I may have turned 18 last month, but there is one Christmas tradition that has followed me from my early years to young adulthood: the belief in Santa. Sort of. Perhaps more so wishing.
So with that in mind, and to force myself into the Christmas spirit, I thought I would set out what my classmates and I all want for Christmas, on behalf of the FE sector.
Here are the three things we desperately wish for in order to make our college experience (even) better.
Access to support services now – not when we've left
It's OK not to be OK. You tell us that as tutors; we tell each other as friends. Everyone has down days, and it is not uncommon for young people to suffer from mental ill health.
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There are a plethora of resources and referral services available to us to help get through it – and you are great at helping us access them. But often, we are met with waiting times that are longer than our time at college – and as we look to leave lockdown life behind us, having access to mental health and wellbeing services has never been more important. We really need you to help us to get seen by professionals quicker.
Appropriate support, for every type of student
Sometimes, it feels like society can put us into pigeon holes: you do a BTEC, so you’re not academic; you’re young, so you're inexperienced; you must go to university because your parents did. You get the idea. As young adults, we’re well-practised with exploring our personalities and lifestyles – just take a look at the lockdown hairstyles we invented.
On the whole, FE does a great job at facilitating our independent growth and development, but there is more that can be done. Santa, please help our teachers to make sure our options are kept as wide open as possible; to make sure that every teacher is aware of the great opportunities that we can take; to help us "break free" from the flight path model that the system puts on us.
No more overworked and under-resourced teachers
Without blowing our own trumpet, I would like to point out that my friends and I are not stupid. Or blind. We can see that our tutor Sam has bags under his eyes. We notice that Beth is running around like a headless chicken – or reindeer – because she is covering two classes. And my friend Jess is a bit fed up with having the corridor double up as her classroom on Wednesday mornings because there are not enough rooms.
We know that it is not your fault that it is taking you three days to reply to us on Microsoft Teams, and we know that you are marking as quickly as you possibly can, but you need more help. We can see that. You know that. So, Santa, my most wished-for present this year is for you to please point out – and show – to the policymakers the sad and brutal truth. The FE sector is fantastic, and this year we really showed how resilient we can be. But if we are not careful, we are going to burn out – and need those services that I mention above, and get stuck in that loop.
This is all, of course, assuming we have made it onto the Nice List – but I would like to think the way we adapted to remote (then blended) learning, reacted to last-minute U-turns, and got through a pandemic places us firmly upon it.
Alfie Payne is a media student from Hampshire