Profiles – Yashna Smart

PAG Staff2022, free schools, Interview, Leadership, Profiles

Profiles: Yashna Smart


Meet Yashna...

Yashna Smart joined PAG back in August 2019, having previously worked for three years as a primary school teacher, teaching years 4 and 5.

After originally joining PAG as an intern, Yashna has risen through the ranks, and is now the Senior Consultant for our dedicated free schools support service, Create: Schools. She has a BA in English Language and Literature and completed a PGCE in Primary Education via Teach First. She grew up in Kent, but now lives in Salford, and, when she’s not busy providing potential free school applicants with expert advice, she runs a food-themed Instagram account called @bangersandyash!

Editor’s Note: Yashna’s responses have been edited for clarity and length.

What kind of projects do you work on at PAG?

I started my journey at PAG as an intern in 2019, and since then have worked on countless projects including free school applications, pre-opening and academy conversion project management, funding applications, sponsor applications, and local authority research (such as Childcare Sufficiency Assessments). During my time at PAG, I have focussed on and developed my skills in bid and tender writing.

Since PAG became the Department for Education's (DfE) supplier of free school support and advice in April this year, I have taken on the role of Senior Consultant for Create: Schools, our free school support service. As the Senior Consultant for Create: Schools, I work directly with the DfE and free school proposers to support and advise on the current free school waves and oversee the reviewing of central wave free school applications.

Do you have a project that you are particularly proud of or enjoyed working on and why?

Recently, we have undertaken Play Sufficiency Assessments in local authorities in Wales for the first time. As something new to PAG and not yet statutory in England, these were really exciting projects to work on as I learned a lot about play policy in Wales and the importance of play in children’s development. I think it’s great that local authorities in Wales assess and ensure there are sufficient play opportunities for all types of children and families.

Not only was it a pleasure to work with the local authorities but we also had the opportunity to conduct focus groups, observation and research with children and young people, which almost made me miss my teaching days! It’s a great feeling to know that the findings from our final reports have already started to be addressed and actions put in place to benefit children and young people in Wales.

Why did you start working in consultancy?

I actually went to my interview with PAG not knowing much about consultancy at all, other than hearing people talk about the Big 4.

I was teaching at the time and had decided to move from Kent to Manchester, so thought it would be a good time to switch careers too and see what else was out there, thinking I could always come back to teaching if I couldn’t find something else for me. I knew I wanted to continue working in education and have a positive impact, and the nature of the work that PAG does appealed to me.

I went into the interview with zero expectations and 3 years later I am happily still here and have learnt so much!

What’s your favourite way to relax after a long day at work?

Not sure it fits the definition of ‘relax’ exactly but I have been consistently boxing twice a week and bouldering twice a week for about a year now. Anyone who knows me will know I am not naturally athletic so it can sometimes be a challenge to force myself to go after work.

Both sports have quite a different mental element which helps take my mind off work, and the fact that I have to attend at a set time ensures I step away from the laptop - a boundary that can be difficult to set when you work from home!

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

The key to life is not to overthink it, because overthinking can lead to... what were we talking about?

Do you have any other fun stories from your time at PAG?

Unfortunately, I’m yet to erase the memory of the post-Christmas meal karaoke, belting out Teenage Dirtbag with Tom Legge. Pretty much every PAG team meeting leads to a fun story!

What’s the last bit of content you fell in love with?

I mostly find myself watching videos relating to food (my number one passion in life) on YouTube – Beard Meats Food (man with beard doing ridiculous eating challenges) and The Best Ever Food Review Show (man with bandana travelling the world eating weird and wonderful things) are two of my favourites.

I do love a good Horror/Thriller film but seem to have exhausted all the good ones, so if anyone has any recommendations, please let me know!