've already released the first two weeks' activities, which cover calmness, personal finance, organisation and staying healthy. You can view the calendar, as well as the activities for every week, here. If you have any recommendations for future weeks, we would love to hear from you! Please get in touch on Twitter or by emailing us on
Our Personal Development Resource Bank
With adapting lesson plans for remote teaching eating into teachers' time, it can be hard to prioritise enrichment plans. That's why we've decided to make our teacher-curated bank of online Personal Development resources for students available to everyone for free. The list includes resources in all 6 of our key Development Areas: Career Option Characteristic Knowledge Post-school destination Skill Wellbeing Each of these can be filtered into sub-topics, such as individual career options or key skills which you want your students to work on. You can view the list and download a filterable Excel version for your own use here.
2021 Enrichment Calendar
It can be challenging to think of themes and topics for PSHE and enrichment activities—especially when adapting lesson plans for remote teaching has left you strapped for time. That's why we've scoured the internet in order to pull together our 2021 calendar, including events from major religious holidays to more niche 'celebrations' and observations throughout the year. The calendar includes events relevant to careers, wellbeing, culture, creativity and more. As dates approach, we'll round up and publish ideas and resources for assemblies, form time sessions and (when relevant) remote learning tasks. You can view the calendar here. We hope that it provides some inspiration for enrichment activities. Have we missed something? Please let us know on Twitter or by emailing us on
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. Wellbeing 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. Interested in Personal Development? Sign up to the Aspirations Newsletter for regular(ish) updates including recommended resources, great practice from our schools, and trends on student needs and interests across the country Sign Up! #202021 #Data #Insights #Trends #PersonalDevelopment
Personal Development during Covid: 6 things learned from our students and teachers
This edition of the Aspirations blog explores what’s changed (and what hasn’t) for our students, and some of the things our schools are doing differently to support them. This blog was born from the Aspirations Newsletter, which you can subscribe to here! 1. Students’ priorities are…. almost exactly the same as before Although it may feel incredibly different day-to-day, there is a tremendous amount which hasn’t changed since last academic year. When we looked at the data collected so far this term—from over 8000 students—we found that the vast majority of trends relating to career interests, self-reported wellbeing, and desired improvements to skills and characteristics were relatively unchanged. Good news for anyone who used school closures to plan ahead for this year! 2. Every school’s experience this term is different Some schools have found it almost impossible to access computers due to timetabling issues. Others have had multiple Covid cases, resulting in half the school being sent home with no notice. Almost all of you seem to be constantly re-planning and adapting as the status quo shifts. In short: your experience, and your capacity, is not going to be the same as that of others. If you are focused on keeping things together in chaos, some of these ideas might be out of reach for now—and that’s OK! Small actions and improvements, when you can make them, will build up. 3. Form time has taken on increased importance As other opportunities for extra-curricular activities have diminished, many of our partner schools have used form time or registration periods to deliver focused, data-driven enrichment sessions for students. For example… Teaching Life Skills One school, after receiving data which showed that this was a top priority for their students, launched “Finance Fridays”—using their form time sessions to learn about the topic. This was followed by “First Aid Fridays”, addressing their students’ desire to learn more about health. Group Mentoring Another school has been using this time to run small group mentoring sessions for students who reported lower confidence or self-esteem. Having Meaningful Conversations Finally, a few schools are using tutor time to have 1-1s with students, focusing on those who say they have never had a 'proper' conversation about their future with an adult, while the rest of the class catches up on independent work or reading. 4. Wellbeing remains a high priority Wellbeing has been a major focus for a lot of schools this year—including running targeted 1-1s or group mentoring sessions for students with low wellbeing scores. The government’s recent State of the Nation report (SoTN) indicated that, on average, wellbeing among children and young people has held fairly steady during the COVID-19 pandemic. This fits with our data, which showed no change in the distribution of wellbeing responses across >5000 students. While it is good news that things haven’t got worse, it remains true that a concerningly high number of young people live with poor wellbeing and mental health. One contrast between our data and the government’s SoTN report was that, while SoTN found little change in students’ attitudes towards the future, we saw a small but meaningful increase in the proportion of students responding “not much” or “not at all” to the question “Overall, how excited are you about your future after leaving school?”—up 18% from last year, now at 8.5%. Wellbeing for SEND students The SoTN report also reported that anxiety levels may be higher among SEND students, as well as those from disadvantaged family backgrounds or minority ethnic groups. The finding for SEND students is consistent with our observations, with far higher proportions of SEND students reporting “low” wellbeing versus the average. In order to provide more targeted support to their SEND students, we’ve seen an increased level of coordination between Aspirations Leads and SENCO—using Aspirations data to ensure inclusive offers with the aim of improving wellbeing through enrichment. 