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

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - FURTHER - BRADLEY LIGHTBODY

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.

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