Turn on, tune in, don’t drop out: making FE fun
With early drop-outs on the rise, it’s time for colleges to plan for September
IN 2015-16, more than 33,000 students dropped out of their college programmes within the first six weeks – before passing the crucial funding benchmark of 42 days. It is a growing trend: in 2014-15, the figure was 32,000, and in 2013-14, it totalled 29,000.
Level 1 courses suffer the highest drop-out rates with 10 per cent leaving within the first six weeks, followed by Level 2 at 8 per cent and Level 3 at 4 per cent.
Some of these students may be joining other programmes, but a significant number become Neets (not in employment, education or training), at a high personal cost to their life chances – and a significant cost to colleges from lost income. What is the answer? Fostering a sense of success among students from the start.
Within the first few lessons, students are silently appraising whether or not they have made the right choice. Clearly, too many are deciding that they have not. The most common reasons for drop-out relate to a sense of isolation and of limited progress. Success within the first four-to six weeks can transform attitudes, build self-belief and generate a can-do spirit, as well as a commitment to achieving the relevant study goals. Consider the following interlinked strategies.
1 Upbeat induction
Be warm and welcoming. Avoid the highly functional induction of timetable, tour of college and diagnostic testing. The formula should be FFF: future, friendships and fun. Present a ladder of future opportunities and invest in a range of group-bonding activities. And most of all, seek to generate a sense of fun. John Hattie’s research indicates that the “single greatest predictor of subsequent success is whether the student makes a friend in the first month”.
2 Parental support
Design a bright, upbeat circular for parents, explaining the benefits of the course programme and how to support their son or daughter. Aim for a “push” from home. There is considerable research evidence, as presented by the UCL Institute of Education and professors Jane Waldfogel, John Hattie and Stephen Scott, that the high variations in student-achievement levels are rooted not in poverty, but in the quality of the home learning environment.
3 Advance organisers
Issue a learning plan or some other form of advance organiser for the first topic area, setting regular study goals wrapped up in a personal-action-steps-for-success (PASS) format. The learning plan should provide a clear overview of what is to be covered plus relevant online and library resources for exploration beyond the classroom.
4 High expectations
Robert Rosenthal’s study on the Pygmalion effect in 1968 highlighted the impact of high expectations on achievement; his findings have been confirmed by many other studies.