5. Virtual assemblies and clubs are being used in place of in-person ones While in-person extra-curricular clubs have declined substantially this year, some Aspirations schools have continued to run clubs and activities for small groups of students—particularly where they are able to offer outdoor options like sports clubs, gardening, or Duke of Edinburgh. Meanwhile, there has been a huge increase in virtual offerings, including: After-school clubs for activities like art and student leadership Drop down days. For example, one school partnered with their local council to run a “Virtual Learning for Life” day in which students attended their preferred webinars on career options and interview skills, health and wellbeing, challenging gender stereotypes, different cultures, and more Assemblies and talks. One school invited past students now attending university to run a live Q&A session, as well as their local police service to give a virtual assembly on knife crime 6. Using Online Resources A lot of schools have taken advantage of the very many extra-curricular online resources, either for group activities or to encourage independent development. If your school is running the full Aspirations programme (“Achieve”), your students already have access to our curated library of high-quality extra-curricular resources, which will provide tailored recommendations to your students based on their interests. If you aren’t part of the Aspirations family yet, or are running the shorter “Assess” programme which doesn’t include access to the online curriculum, you can find our recommendations for targeted (and free) student resources in blog posts from the summer, including Wellbeing, Careers and Knowledge. Interested in personal development? Sign up to the Aspirations Newsletter for regular(ish) updates including recommended resources, great practice from our schools, and trends on student needs and interests across the country Sign Up! #202021 #Data #Insights #Trends #PersonalDevelopment
The 2019-20 data roundup: What your students want
2020 has been a challenging year for students, teachers and parents alike, but the upcoming term offers a new opportunity for schools to bring stability and enrichment to young people’s lives once again. We’ve analysed some of the data we collected from over 5000 students around the country last year, picking out five areas where students want (or need) support the most. This blog was born from the Aspirations Newsletter, which you can subscribe to here! 1. Work Experience Work experience was the area prioritised most often by Aspirations students, from a total of 64 topics including skills, PHSE topics, and career options. Interestingly, this wasn’t just older students—this was the #1 area for KS3 as well! Social distancing and huge uncertainty about what will and won’t be possible will make coordinating work placements even more difficult than usual. Thankfully, there are an increasing number of virtual (and free) work experience options out there, including Barclays Life Skills, BSMS and Speakers for Schools. For a longer list of potential providers, we recommend checking out Croydon Digital’s “Mega List”. 2. Managing your finances With 62% of students saying they wanted to learn more about it, managing your finances was the highest-prioritised of all the ‘knowledge‘ topics. The chart below shows the trend for this question across year groups. Of the students surveyed, only 47% thought they had a good understanding of the topic. With this in mind, the Young Foundation’s free digital textbook on personal finance might offer a good opener to start a conversation with your young people about this topic. Alternatively, UK-based charity Mybnk offers free lessons plans, activities and resources on everything from money dilemmas to demystifying financial jargon. With age, students’ interest in the topic increased. Interestingly, though, this corresponded with a decrease in perceived understanding—with the % of students answering “Yes” or “Absolutely” to “Do you understand this topic?” dropping from 49% in Year 7 to only 38% in Year 11. 3. Feeling safe Prior to Covid-19, not feeling safe at school was the most commonly reported wellbeing issue among Aspirations students. Reasons given varied hugely, from bullying to feeling intimidated by older years. From September, we might expect health worries to be added into the mix. Meanwhile, 33% of students said that they didn’t have an adult at school who they could talk to if something was worrying them. This highlights something we all know already—that it is hugely important all students are encouraged to share their concerns with a member of staff, and know that there is someone who will listen and help if they need it. At the same time, Aspirations data should be used to identify and follow up with all individuals with potentially concerning responses, in line with your school’s normal safeguarding policies and processes. 4. Academics This topic making the list won’t surprise anyone, and we don’t doubt you’ll already be focusing on this, but we thought you might be relieved to know that improving their academic performance ranks highly on students’ priority lists as well as yours. 87% of students who responded said they wanted to improve on their current academic performance; this was fairly consistent across year groups and schools. You’re the teaching experts, so we’ll leave determining how to conduct lessons in the new term to you! 5. Self-development Given that Aspirations is all about self-development, we were delighted to see this as a hugely popular skill amongst students—with 85% of those surveyed saying they wanted to get better at it. Aspirations helps students practice and refine their self-development skills by encouraging them to set short-term objectives based on their longer-term goals each term. At the end of the term, ahead of refreshing their priorities and objectives, they are invited to reflect on progress: how did they get on? Were they too optimistic—or not ambitious enough? What do they want to do differently next time? As teachers, one of the most valuable ways you can support at this stage is helping your students set short-term goals that balance ambition with realism. This isn’t easy—how many of you set yourselves completely realistic lockdown goals?! Secondly, be reassuring when they don’t manage to complete their list first time around. They might feel better knowing that they’d be in good company—last year, only 28% of goals set by Aspirations students were achieved “completely”! If you’d like to know more about how we work, from our methodology in collecting and analysing data to how we help our partner schools to instil a mindset of self-development in their students, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact us at . Interested in personal development? Sign up to the Aspirations Newsletter for regular(ish) updates including recommended resources, great practice from our schools, and trends on student needs and interests across the country Sign Up! #201920 #Data #Insights