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Confusion created by duplicate advice system

THE Way To Go project has been running successfully at Oaklands College in Hertfordshire for four years - and the ideas behind it are very similar to those of Connexions.

Three advisers work with students who are at risk of dropping out, meeting them regularly and developing an action plan aimed at keeping them at college.

The project was praised as "innovative" by funding council inspectors, and has managed to achieve retention levels of 92 per cent.

Now Oaklands College also has a Connexions personal adviser. But fitting this in alongside the college's existing student support service without duplicating systems is proving a real challenge, said the college's welfare services manager, Andy Hill.

"I already have an existing system set up with my staff where we constantly evaluate our work," he says. "We have procedures up to our necks, because when you're in an FE college you have to.

"But if we go down the road Connexions is proposing, they keep the management of the way it happens and I end up with two systems."

Bringing the new personal adviser into the established team of student advisers also brought some unexpected issues. One of these was pay. The Connexions worker's salary was around pound;2,500 more than college advisers.

"The idea is to integrate her into the full team, but we've spent years building up this team and it has not been an easy job," said Mr Hill. "I can see it working in the future, but there's our agenda as well as the Connexions agenda, and that needs to be taken into consideration.

"What concerns me is that it would confuse students. If they were working with a Connexions adviser or with a college adviser and they wanted to make a complaint, they would have to go through two completely different systems.

"I support Connexions 100 per cent but that goes against everything Connexions was trying to do in the first place, which was to create a 'one-stop shop'."

Tile Hill College in Coventry, due to merge with Coventry Technical College in February, has had Connexions personal advisers working for longer than most - the Coventry and Warwickshire area was among the first to pilot the service.

"The feeling here is that we work reasonably well together," said vice-principal Greg Molan. "It was hard at first to bring the two sets of objectives into line. I think now we're getting better at this.

"I'd like to be clearer about the value it's adding. We've got people on the ground. We need common measures of how that's having an effect and how we track it."

A spokeswoman for the Association of Colleges said: "The universal service Connexions is trying to offer what already exists in most colleges - a student support system that covers everything from pastoral care to homelessness, finance, relationship difficulties.

"There is concern that Connexions will need to supplement the existing provision in a very clear way for colleges to want to go down that road. There is always room for somebody else, but it needs to fit within what the college is already doing."

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