From Start to Finish in FE

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It is past the ‘six week window’ of a new academic year and students that were clearly not on the right course have been signposted to other courses more suitable. Unfortunately the six weeks is not nearly enough time to relocate students that are uncertain on what they wish to do. Sadly some are often on courses to appease their parents, having been given the option to get a job or go to college (the college option is often linked to benefits). Others have just followed their ‘mates’ from school. People that don’t work within the further education environment often have a misconception that students go willingly into it. This is not always the case.

So back to the classroom, low level behaviour is steadily increasing from these students. They should have gone but it is not always easy to determine how they will be in class. The challenge is now to keep them and help them achieve. This can be quite difficult when they suddenly declare they are not actually interested in the course after all. It’s also frustrating when you tried to guide them elsewhere in the first place but they were adamant they want to do the course. However the dear old targets have kicked in for retention and achievement. Therefore you must now ensure these students stay with you by ‘hook or by crook’.

It is not just the behaviour in class that can be an issue; you can have that with any age group in further education from your sixteen year olds to your fifty plus students. The other issues are the sudden lack of attendance and submission of work. This usually starts around the end of semester one where students start to get overwhelmed with assignments. There are also some that start to feel the pressure of being a fulltime student whilst trying to hold down a part time job. It is also a time when those students who just followed their ‘mates’ or had to come because of parental pressure, get fed up and lose interest.

After an assortment of action plans, phone calls to parents and other well-known methods of ensuring attendance, you have finally got them back in after missing several months worth of work (in some cases you have not succeeded and had to take a hit on retention/achievement targets). Therefore around May time you are working hard getting these particular students to complete and achieve. They have missed a considerable amount of work and are now frantically trying to catch up. Or not in some cases, they are less enthusiastic but have at least turned up with a pen in their hand.

So as I am here at this headache inducing time of year, again aware of the extra effort, time and detective work skills required for these AWOL students, I find myself pondering about the next cohort in September. I am sure many other further education teachers are thinking about this too. Therefore I am now thinking of what more can be done in the first six weeks to help these students. I think I will be focussing more than ever on why they chose the course and where they see themselves several years down the line. Whether I succeed or not, I will share at the end of October 2015.

On a final note I believe that if better career guidance was in place, along with robust partnerships between compulsory and post compulsory settings, things might be different. I know in some areas this is starting to happen between secondary schools and further education colleges. However there is a need to make this happen everywhere. Just because a secondary school has a sixth form doesn’t mean we have to be in competition with one another. Each can offer different courses for very different needs. In the end we all want our students to go on and achieve, and hopefully gain employment in an area that is of interest to them. There is nothing more soul destroying than going to work to a job you hate. So let’s get this right for all of them!

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