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How to overcome effects of poverty

colleges can counter the undoubted disadvantages of deprivation and improve performance despite it, says a new report The Learning and Skills Development Agency acknowledges poor student performance is linked to poverty but argues that ways of working can greatly improve the performance of students.

The agency's report - Closing the achievement gap: colleges making a difference - says that just because a college is situated in an area of high deprivation, this does not condemn its students to failure.

It says poorer-performing colleges do worse with all types of student. Their performance cannot be explained solely by having more disadvantaged students, although these colleges usually do have more from this category.

Factors like gender, age and ethnicity account for no more than half the differences in student achievements from college to college. The key factors affecting achievement are well within the control of the college, even in the most deprived areas.

The report identifies several ways in which colleges can improve student performance. It says they need a commitment from senior managers to raising achievement, including challenging but realistic targets. This needs to be comunicated effectively to staff, who need themselves to be persuaded that they can make a difference.

College-wide approaches to identfying and reviewing strengths and weaknesses are needed. Parents should be involved as well as students and staff.

Handling students requires special care. Colleges need to take great care to make sure students are on the right course, offering taster sessions and well-planned induction programmes. Students should not be forced into making final choices at the start of the course, and should be able to change courses without disruption. There should be early diagnosis of students at risk of failure or dropping out.

The curriculum needs to be continually adapted to meet the needs of students as well as the labour market. Colleges should have high expectations of students, as well as individual targets and regular reviews.

Teachers need to be involved in constant course reviews and lesson observation. And management information systems should give them accurate data on student retention and achievement in a user-friendly format.

The report was based on interviews in 20 colleges and an analysis of statistics on student achievements.

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