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A bridge to world of pupils

When 14-year-olds go to college they need a different regime from older FE students. Joe Clancy reports on one initiative.

Until around five years ago, probably the only time a college lecturer would come across a school pupil was on open days. Or occasionally when providing taster courses to give them a glimpse of the post-16 environment.

That has all changed with a raft of recent government initiatives designed to provide vocational education to the 14 to 16 age group, culminating this week in the publication of the Tomlinson Report on 14 to 19 reform.

Last year 120,000 school pupils were estimated to have undertaken courses in colleges with the aim of engaging them in continuing education, or re-engaging them where they have become disaffected. Most colleges today run Increasing Flexibility programmes, Way to Work initiatives, alternative learning courses for young people excluded from school or on the verge of exclusion, and additional courses for youngsters with special needs.

The problem has been that the lecturers delivering these courses have been trained specifically to teach those who have completed their compulsory education, and they are unconcerned if a student comes into class wearing a tea-cosy hat and a fcuk me t-shirt.

They are unlikely to have had training in the educational, legal, health and safety, and behavioural issues involved in teaching Year 10 and 11 pupils.

Then they are suddenly confronted with a series of unfamiliar issues. What should be done if two 14-year-olds ask permission to go to the toilet at the same time? How should a visit to a local business be organised. Who should be contacted and should the trip be accompanied.

How should you deal with bad behaviour and the low-level disruption that is a common feature in secondary schools. The perpetrators cannot just be asked if they want to remain on the course, as in a post-compulsory environment.

Government priorities revolving around the White Paper Success For All envisages more students transferring from school to FE at the age of 14 rather than 16.

Yet the Government has done little to equip college staff with the skills and expertise they need to cope with the requirements of a vastly different educational environment.

There was no accredited training programme with any of the awarding bodies to meet the very real needs of FE lecturers in this area.

Step in Hull college. Senior staff there assembled a 14-16 working party that produced a 30-week professional development training course to help in the delivery of programmes to school-age pupils.

Dr Robb Robinson, who led the team, said: "The 14-16 initiative has grown organically within the FE sector. Colleges are good at assimilating a vast range of initiatives and getting them under way.

"But there are a whole load of professional development implications. Most of our staff are teacher-trained for post-16.

"We looked around for an appropriate qualification that would sit alongside their existing ones but there was nothing. So we worked out what people needed to make them more effective in the classroom and workshop.

"College staff don't know a lot about the national curriculum and Sats tests. But they need to be able to put things into context."

The result is that 13 staff at Hull now possess a qualification that has been accredited to degree level, four by Btec, the national awarding body.

Three other colleges have already purchased the course, costing pound;600, with several more expressing an interest in it.

Lecturers undertake a two-day secondment to a local school to observe teaching and learning and to look at the school's ethos.

"The whole package has been valuable but the school secondments have been the most valuable of all," Dr Robinson added.

"We are now working with the Learning and Skills Council to develop a programme of short secondments between schools, colleges and work-based training providers.

"There is a shortage of people who work across the divides. We have got to make the most of them.

"The Tomlinson report will impinge on most lecturers and nearly all of our support staff. There is a need to make sure they are aware of the practices and processes involved."

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