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Support can keep students in class;Letter

I WAS surprised to read the conclusions of the research by Hodkinson and Bloomer that students dropping out of courses is a fact of life over which colleges have no control, and the comment from the Association of Colleges that financial problems were paramount in causing students to leave (TES, August 20).

Most recent research suggests that in fact the opposite is the case, and that indeed through the development of a good, supportive and caring relationship between students and personal tutors, some of those who might otherwise leave college can be persuaded to stay and do well.

The fact is that a significant number of students leave college because they are dissatisfied with some very basic things: that the course was not interesting, the quality of teaching was not good, and they did not have a good relationship with the teachers or personal tutor. Changing family circumstances also seems to play a major part.

So, despite all the changes that have taken place in FE during the last seven years, some basic issues need addressing.

It is because of these factors that governments, teachers and parents have an important role to play in the fate of the student population.

The Government needs to find a better solution to the current funding formula, where an unfortunate mix of dubious business principles has been applied to further education, with the consequent and rather obscene race to increase student numbers.

Tutors need to demonstrate an interest in the welfare of their students; after all, we may be the only people they can talk to.

Personal tutors in a programme area have perhaps the most crucial role to play. We can influence the direction a student will take and the progress they make (and whether they stay or leave), simply by the way we treat them, the manner in which we talk to them and by giving them the confidence to discuss their plans with us; a sense of humour might help as well.

My own conclusion after being a personal tutor in a further education college for 11 years is that the quality of support rather than the quantity of finance is the main determining factor in influencing students' decision to stay or leave college.

Dr William Stallard

Senior lecturer in business

20 West Street

Trowbridge, Wiltshire

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