It has been some years now since students on Study Programmes who don’t already have GCSE English or maths at grade C/4 or higher were required to continue to study these subjects.
Whilst we can all agree that we want to prepare our students for the best future they can possibly have, we are left with a challenge: if our colleagues in secondary education didn’t manage to help them over that hurdle, what chance do we have of motivating increasingly self-determining learners over it a year or so later? We do need to engage them enough to turn up regularly and to demonstrate progress (and I’m sure we’d all want them to achieve that pass, too).
We spend a lot of time visiting and talking to colleges, large and small, up and down the country and this is a recurring theme. From quirky posters on the back of cubicle doors to facts on the risers of staircases, we are all looking for ways to spark an interest in English and maths amongst our learners. We have picked up some tips on what has worked for some colleges. You may already have tried some of these but we hope that at least one pays off.
Reward and celebrate.
Some learners respond well to celebratory events, certificates and prizes so monitoring and recognising exemplary attendance can be a motivator. The challenge for the college is perhaps to find a reward or celebration that is ‘cool’ enough to be aspiration, which won’t be the same for all learners. (We know of one college who trialled a posh ‘celebration’ afternoon tea in their catering restaurant, where students could invite two guests of their choice; it was received really well, and often by students you wouldn’t expect to want to go near it!).
Look at timetabling.
Putting English and maths lessons at the beginning or end of the day allows students to easily vote with their feet. However, timetabling them in the middle of the day, between lessons that they are actually choosing to attend, can help. It also means teaching staff have the opportunity to ‘guide’ or remind those needing to attend.
Make English and maths vocationally relevant.
Yes, we admit this is a particular challenge if you are faced with cross-curricular classes. However, we all know that we engage much better with anything if we can see the point of it. (I expect we all have stories like a former colleague, who regularly skived maths classes at school but using Pi to calculate the rotation of his lathe as an engineering apprentice, well, that wasn’t really maths, was it? He went on to be apprentice of the year at his provider.)
Show them a future without it.
This one can be a hard sell unless you are able to build a rapport with your learners but hearing how a lack of maths or English qualification can affect their future could be the ‘wake-up call’ that some need. Do your students understand that it may close some doors for them and make others much harder to open?
Have timely attendance data.
If you have an absence management system, such as eNotify, that can alert staff and attendance officers quickly, as a lesson is starting, it allows for a rapid response. Chasing those learners who are absent, and chasing them consistently, will drive up attendance. If you have a system that also alerts parents, for some, this will also be a disincentive to miss a class.
You’ve probably already seen the practical advice from colleagues on the AoC website but we include the link here, just in case you haven’t: https://www.aoc.co.uk/english-and-maths