PD Network UK Personal Development Conference

Personal Development Conference Jul-22 - Lee Peachey and Sophie Murfin

The inaugural Personal Development Conference took place in July 2022. Jessica Deeming, a former teacher, decided that something had to be done to better support Personal Development Leads in schools. She created PD Network UK, a community where practitioners and leaders can raise the profile of Personal Development in schools. The next Personal Development Conference is on 4-Mar-23, in Birmingham, UK.   



By Jo Malone, Global Education Advisor


Personal Development Conference for UK schools

On a Saturday, towards the end of the last academic year, something quite special happened in a secondary school in the suburbs of Bolton, a town near Manchester, in North West England, UK. The inaugural Personal Development Conference took place on 2-Jul-22. It felt innovative, exciting, important. It should have happened years ago…

A few months previously, Jessica Deeming, a former teacher herself – inspired by a call to action from Teach First to create a network to support educators – decided that something had to be done to support Personal Development Leads in schools better. I have written already about how PSHE needs a complete reset and those of us who lead and support Personal Development in schools know it is considered a wishy-washy subject by some in education, the poor relative to the Knowledge King.


Jess Deeming opens the Personal Development Conference, 2-Jul-22

Jessica Deeming opens the Personal Development Conference, 2-Jul-22.


With a long-standing interest in Personal Development, and in her role as Director of Programme at East Learning, Jessica formed a community over Twitter: Personal Development North West.

This community quickly grew into a group of like-minded Personal Development, PSHE and Character Education specialists from the primary, secondary, SEND, and Alternative Provision sectors, comprising expert practitioners, school leaders, consultants and content providers.

The fledgling group has since grown in numbers, become a national network, and now encompasses much more expertise, as PD Network UK.


A stellar line-up

The delegates at the July 2022 event received incredible CPD input and access to a supportive network of peers. The line-up was pretty stellar: a mix of established experts and leaders, alongside up-and-coming PSHE and Personal Development teacher experts, certainly the ones to watch. These included:

  • The ever-wise and entertaining John Rees, Mr @PSHEsolutions himself, pulled no punches when it came to what is missing in PSHE (spoiler alert: All knowledge and no skills makes Jack ill-prepared to navigate life’s challenges).

  • Head teachers Lee Peachey (@MrLPeachey) and Sophie Murfin (@MurfinSophie) took us through their respective processes of embedding Character Education through every thread of school life and the impact this has on academics, behaviour, school culture and staff.

  • Kelly Allchin (@Smscallchin) ran a phenomenal session on meaningful student voice and how increased student agency can contribute significantly to more positive and productive school communities.

  • The EduTwitter rockstar, Executive Head Teacher, Leadership Development Coach – but perhaps better known as the custodian of Hurricane the Tortoise – Patrick Ottley-O’Connor (@ottleyoconnor), reminded us all of the importance of wellbeing for staff as well as students. He imparted invaluable advice for bringing senior leadership onboard the journey of embedding Personal Development in the curriculum and school life.

John Rees at the Personal Development Conference, 2-Jul-22

John Rees speaking about PSHE at the Personal Development Conference, 2-Jul-22.

There were plenty more sessions – including one by myself introducing Persona Life Skills and the wellbeing and employability benefits such an online resources can bring to students age 13-19.

Yet delegates left wanting more!


Passion that inspires and supports

I have seen the anonymised feedback from the delegates. What struck me the most was that the passion of all the contributors really cut through. As a result, the delegates left feeling really inspired and supported. Being the lead teacher for PSHE and/or Personal Development can be a lonely job. These delegates appreciated the opportunity to network and to join the start of a supportive community. 


Delegates at the Personal Development Conference, 2-Jul-22

Delegates at the Personal Development Conference, 2-Jul-22.


What was billed as a Northwest England event attracted people from North Yorkshire, the Midlands and I even mat an Assistant Head from Northampton – some 150 miles away! The hall at Westhoughton High School was packed. On a Saturday. In the penultimate week of the school year.

Jessica had certainly hit a sweet spot. A need met; a gap filled.


How did this happen?

I asked Jessica what had prompted her to start this group. After all, she is busy working as Director of Programme for East Learning, she has a young family, and all this is done in her ‘spare time’.

Jessica explained how she believes passionately in the power of impactful, evidence-driven Personal Development education, and she had seen that Personal Development Lead colleagues were struggling: Struggling to innovate, to raise the profile of the subject, to access support, to get encouragement and ideas to lead effectively.

She saw also a lack of quality CPD opportunities, a lack of consistency in PSHE provision and regional disparities. She wanted to create a safe and supportive community where practitioners and leaders could ask for help, share their expertise, build relationships, network and raise the profile of Personal Development in schools.


Where next for PD Network UK and the Personal Development Conference?

I asked Jessica where she wants to go next. She wants to grow the network and she wants it to be strong nationwide. This will take more volunteers.

She wants to develop the community element as well as the CPD. She would like more of a focus on SEND and primary phase education. She would also like more student voice in the development of PSHE and Personal Development curricula, and believes that PD Network UK can support this.

In their feedback, delegates at the conference were aligned with all of the above – and they would even like to see more agency for themselves, the participants. So this could mean some of the delegates at the next event sharing best practice sessions.

Jessica has already set up a forum for support and dialogue (see this tweet).


Connect online and at the next event

If you, like Jessica and me, are passionate about putting Personal Development front and centre of children’s education, if you believe it is central to successful schooling – including academic achievement – and contributes to creating the best life chances for young people, then connect with the PD Network UK! You can do this on Twitter @PDNetworkUK.

And don't miss the next Personal Development Conference, at Cockshut Hill School, Birmingham, on 4-Mar-23. I’ll see you there!


Personal Development Conference in Birmingham UK, 4-Mar-23.



If you enjoyed this article you might also like:

It’s time to press the reset button on PSHE

The Road to Social-Emotional Learning Nirvana Starts With Self

Relationships and sex education with a capital “R”


Persona Education offers free access to its Persona Life Skills online learning platform for secondary schools and colleges interested in developing their pupils’ social-emotional life skills, to boost wellbeing and employability. 

About the author: Jo Malone is a global education expert, with over two decades experience in teaching, e-learning, dialogic education and teacher training. A social-emotional learning (SEL) and PSHE thought-leader, she is Global Education Advisor at the Bristol based edtech company Persona Education Ltd, providing thought leadership in the global education space, leading a Community of Practice and writing for the Persona Education blog.

2024 Guide to Student Personal Development in Secondary Schools and Colleges

2024 Guide to Student Personal Development in Seco...

View post
Delivering the Social-Emotional element of Student Personal Development

Delivering the Social-Emotional element of Student...

Social-Emotional Learning could – and arguably should – be delivered in many different ways.
View post
Persona Education Newsletter, May-24

Persona Education Newsletter, May-24

31-May-24 Teacher recruitment leader Hays and Persona Education have come together…
View post
Communication Skills: 10 Habits for Teaching Oracy in Every Classroom

Communication Skills: 10 Habits for Teaching Oracy...

Persona Education co-founder Dr Leila Khouja Walker offers helpful ideas to support teaching oracy in the…
View post