Building student engagement and belonging through personal development tutoring


The university has recently introduced a new personal development policy across all UCA courses, but why have we introduced this, what does this mean for the student experience and how are we going to implement this?

Why have we introduced Personal Development Tutoring?

At UCA, we annually monitor student retention data, reporting on patterns of interruption and withdrawal across the student lifecycle.  These studies have revealed particular attrition issues around level 4, where students are at greatest risk of dropping out of their studies with us.  There may be a variety of reasons why students drop out at this stage.  Academic issues, feelings of isolation and/or not fitting in and concern about achieving future aspirations as the primary reasons why students think about leaving. In 2018, we conducted in-house research on the first year experience (Barratt, 2018) BAME student experience (Dixon-Smith, 2018) and Induction Tutoring (Allder & Fitzwater, 2018).  All of these studies reveal the value and benefit of ongoing pastoral support to enable students navigate university life and work life balance to achieve success in their studies.

So..what is personal development tutoring?

…a structured and supported process of ongoing support for students focused around their personal, professional and academic development which:

  • Promotes student self-efficacy and reflection
  • Develops student responsibility for their own learning
  • Provides students with a clear idea of their strengths and areas for development
  • Encourages students to consider future plans and career development
  • Helps students to stay on track during their studies
  • Works alongside specialist support services to get students the support that they require.

Personal Tutoring is therefore distinct from other forms of tutoring that occur routinely as part of teaching, learning and assessment of units.

What does this mean for our students?

  • That every student has a named person they can go to for support.
  • That every student will have someone who will support their progression and success.
  • That every student will have someone who provides general advice and can point a student in the direction of other resources in place to support them with their studies and their well-being.

What do you do in a Personal Development Tutorial?

Below are a range of questions/ prompts gathered from Matthew Andrew, Programme Director Photography, Rochester that you may find helpful (esp. for L4).  Matthew has  used these over the years in his various academic roles:

  • Introduce yourself – Level tutor – What is your area of expertise etc.
  • Sounds silly, but establish what tutees should call you (I’ve actually been called ‘Mum’ before in class)
  • Explain the personal tutor role/ ask if they have any questions about the role. (for this I usually say this is for anything from making beans on toast, to the best flash to use for mixed lighting etc., but whatever works for you.)
  • Always follow up on anyone that doesn’t come to these meetings (via email).

Mostly for L4 (keep it brief it’s mainly about signposting etc.).

  • I usually ask L4 students to introduce themselves (quickly – name, where from, why they chose UCA etc.) – can work very well when doing a group pastoral.
  • Ask if they have had any problems registering
  • Do they know where the library is?
  • Do they know where to go if they are struggling with writing/ reading etc.?
  • Ask if they have had any problems with student finance
  • Check that they know how to access their student email account
  • Check that they know how to get into my UCA
  • Discuss any worries that they may have about university level study, and how these could be resolved
  • Ask what their plans are (clubs/ societies/ PT jobs etc.)
  • Remind them that contact will be made via email and my UCA only – not via social media etc.

For L4 and L5/ L6 students;

  • Ask how their summer was
  • Ask how their accommodation is
  • Let them know they can book a personal tutorial with you, what your office hours are, and when the next scheduled tutorial will be (I would suggest early in S2 – poss. In the first 3 weeks?)
  • Give them your contact details (work email), and make sure they know they can contact their Programme Director if you are unavailable, or where to go if we are all unavailable  (ie. Gateway)

For L5/ L6 students

  • Ask if there is anything that they feel they would like to work on (specifically) since last year (this can form a PDP goal – we can discuss this – I have lots of templates.
  • How their work/ university balance is going (do they work etc.)
  • Ask if there is anything they feel nervous about, and reassure that this is normal.

I often put some of the above prompts into the Tutorial Record Form (pre-loaded), so I can make quick notes next to each section.

So, who can be a Personal Development Tutor?

Although the role of Personal Development Tutor should be distinguished from that of tutors on the programme of study, it is likely that a Personal Development Tutor will also be one of the student’s programme tutors. The role of Personal Development Tutor involves providing academic advice and support to the student across the programme of study and reviewing wider academic progress.  Their role extends to providing referral guidance to students to sources of specialist support (e.g. for academic matters; emotional health and wellbeing issues; academic and language skills support; careers and professional advice etc).

The Personal Development Tutor is a student’s first port of call in matters relating to students’ academic progress, personal development, and welfare. The Personal          Development Tutor is not an expert in terms of support and interventions but will           know about support services that are available to students to help them engage with the Student Union and to access more specialist help from other services on the relevant campus and in the wider community where relevant.

Does the university provide any training for personal development tutoring?

Training is available for each academic school.  If you would like to arrange this, please email the Teaching & Learning Development Manager, Annamarie McKie,

Useful documents:

SU Personal Development Benchmarking Tool

Personal Development Tutorial Policy

Learning Development Tutor Core Offer

Academic Support pages

LSS: When to Refer

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2 Responses to Building student engagement and belonging through personal development tutoring

  1. Nina says:

    This role sounds great, when I was a student in another university we had a similar tutor (they were called Student Support and Guidance Tutors) and I found them invaluable.


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