Opening the door to further study
Closer cooperation between colleges and schools is one of the pillars of the Scottish government's youth employment strategy. Now Forth Valley College has come up with a pioneering approach to improving its dialogue with local schools.
The college has launched a portal that gives schoolteachers constant access to real-time information about students' applications, interviews and offers for places on courses and modern apprenticeships.
David Allison, the college's associate principal for information systems, said the aim was to promote two-way dialogue between the college and local-authority-run high schools in order to ensure learners achieved their potential. Because the system relied on information the college already held, it created little extra work for staff, he explained.
Schools could use the portal to support students with applications and prepare them for interviews, Mr Allison added. "The portal will also help schools to identify pupils who have not submitted a college application, declined an offer or not shown up for an interview. They will also be able to offer advice to pupils who have been unsuccessful with an application and encourage them to seek an alternative progression route."
Steve Dougan, senior phase and Opportunities for All coordinator for Falkirk Council, was frustrated by the fact that schools had long been able to track pupils' university applications through the Ucas system but not their applications to local colleges. He raised the issue and Forth Valley College's information systems team got to work developing the portal. The system was launched in the spring and piloted with Falkirk schools - it will be extended to Stirling and Clackmannanshire high schools in the coming weeks.
Mr Dougan told TESS that the portal not only allowed teachers and other relevant staff members to track whether a student had applied for a course, been invited for interview or received an offer, but it also meant they could help students to work towards meeting the requirements of a conditional offer. In addition, students could be better supported at the interview stage, with teachers having access to detailed information - down to the room where the interview would take place.
Wealth of knowledge
The portal is also a useful resource for the council, according to Mr Dougan, who said it allowed the education service to find out "how many of our young people are applying to Forth Valley College from each of our secondary schools and analyse how successful they are".
"I'm extremely confident that it will significantly improve the success rate of our more vulnerable young people due to the additional knowledge each school now has around the various stages of the application process," he added. "I can't understand why no one has thought of this before. It is just such a simple way of making sure as many of our young people as possible are in the right place at the right time."
And the opportunities the portal offers don't stop there. In the coming months, the college hopes to add details of the references students will need. Mr Allison said developers were also planning to add information on late availability for courses and school-college partnership courses for 2016-17. "As more people use the service, they will come up with more ideas and we will do our best to meet those," he added.
Peter Graham, principal teacher for enterprise and transitions at Denny High School in Falkirk, was equally enthusiastic. "We have been able to use the data to see where our pupils are being successful and where they are not," he said. "This is helping in our discussions to look at how we may need to modify our senior phase options in order to help more young people progress to courses that they are currently not succeeding in."