As colleges prepare for a new September intake, I have seen various ideas being floating about how to ensure a positive transition from school to college for the cohort that has had a highly disrupted learning experience over the past 12 months.
One idea has been to set up transition projects to target vulnerable learners and give them the opportunity to experience college before everyone arrives back in September. This is a version of something our college used to do every year in the summer holidays.
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It was during the Gordon Brown years of the Labour government, when funding for education outreach projects was freely available. A few pastoral workers could opt for an extra week’s pay to staff the college transition project, which was open to students from a care background, traveller community or with an additional educational need.
Transition week: why it should be packed with activity
The idea was for them to see where they would be studying, maybe make some friends and be ready to arrive at college with some of the anxieties alleviated. It was also basically a week of fun activities at no cost, so the take-up was good.
It was, however, quite hard on staff as it meant people giving up a week of their precious summer holidays. I, as a perpetual child, jumped at the chance to get a week’s pay for basically messing about. I was commended for "diving in and taking part in the activities alongside the students", as it was some hardship to go bowling for free.
We ended up drafting in a member of staff who clearly needed the money but was not usually student facing. He was completely out of his depth, not just with young people but also with modern life. I had never met anyone before who didn’t know how McDonalds worked. He had to ask at the counter if he had to pay the extra tax if he sat down to eat his meal and commented that they were serving "mostly American food". He was a great laugh.
During the transition week, the students could choose from a number of activities. We had T-shirt customisation, car maintenance, circus skills and even DJ-ing. The latter was popular and included writing verses about their own experiences.
Now, our college serves some areas that have their issues with violent crime, but I refuse to believe that all of the 16-year-olds on that project typically solved their problems with firearms. In the Prevent landscape, we would probably have had to call the police in but, back in 2007, we just had a quiet word about whether it was entirely accurate that you would "sort this beef wiv a glock".
If we do run a similar project this year, I doubt it will be as packed with activity – if any additional funding is on the table, it will be rigidly linked to outcomes and targets.
The importance of building strong relationships
Looking back on that project, which did spend a lot of money on giving the kids a good time, the outcomes were terrific. The cohort we chose were statistically unlikely to stay at college and achieve a qualification, but 100 per cent of them did. And, of course, 100 per cent would be an unbelievable outcome today, but the chances of us taking them bowling and shelling out for Maccies these days would be absolutely nil.
What they got during that week were strong relationships with pastoral staff, who were with them learning to juggle and sew T-shirts. There were problems during the year, of course, but the students knew to come to us for help in resolving them instead of just leaving.
I’m certain that the college’s transition project will have great outcomes this year, but would it be too much to include some chicken nuggets and a spot of paintballing? I can only ask.