Addressing lost learning for young people in further education

By Sarah Waite on

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been alarming signs that older students in education faced an acute risk of learning loss. When the first lockdown was announced, 60% of secondary teachers reported that teaching for their year 11s either stopped completely or hours were scaled back. Pre-pandemic, studies have shown that the older the age of the student, the greater the learning loss is over the summer break. For the majority of students about to transition to post-16 education last year, the length of this break in education was unprecedented.

That the fallout of the pandemic would be significant for young people in post-16 education is unlikely to surprise many of those who work in colleges. In a recent Association of Colleges survey, 77% of college leaders reported that 16 to 18-year-olds were performing below expectations. These young people have the shortest time left in compulsory education to address missed education and gain a strong set of qualifications, before they face a challenging labour market. It is vital that their needs are considered front-and-centre in the Government’s education ‘catch-up’ plans.

The 16-19 tuition funding is a good start. One-to-one and small group tuition has been proven to be one of the most effective types of interventions in education. Students who have a tutor have been shown to make up to five months’ more progress than their peers – and the effects are particularly pronounced for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Smaller group sizes, coupled with mentoring relationships, help to facilitate personalised support to students. In addition, students receive immediate feedback on their progress so that gaps in knowledge or skills can be addressed quickly.

At Get Further, we are a charity that specialises in providing tuition to young people in further education studying English or maths. All our tutors are subject specialists, trained by qualified English and maths teachers. We monitor and report regularly on attendance and progress, ensuring that the sessions complement the work of the students’ teachers in college. So far this year, we have partnered with 30 colleges and sixth forms to deliver tuition to over 1,000 students. Results for students who are matched to one of our tutors are 12% higher than the national average after 12 sessions, and 26% higher after 24 sessions.

As is the case for many working in colleges, support to address lost learning will continue over the summer. We will shortly be piloting ‘Summer Colleges’ for some of our partners to help students transition from functional skills courses to GCSE. Alongside GCSE tuition, from September we will launch our functional skills tuition curriculum and resources, so that our support can reach a wider cohort of learners. 

Over the coming years, the effects of the pandemic mean that colleges will continue to enrol students who need extra support to fulfil their potential, and with a limited window to deliver this. Colleges will need a strong offer from the Government to navigate this challenge – and the default position of considering this age group as an afterthought is untenable. It is fantastic to see leaders from across the education sector, from the Association of Colleges, to the Social Mobility Commission and the Education Policy Institute, collectively calling for this age group to be prioritised – via a new 16-19 Student Premium and funding for extra teaching hours, alongside the recent extension of the 16-19 tuition fund. If the Government responds, when we look back at the legacy of the pandemic, there could be a more hopeful conclusion for young people in further education.

Sarah Waite is the Founder of Get Further