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Evidence for excellence in education

How can FE colleges help young people make successful transitions at 14?

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When I was presenting on this subject recently at the LSIS annual research conference one participant commented:

successful transitions can be achieved through effective relationships between key people in both organisations [colleges and schools]’

But is this supported by the evidence?  Subject to meeting certain criteria, FE colleges will be able to set up their own 14 to 16 centres from September 2013. NFER has carried out extensive research to understand the needs of young people aged 14 to 16 and have found that collaboration between institutions is key. As well as teamwork to inform transitions, providers need to work in partnership prior to transition. For example, our research evidence  points to the requirement for young people to receive a broad range of information – in different formats e.g. written, electronic, provider presentations, taster days and hearing the experiences from current students and those who have completed the course/qualification.

Additionally, in view of the development of increased alternatives (such as 14 to 16 centres in FE colleges, University Technical Colleges or Studio Schools) at 14 years old, it is vital that schools heed the new statutory duty (March 2013) to provide careers guidance on available options in Year 8. Young people need to hear from alternative providers, such as FE colleges, in person in Year 8.

Further considerations for young people to make successful transitions

We believe that as well as receiving careers information and guidance and understanding the ethos of the different institutions they are considering, it is crucial that young people and their parents understand the specific elements, characteristics and learning styles of the qualifications. For example the nature, frequency and content of assignments or exams; the extent of theoretical, vocational and applied learning; the location(s) of study; the equivalence of qualifications; the structure of the course and how it will be assessed; potential progression routes and any practical considerations such as travel requirements.

Our evaluation of Diplomas also highlighted that young people value:

  • hearing about experiences from those ‘in the know’ (that is, from employers/employees working in a particular job/work area or from young people who have already studied on a particular course)
  • the opportunity to visit sites such as FE colleges where the courses they are considering will be delivered
  • advice from teachers in their school who know them well (provided that their knowledge is up-to-date) as well as guidance from impartial careers advisers.

Recruiting the right young people

Through our research and evaluations, such as the Increased Flexibilities programme and the implementation of Diplomas, we have observed that effective approaches towards recruitment have developed over time and should include:

• transparent, collaborative sharing of information and recruitment strategies between schools and colleges

• clearly considering relevant information on potential students, such as their  motivation, attendance and interest in the subject area before they embark on the course

• having rigorous entry procedures including application forms and interviews in order to ensure that the most suitable young people apply and are retained.

It is vital that young people make decisions that are right for them, and that they are given sufficient support, in order to lessen the risk of dissatisfaction with their choice, which may lead them to drop-out.

Support once they have made their decisions

Wherever possible this new cohort of young people should be taught by staff who have volunteered to teach them and who have adapted their teaching style to the younger students. Colleges should encourage more parental involvement and understanding of the subject area and methods of assessment as well as practical and logistical support with travel and organisational skills.

Our research has identified that young people tend to drop out more frequently at particular points, such as the beginning and end of terms, so colleges may wish to think about designing programmes of study support with this in mind, for instance, by targeting support to young people at these specific times of year.

Additionally, students who drop out from courses tend to have particular characteristics (for example those that can be measured by hard data such as previous attainment, or SEN or by softer indicators such as those related to attitudes to learning, mental resilience, aspirations or family circumstances). We suggest that if practitioners could understand the reasons for potential disengagement, and target extra support at young people with these characteristics, they could further minimise the risk of them dropping out.

In conclusion

Our research evidence points to some young people wanting alternative locations and ways of learning and alternative curricula and qualifications, therefore if colleges are ready and supportive and young people have made informed decisions, the new 14 to 16 FE centres can only succeed. Furthermore, in the context of RPA, engaging young people pre-16 can only improve the chances of successful transitions and further engaging them in learning post-16.

NFER Research Programme: From Education to Employment

Author: Tami McCrone

Tami is Research Director (Impact) at the National Foundation for Educational Research.

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