Enrichment in hard times – latest on AoC in partnership with NCFE study
Everyone in the FE sector speaks highly of enrichment, the wide-ranging sessions infusing the learner journey with vital nutrients that qualifications alone can’t provide. Every college has its own approach: away from the spotlight of study programme specifications, you can work out how to put together the best that your staff and your networks can offer. But times are tough and, even with the extra 40 hours, resources for enrichment are scarce. So, what’s really happening on the ground?
NCFE is funding a study into enrichment in further education, which AoC is working on alongside researchers from the University of Derby, reported in earlier blogposts by Eddie Playfair. This project started by surveying colleges about their surprisingly different expectations and plans for enrichment. Now we’re in a new phase, talking to teachers and students about the way it impacts on their learning journey and their lives.
New insights are emerging and teachers and students alike are keen to tell researchers about what they gain from learning outside the core of their study programme – and what they think could be better.
Back to basics
The first thing we needed to establish was a common understanding of what enrichment is, as everyone has a slightly different interpretation. So, we delved into the literature and put together an all-purpose definition:
Extra-curricular activities of interest to the student which promote the acquisition of wider skills such as communication and self-confidence and which involve learning that is not linked directly to the formal curriculum. Enrichment is likely to involve activities which are focussed around work-related learning, personal development, and community involvement.
If this sounds broader than the way you think of enrichment in your college, you’re not on your own. When we undertook a survey of colleges we found their interpretations differed widely. Thank you again if you took part, as did 84 colleges from all regions of England, including GFE colleges, sixth-form colleges, and specialist colleges. However, we needed a way to galvanise our findings relating to the widely ranging responses to our questions about the purpose, organisation and success of enrichment activities and felt that this singular descriptor fitted the majority of responses
What’s the point?
Everyone involved in the project – NCFE, AoC, the University of Derby – expects this research to have real benefits for the sector by highlighting ways in which enrichment adds value. More importantly, it should provide real benefits for students in further education. By understanding and analysing the evidence of these impacts , we hope to add strength to a case for prioritisation of enrichment activity for future funding. But what are these benefits?
The analysis of our survey revealed differences across the sector, even in understandings of why enrichment is important, which in turn help determine how enrichment is organised. For some colleges, enrichment was seen as an important strategy to ameliorate inequalities, by widening access to a broader range of activities and offering valuable opportunities to build social and cultural capital. Participation in enrichment can broaden the student experience and support the positive development of students as active contributors to society. But for others, employability remains the main aim; although colleges using enrichment this way sometimes used it for broader approaches to employability than students might encounter on their study programme.
Interestingly, survey responses did suggest that colleges saw these additional aims as the point of enrichment: they didn’t see it feeding back into helping students progress into higher education, or helping them pass their main programme. But when we moved onto the next phase of probing these survey responses in more detail, through interviews with college professionals involved with or managing enrichment, they gave us a much broader view. We heard about the way enrichment could support students through their course, providing them with reasons to keep on coming to college, perhaps including personal support networks they might not find in their own course.
What’s going on?
But we also picked up at this stage on some of the barriers to enrichment, not least the funding challenges that limit the breadth of enrichment programmes that many colleges would like to offer. Of course, the COVID pandemic has added to these challenges, and whilst some activities have carried on online, colleges are rebuilding face-to-face activities that in some cases weren’t able to function at all.
So, as we move into the next stage of the research, we’re putting together a picture of what’s happening on the ground. Our aim is to get out and meet teachers and students to talk about what’s really happening: to develop more in-depth, fine-grained understandings and gather exemplars, putting together case studies of the enrichment programme that really make a difference. We’re finding colleges that use their resources and networks to offer unique and memorable learning opportunities and activities that enrich their students’ lives in ways that aren’t seen in every college.
Some of the most interesting programmes are in specialist colleges where the assessed study programmes aren’t regarded as quite so central to the learning experience. Elsewhere, staff and student volunteers lay on activities based on their qualification route that appeal to students from other courses, inviting them to take part: we found this working well in sixth-form colleges but it has possibilities across FE. Look out for our case studies to find out more!
What you can do
This research project depends on the willingness of colleges to take part: our success in gathering this data has been entirely due to staff and students giving their time to share their views with us.
Our target this term has been to talk to staff and students, because accessing their perspectives is an essential part of building up a picture of the benefits and impact of enrichment, meeting with separate groups of students and staff with an interest in the enrichment provision at their college. They can be teachers, support workers or coaches who contribute to or support the enrichment programme. We have also been talking with students involved with enrichment who want to talk about their experience and aspirations.
In our next phase we plan to catch up with these students after the completion of their programme, to see how the enrichment programme has supported their transitions into employment and adulthood.
If you would like to be involved in the project and haven’t heard from us, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The University of Derby Research Team
This research is being undertaken at the University of Derby by Professor Liz Atkins, Dr Balwant Kaur, Dr Bill Esmond and Dr Margaret Wood.