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Students at the heart of college strategy

25 May 2016

The new Ofsted judgement on personal development, behaviour and welfare puts the spotlight on an aspect of further education (FE) which colleges have been addressing for many years – supporting students to be successful in the world of work and further study. There is an emphasis on students being confident and self-assured. For many, FE is the first time that they have had the opportunity to taste success as their talents lie in the creative and technical subjects which are not widely available at school. Producing a delicious plate of food, building a wall to a high level specification or being part of a theatre production and receiving positive feedback is highly motivating if you found more traditional school subjects a challenge. There is also a greater emphasis than ever before on colleges helping students to focus on employability skills by offering high quality careers guidance, work placements and youth social action projects to enhance the vital skills of communication and team work, project and time management and being self-motivated. Seeing students work together to deliver a lamb on a cold spring morning, or build planters at a local hospice is a testament to the opportunities on offer. Employability is underwritten by the work colleges do to further develop students’ English and maths skills. Teachers and support staff help to restore lost confidence and inspire renewed interest by linking these important life skills to the vocational subject area. Colleges have always ensured that students feel safe and secure in their learning environment through an emphasis on health and safety and pastoral support. Over the past year, however, colleges have risen to another challenge in the safeguarding space; Prevent and promoting of British values is now embedded into the inspection framework. Many colleges have been doing outstanding work in this field for some years, helping to promote respect and understanding through a common set of core values through posters, debates and tutorials. This week, for example, colleges have been encouraging students to take part in the democratic process by registering to vote in the upcoming EU referendum. It must be remembered too that colleges work with a wide variety of students from 14+, those who have excelled at school and have clear career plans, those who have experienced challenges, apprentices and adults wanting to gain additional skills for the workplace. Some of these students will have additional support and pastoral needs which require more intensive interventions. Looking at the above it is clear that personal development, behaviour and welfare is a busy space for colleges and none of these aspects are without their challenges. Sourcing sufficient meaningful work experience placements; engaging students who are not motivated by English and maths, encouraging attendance and punctuality; supporting students with mental health issues when external services are limited; finding resources to embed British values; offering impartial careers advice – these are all critical issues. As a sector, we need to be at the forefront of these and make sure students are at the heart of the college strategy. Catherine Sezen is the Association of Colleges’ 14-19 and Curriculum, Senior Policy Manager. On 14 June AoC is holding its Students at the Heart of College Strategy Conference. Find out more about the programme and book online.