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Student engagement in colleges

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Student engagement in colleges

The new Ofsted inspection framework will grade Personal Development separately from behaviour and attitudes and their definition of Personal Development includes: enrichment, fundamental British values, careers guidance, health and well-being, citizenship, equality & diversity and preparation for next steps. These 7 stands can be grouped into 4 broad areas:

  • Careers guidance and preparation for progression / employment
  • Physical and mental health / well-being
  • Citizenship education, including equality and British Values
  • Enrichment or enhancement activities.

Ofsted’s review of the research underpinning the new framework also points to the benefits of an open institutional climate with opportunities for debate and discussion, where students’ views are taken seriously and where students feel connected.

Our recent AoC survey showed that there is strong support for Personal and Social Development (PSD) as an essential element of study programmes for all 16-19-year-old students. Typical responses included: 

“PSD is essential to educating, challenging and developing students, helping them to navigate the various challenges they will face…PSD is essential to help students develop as rounded citizens…PSD is essential to supporting learners, helping them to reach their potential, guiding them and enabling them to get the most from college…PSD is intrinsic to developing students and support progression…

PSD activities and events build a sense of community…”

Across the sector, colleges are offering a wide range of enrichment activities. Among the most mentioned in our survey were: careers and progression guidance, learning about British values, extremism, exploitation and staying safe, awareness days or months, educating about physical and sexual health, mental health and well-being, charity fundraising, citizenship education, sport, fitness, physical and mental health and well-being, student societies and opportunities for volunteering and Youth Social Action.

Enrichment activity can be loosely grouped under 7 themes and some of these overlap with PSD:

  • Citizenship, political literacy, leadership and advocacy
  • Creative and performing arts and cultural literacy
  • Language and literacy
  • Enterprise and economic literacy
  • Contributing to the community
  • Understanding the world, global issues and international links

Colleges are working with a wide range of partners to provide enrichment activities, but they have pointed out that the scope of this work is seriously limited by funding constraints. Comments included:

“PSD is vital but underfunded…Funding for this work is often squeezed due to other priorities – more is needed…Lack of funding has meant a significant reduction in enrichment activity…Explicit funding for PSD should be made available…”

AoC wants to support the development of the PSD curriculum, to celebrate and share good practice and explore the potential for partnership work to address gaps in provision.

Student Voice or student engagement is already well embedded in the cultures and practices of most colleges and this includes: using student feedback from surveys to inform college policy, having at least one elected student governor on their corporation, having a student representative body and running regular focus groups to inform college policy.

However, many of the colleges surveyed pointed out that the scope of their student engagement work was limited by funding constraints: 

“The lack of funding means we will have to balance ambition with affordability…It is challenging to find enough resource…We need a funded entitlement…A drive to improve funding for student engagement is welcome…”

AoC will continue to make the case for investment in PSD and Student Engagement and has developed a Student Engagement Charter in partnership with the National Union of Students (NUS). Our survey shows that colleges overwhelmingly support this initiative and would welcome more support for this area of work.

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