What does OFSTED’s new ‘personal development’ measure mean for schools?

The first batch of reports published under OFSTED’s revamped inspection framework came out , with plenty of mixed reactions. One particularly attention-grabbing change is the introduction of a new section for assessment: ‘personal development’.

We’ve put together a handy summary of what this new section means, in practical terms, for schools.

What are OFSTED looking for when it comes to personal development?

The new assessment framework, published in September 2019, explains that inspectors will be looking to see that:

  • the school’s curriculum extends beyond the academic, technical or vocational. It provides for learners’ broader development, enabling them to develop and discover their interests and talents
  • the curriculum and the school’s wider work support learners to develop their character – including their resilience, confidence and independence – and help them know how to keep physically and mentally healthy
  • at each stage of education, the school prepares learners for future success in their next steps
  • the school prepares learners for life in modern Britain by:
    • equipping them to be responsible, respectful, active citizens who contribute positively to society
    • developing their understanding of fundamental British values and appreciation of diversity
    • celebrating what we have in common and promoting respect for the different protected characteristics as defined in law.
Amanda Spielman, OFSTED’s chief inspector, has said that these new criteria are designed to emphasise to headteachers that building resilience in young people is an integral part of education.

“It’s about making clear that education is not just about teaching a good set of academic subjects really well. There is something a bit intangible and bigger than that, and it is making sure they recognise that. It’s not about any one thing, it’s about having a range of opportunities so people can discover their talents and interests.”

How will OFSTED gather evidence on personal development?

According to The Key for School Leaders, you don’t have to prepare any specific  evidence for inspectors related to personal development. Inspectors will get their evidence through observations and discussions with pupils and staff, as well as evaluating the curriculum.

You can expect inspectors to be looking at factors like:

  • The range, quality and take-up of extra-curricular activities offered 
  • How curriculum subjects like citizenship, RE, and other areas such as personal, social, health and economic education, and relationship and sex education, contribute to pupils’ personal development
  • How well leaders promote British values through the curriculum, assemblies, wider opportunities, visits, discussions and literature
  • How well leaders develop pupils’ character through the education that they provide 
  • Where appropriate, the quality of debate and discussions that pupils have
  • Pupils’ understanding of the protected characteristics and how equality and diversity are promoted
  • The quality of careers information, education, advice and guidance, and how well it benefits pupils in choosing and deciding on their next steps

Food for thought: Some ideas to try

The big question for most school leaders will be how to make sure that the curriculum, and the range of activities on offer at their schools, help to really contribute to pupils’ personal development. Here are some ideas to consider as part of your plans.

1. A wider mix of lesson formats

Although the main focus when it comes to the curriculum is obviously which topics are covered, it’s also important to think about how those topics are explored and delivered.

The Demos report on ‘Learning by Doing’ has some useful tips on ‘non-formal’ lesson/working formats that deepen the amount of input and participation needed from pupils, helping to build qualities like teamwork, independence and confidence. These include:

  • Group work
  • Long-term projects
  • Student presentations
  • Lessons designed by students

2. Outdoor and uniformed activities

It might be a cliché, but sometimes it’s good to think outside the box – or, in this case, to think outside of the school walls! Active, outdoor pursuits that encourage students to flex their creative and problem-solving muscles outside of the classroom can be a great way to supplement the curriculum.

One tried-and-tested example is the Duke of Edinburgh Award, which has lots of evidence to support the fact that it promotes various different aspects of personal development. A 2017 survey of 14,500 award alumni found that:

  • 75% said doing their DofE helped them understand their strengths and weaknesses better
  • 85% said it improved their teamwork skills and 76% said it boosted their communication skills
  • Two thirds said it improved their motivational skills and 64% said it helped them understand others better
Aside from the DofE, other activities to consider might include:

  • Building a partnership with a local Scouts group, to encourage students to develop better confidence and teamwork (see the table below for some great data on this!)
  • Organising adventure-led residential trips that test pupils’ resilience, whether that’s through canoeing, rock-climbing or hiking. Non-profits like the Outward Bound Trust offer financially-assisted programmes to help schools take part 
  • Developing relationships with organisations that will allow students to get involved in volunteering or social action for causes they identify with – for example, Kids Against Plastic
From a survey of 1,172 14-18 year-olds across the UK, published by Demos

3. Extra-curricular clubs and enrichment

This is something that the vast majority of schools will already be doing – but OFSTED’s new emphasis on personal development gives extra-curricular programmes a new weight.

Aside from activities like sports, drama and music, it may also be worth considering clubs that specifically focus on developing confidence, problem-solving and resilience – for example, debate or public speaking clubs.

Writing for Headteacher Update, Dr. Pooky Knightsmith, a specialist in child and adolescent mental health and emotional wellbeing, suggests that team-building activities or strategic games like chess can also be really helpful for developing resilience:

“The ability to problem-solve is a hugely important, but largely under-developed skill in many young people. Nowadays, they can turn straight to social networks or the internet for instant answers and they have less down and play time than previous generations.”

“Unstructured time is vital for experimentation, game-playing and imagination – all of which develop problem-solving skills. A young person with secure problem-solving skills is more likely to respond positively to moments of crisis and less likely to choose ‘harmful solutions’ such as self-harm, misuse of drugs or alcohol or truancy.”

4. Raising aspirations

A key aspect of the new personal development criteria is the need to set pupils up for future success by providing high-quality advice on further education and careers. Often, however, teachers are battling against low aspirations – particularly for disadvantaged (FSM) pupils.

There are lots of great initiatives that schools can test out to raise aspirations, including setting up mentorship schemes with relatable role models, organising university visits, giving out student awards or promoting in-school journalism. For more inspiration on that, take a look at our article on raising aspirations for disadvantaged students.

5. Positive communication

The HandsOn Scotland Confidence guide offers some brilliant advice on the impact of language and how to communicate effectively to help students improve their belief in their own abilities. The guide could form the basis of an interesting INSET training exercise – here are a couple of our favourite example tips:

  • “When children and young people need help, you should try to give it. But try not to provide the solution. Instead, give them support to find the solution themselves. So you could point them to a website that might help them or ask them a question to help them think about their problem in a different way. Coming up with the solution on their own will help improve their confidence.”
  • “Be positive about failure! Help children and young people to see the value of mistakes and failure, and that they are steps to success. Mistakes and failures are completely normal, and are important opportunities for learning – they can be used to help us find other ways to achieve our goals. Show this yourself by admitting your own errors in a good-natured way, for example, “Oh, yes you’re right, I was a bit careless there – I won’t do that again!”

6. One-to-one tuition

At MyTutor, we currently partner with over 400 schools across the UK to provide extra support for pupils, supplementing their in-class learning. By working with us, pupils get:

  • Focused one-to-one attention that specifically targets their learning gaps, helping them to build confidence in their chosen subject
  • Exposure to aspirational (but relatable) role models, because all our tutors are talented undergraduates studying at top universities
  • The opportunity to study independently and at their own pace
Following our tuition programme this year with the King’s Church of England School in Stoke-on-Trent, 100% of pupils said they felt more confident. Deputy Headteacher Will Wilson commented:

“The biggest thing is that it inspires the students, who often feel that they are failures. All our students who took part in the programme and sustained their commitment to it, valued it highly. They felt that the tutors empathised with them – and their issues and weaknesses – and ultimately, it built their confidence and their academic performance.”

You can read the full case study here. And if you’re interested in finding out more about how MyTutor works, feel free to ring us on 0203 773 6025, or email partnerships@mytutor.co.uk.

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