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What's the impact of enrichment in colleges?

Students’ experience of college is so much more than just the courses they study. Colleges provide a hugely comprehensive range of additional opportunities which support student development in all sorts of ways. These are often labelled ‘enrichment’ and they aim to prepare students for progression, citizenship and employment and to support their wellbeing and develop their skills. In the context of the Covid pandemic the need for this has never been more necessary.

Despite the positive impact that enrichment can have, tangible outcomes are often more difficult to measure and it can be hard to justify funding for these activities. AoC working with NCFE and the University of Derby are conducting a longitudinal study into college enrichment, to understand the relative impact of enrichment programmes on the lives of students, to evaluate the benefits of different models and to share this knowledge across the sector.

What enrichment activity do colleges currently do?

An AoC survey from 2019 asked colleges about their existing enrichment offers and showed a high level of commitment and breadth of activity, with many collaborating with external partners to design engaging programmes.

While some colleges had very broad enrichment offers, the overall picture was mixed. Without earmarked funding or structured models to support the work, some colleges struggle to deliver a full and effective enrichment programme for their students.

What counts as enrichment?

We have grouped enrichment loosely under eight themes:

  • Sport, fitness, physical and mental health and wellbeing.
  • Citizenship, political literacy, leadership, campaigning and advocacy.
  • Creative and performing arts and cultural literacy.
  • Language and literacy – including oracy.
  • Enterprise and economic literacy.
  • Social and emotional literacy.
  • Contributing to the community and social action.
  • Understanding the world; global issues and international links.

Why enrichment?

Colleges’ rationale for enrichment can be described in a number of ways:

Voluntarism: these are electives - activities which students choose to engage in, with all the motivation and engagement which follows.

Entitlement: some colleges offer a menu but expect everyone to choose something.

Deepening: the opportunity to extend and deepen a student’s awareness, understanding or experience - this can support or complement their main programme.

Broadening: these are activities which extend students’ horizons and allow them to explore their own interests and aspirations as well as develop new skills.

Complementarity: activities which contrast with a student’s main programme, contributing to broadening.

Motivation: engaging students, helping them to connect them to the college and wider community.

Collaboration is key

Enrichment activities are often built on strong relationships with local and national agencies, including charities, campaign groups and other third sector organisations. The most mentioned areas for external partnerships were: mental health and wellbeing; sports and physical activity; careers; health; public safety; citizenship; community and campaigning; creative arts; youth enterprise and equalities.

Building a case for increased public funding

NCFE sees this research as a way of understanding more about what works, and using this to shape learning which makes a positive impact on people’s lives. Enrichment can offer learners opportunities equip them for their future – facing new challenges and seizing new opportunities.

To secure better funding for enrichment we need to have more robust evidence of its impact, so that it is not seen as a ‘nice to have’ element but recognised as a crucial contributor to student development.

What next?

The AoC, NCFE and University of Derby work continues, and we are currently researching college enrichment in more depth.

The Derby University team have now had responses from 84 colleges across every English region and the researchers have now begun conducting interviews in colleges and are keen to broaden the range of institutions involved, this could include GCFE, Sixth Form Colleges or Specialist Colleges.

In the first instance, one of the team will visit, virtually or in person, to speak to a small sample of managers, staff, and students about your enrichment offer and their perceptions of it. They may then follow up in greater depth in order to generate best practice case studies to be shared across the sector. f you would be willing for your college to participate, please contact directly and one of the team will get back to you.

Any other questions about the project can be directed to Eddie Playfair (AoC) or Professor Liz Atkins (University of Derby)

Eddie Playfair is Senior Policy Manager at AoC