Three ways colleges can support Year 13s this year

The future may be uncertain for all of us – but for Year 13s who will progress from FE next summer, it's more precarious than most. Alfie Payne sets out how to best support those students

Alfie Payne

Student support: three ways to help Year 13s navigate this year

The future is exciting. And unnerving. And unpredictable.

Sure, some things are certain: I will turn 18 in November; I will finish my FE journey next summer; I will walk the dog later.

But lots of things aren’t – will I progress onto HE? Or find an apprenticeship? Or will I take the leap and enter the industry as a freelancer? It feels like just last week that I was looking at college courses, writing a personal statement and prepping for interviews, and here I am doing it all again. Change excites me, and I embraced the move to college with open arms.

News: Tes FE Awards 2020 to be hosted online this October

More: What is it like for students to be back in class?

Opinion: What should colleges focus on in the coming months?

My friends and I admit though that this time around, we’re struggling in the shadow of Covid-19 and its rippling effects. It’s difficult for us to know what the "right thing" to do is, let alone how to go about doing it. Nothing feels normal.

But it does not have to be all doom-and-gloom. Here are three ways I think tutors and lecturers can support Year 13s during this tricky decision-making and planning time.

Overcommunicate with your students (but don’t be patronising)

I’ve heard it from secondary school students, I’ve heard it from resit friends, and I feel it myself. Our biggest frustration with the government’s handling of the pandemic has been the lack of clear communication and guidance being issued. Especially lately. It has led to uncertainty, panic, and had a huge impact on our mental health – we have been kept in the dark.

So, as much as you can, tell us everything – the simple, mundane stuff. Keep us in the loop: we will really appreciate it and find it reassuring. We’ve got two assignments being set next week? Thanks for the heads up, it lets us plan our to-do lists better. You’re going to have to cancel a lesson on Friday? No problem – my friends and I can go grab lunch together to kickstart the weekend. Clear deadlines, expectations, and updates are really helpful, even if you don’t realise it.

Linked to this, please do not withhold information from us because you think it’s in our best interest (obviously unless it really is in our best interest and rules say you can’t share it). But we are all young adults, capable of handling the knowledge that someone in the college has tested positive for the virus.

Remind us that whatever we do, it’ll work out OK

The simple fact that I thought to include this means that – deep down – I know it for myself. But sometimes, hearing it from experienced adults can make the world of difference – or, in the lingo of the young person, it "hits different". Remind us of your backstory, of the time that you changed your degree a few weeks before enrolment, that you too didn’t know what you wanted to do. We all know that thanks to your support, we will be OK. We just need you to remind us that’s so.

Continue being there for us, and we’ll be there for you

It is taking time for us to readjust to being back in the classroom, learning all the new procedures and adapting our learning/your teaching techniques. When I sat down in a classroom earlier this month, it was the first time since March that I’d spent so long with so many people in one place. It was so draining but simultaneously, it was amazing.

I won’t forget one of the first sentences my teacher said – “I feel so emotional – so happy – to see everyone back. This is what teaching should be.” But we can’t lose sight of the fact we are returning following a closure forced by a pandemic – a pandemic that is still just as strong as it was back in March. Everyone has been through a mentally tricky time, and we need those support networks more-so than ever. Especially now we are trying to think about the future. Taking the time to have tutorials, to be ‘human’ with us and engage, and to show an interest in us as people is something we have never appreciated more.

The messaging from Westminster has this week has been clear: the next six months are going to be tricky. Who knows what could happen to FE during periods of local lockdowns, or wider measures – although it’s fair to say everyone needs and wants them to stay open. But that will not prevent the inevitable – needing to progress on from FE.

The future is exciting, yes, but it is important we stay in command as much as we can. Even if we cannot control the virus, we can control our futures – and with your tender loving care and support, the virus will not stop us from achieving our goals. That, to me, is something to hold on to in these turbulent times.

Alfie Payne is a media student from Hampshire

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