Empowering students to explore different education pathways

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College staff works with school pupil to look at next step choices

By working closely with schools, Gower College is empowering 14-16 year olds to explore all education pathways available to them. The kick start programme offers students the chance to explore a variety of sectors before making a decision on further study, training or employment. The college’s links with schools is allowing them to break down the barrier to further education and higher level skills.

Number of pupils: 12,000 
Age range: 16+
Date of inspection: January 2018

Information about the school

Gower College Swansea is a further education college with over 4,000 full-time and 8,000 part-time learners from across Swansea and neighbouring counties.  The college employs approximately 1,000 staff.  It operates from six locations across the City and County of Swansea.  Swansea is the second largest city in Wales, with a mixed economy including engineering, retail and hospitality, health, leisure, tourism and university sectors.  Around a quarter of the college’s learners come from the most deprived areas, as characterised by the Welsh index of multiple deprivation. The college offers a curriculum from pre-entry to higher education level.  

The college has strong working relationships with local schools and around 300 14 to 16-year-olds attend a variety of programmes at the college each year gaining vocational qualifications from entry level to level 2.

Context and background to the effective or innovative practice

This case study relates to partnership working.  The work the college does with schools across the City and County of Swansea increases the breadth and quality of vocational choices available to 14 to 16-year-old pupils and supports their progression.

The college views it as vital that 14 to 16-year-olds have opportunities to explore thoroughly their post-16 options and find successful progression pathways.  Different approaches have been developed to meet the varying needs of 14-16 learners including the college’s ‘junior college’ and ‘kick start’ programmes.

Description of nature of strategy or activity

The junior college programmes are delivered in the college and provide a variety of pathways, including hair and beauty, engineering, motor vehicle, plumbing, digital technology and childcare. Learners achieve a level 1 qualification giving an introduction to further study at level 2 and beyond.

The kick start programme offers learners a chance to explore a variety of vocational sectors before they select a pathway for further study, training or employment.  This programme targets the most vulnerable learners who have been identified as ‘at risk of becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training)’.  The two year programme stretches and challenges them to strive for a Certificate in year 1 and an Extended Certificate qualification in year 2.  

The college works closely with schools and its own learners to break down perceived barriers to higher education and higher level skills, targeting groups that are under-represented in higher education, such as those from deprived areas and looked after children.  The college team delivers a programme of activities to around 1,000 primary, secondary and college learners each year. Activities include aspirational talks, study skills and revision workshops, Saturday and homework clubs, Year 12 summer university, and subject tasters and workshops.

The close working relationship between the schools and the college’s school team allows for the curriculum to be adapted to suit each school’s particular needs, from motor vehicle to forensics, media to construction.

Key factors of the success of the schools’ programme include:

• Consultation with the school and learning coach to design each course

• Support from college-based support worker to build relationships and gain trust

• Inclusion of a careers progression unit in every vocational course

• Progression support, assistance with selecting appropriate pathway at 16, completing application for college and support through the interview process

• Opportunities to try out courses of interest before applying

• ‘Keeping warm’ activities during the summer holiday

• Retention support through the work of support workers who monitor and support the identified pupils

What impact has this work had on provision and learners’ standards?

The combination of the three aspects of the schools’ programme has forged excellent partnership links with local schools encouraging progression to further education.  Seventy-one per cent of the school pupils who participated in junior college and kick start programmes progressed to Gower College Swansea in September 2017, with many others progressing onto schools’ sixth forms, other colleges or apprenticeships.  On the kick start programme, 26% of learners achieved a qualification higher than they had initially enrolled on.  This demonstrates the flexibility of the curriculum and the success of teaching in motivating and challenging learners to exceed expectations.

In addition to strong achievement and progression rates, learners experience increased confidence, self- esteem and improvement in behaviour and maturity.  These things are more difficult to measure but feedback from the schools and from pupils themselves confirm that the impact is very significant.  Similarly, feedback indicates that learners’ awareness of progression routes is significantly improved.  This motivates them and greatly enhances the chances of them making good choices.  

Link: https://www.gcs.ac.uk/