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College students and staff talking about enrichment

12th June 2023

By Bally Kaur, University of Derby scholar

AoC and NCFE want to promote the benefits and impact of enrichment in colleges to learners’ lives and are supporting a four-year research project conducted by the University of Derby. Enrichment not only supports student progression but has sustained learners through their college lives, not least during and since the pandemic. Yet because of its low policy priority, not all learners benefit from the same entitlements and opportunities. The scope of these opportunities has become clear data through the research with 109 providers across England and Wales.

University of Derby researcher Bally Kaur says: “We’ve talked to scores of colleges about their enrichment, which we define as college-based activities through which staff and students themselves augment and complement the taught curriculum. We’ve found a vast range of activities that prepare learners for future life, beyond work or further study. Enrichment is part of what has got them through their lives as learners, helping them to adapt during the pandemic and afterwards. We’ve seen enrichment take on a new lease of life in some colleges during this project.”

One General FE College aiming to reach out to all its students is Coleg Cambria, which recognises the post-Covid isolation many students experience. Jade, a student rep in Health and Social Care, described helping students find their own place in the college outside the classroom as a personally fulfilling form of enrichment itself. But, referring to the ‘pods’ where learners can take refuge, she says, “You can’t stay in that eggshell forever.” She describes enrichment as a chance for learners to use equipment and do things they don’t get the chance to do at home, “a bit like in a family.” Daniel, a student governor, described the way enrichment helps learners think more broadly about possibilities: “A lot of students come here with a history and can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Learner Experience & Enterprise Manager Rona Griffiths said: “Enrichment is not an "add-on" - it's a "how to". We owe it to students to offer them opportunities to discover themselves and their potential: new skills, new friends and new interests. It's not about enriching the curriculum but enriching the students themselves and their experience at college. Nevertheless, this can (and does) help them with their studies, their wellbeing and their employability. This really does drive all our work at Coleg Cambria.”

University of Derby Project Lead Bill Esmond says: “Enrichment looks different in every college. In some, it’s the work of specialist teams dedicated to supporting learners; in other colleges, teaching staff are in the front line, using it to extend and deepen learning; and then students often have opportunities to create their own spaces based on their interests. Some colleges have instituted programmes that reach out to every learner, others focus their offer on specific groups, such as A-Level students or learners with special needs. And despite this support, and recognition of its benefits, the provision of enrichment is uneven and characterised by uncertainty and a struggle for resources.”

Brighton Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College (BHASVIC) has put enrichment high on its agenda, and its teaching staff are allocated time to develop activities that extend beyond the subject curriculum: the science students building a green car, climbing as an extension of sport, the mock trials, magazine and more, many attracting students from outside their subject area. Enrichment was seen by staff as an enabling part of the teaching role, ‘professional oxygen’ as one described it, and part of its fundamental purpose: in putting on a show for a large cast, “We’ve got to realise that we’re making a creative community.” Student clubs and societies flourish, from the LGBTQ+ Society to the Hypatia Society for Women in Physics and the Jedi Society.

Daisy who was in her first year of A-Levels who travelled in from a significant distance, participated in the Duke of Edinburgh Award, the Feminist Society as well as Creative Writing. The distance from home meant that she took part in college life and the city more broadly, saying “Here you can be anything.” Shahama, studying Chemistry and Psychology, valued being active in the Debating Society and the college magazine, whilst volunteering at the local hospital. “All of these experiences have meant that I have got to know people outside my subject area.” with much more commitment on the part of students to stay on at college outside of their timetabled lessons. Enrichment for Shahama opened career aspirations she had not previously considered: ‘Politics, as part of the debating society, is making me more aware of policy-making, which I wouldn’t have thought about otherwise.’ Ella is in her final year of English and Media A-Levels, whilst taking Current Affairs as a portfolio course and wants to be a journalist. She has strengthened her writing skills, is editor of the college magazine, has made more friends and has accessed such opportunities as a five-day creative writing trip in North Devon.

Alison Cousens, Assistant Principal and Director of Student Services, says: “We know how important a sense of community and belonging is for students to have a successful time at college and our enrichment offer is designed to provide opportunities for every student to enhance their experience beyond their classroom learning. Through enrichment students have the chance to stretch their knowledge and put this into practice with students outside their core classes. Portfolio enrichment provides timetabled sessions for students to build new skills in different subject areas and enhance their progression options, whilst student-led societies bring together like-minded individuals to share, have fun and, in some cases, actively campaign for change. Parts of our enrichment also have a strong social justice element including our Climate Action Society, Period Poverty Society and Student Union, and we are proud of the platform this offers our students to have an active voice within our community and into wider society. As a college with a large student populus and wide catchment area, the importance of enrichment to give meaning and purpose to students’ time with us cannot be underestimated.”

To find out more about the project, please contact Enrichmentresearch@derby.ac.uk . In the latter stages of the project, we are especially keen to hear from colleges which can evidence the effects of those programmes on former students, and those whose enrichment offer aims to broaden the experience of learners on technical and vocational programmes.