Jade Murden is a Senior Lecturer in Education Studies and Liz Atkins is Professor of Vocational Education and Social Justice at University of Derby

#ALevelResults day is widely covered by the mainstream media. However, little attention is paid to those young people receiving the results of their Vocational Qualifications (VQs) and hoping to progress to university. It is important to consider the needs and characteristics of these students: more young people take VQs than A-levels each academic year, predominantly in colleges of Further Education (FE).

The route to higher education will have been less straightforward than A-levels for many of these young people – some will come from areas with limited access to school sixth forms, or will just have wanted a different learning experience to that they had in school. Others will have received disappointing GCSE results and spent an additional year or so in further education before beginning a two-year level three programme, so they will be older – and more mature – than their peers moving to university, and this may have implications for them making the transition. The same is true for those young people who have returned to further education after a period of time out of education.

Further education is acknowledged to be heavily classed, catering largely for young people from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds (for example, see research by Colley, 2006; Atkins, 2009;2017). This, and their vocational background, means that many students will fall into the widening participation cohort – they are likely to be the first in their family to enter higher education, and may face challenges such as financial concerns.

These issues may seem to set new students from FE at a disadvantage, and yet many of the requirements of VQs serve as a good preparation for higher education. For example, many VQs are mainly continuously assessed and much of that assessment relies on coursework which has to be done independently. This is an excellent foundation for university, where students are expected to be progressively more independent in their learning as they work towards their degree.

One of the challenges for university lecturers is that VQs are designed around specific occupational areas, and many involve work placements. This means that Vocationally Qualified students may well begin a professional degree programme with established understanding of some of the foundational subjects, as well as insight into the demands and expectations of the profession. A-level students are less likely to have that occupational knowledge and experience, so early teaching requires a degree of differentiation that acknowledges the experiences of Vocationally Qualified students.

On the flipside, one of the first challenges for all new students is Freshers’ Week, which is actually a fortnight at some universities and provides the opportunity to get to know other students and staff. This year, with the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Freshers’ Week, for some, will be especially daunting, with students wondering how they might get to know people when traditional ‘Freshers’ activities will be impacted by social distancing.

Our advice is not to worry – university staff have been working throughout the pandemic to make sure that new students have the best possible social and learning experience. There will still be many opportunities to socialise and get to know other people, and clubs and societies will be recruiting new members.

We’d recommend new students follow these five top tips, designed to help them get off to flying start as they begin their university experience.

1. Treat feedback as a gift

At college you may have completed portfolio work, sat exams or had to prove competencies for an employer. Universities also utilise a range of assessment, some may be familiar, such as presentations, while others may be less so, for example, academic posters. Regardless of the type of assessment, our number one tip is to engage fully with the feedback you receive. Your feedback is personal and will provide you with areas for growth. Take the time to read it, digest it and act upon it and you will reap the rewards (higher marks next time!)

2. Get to know your library

Covid-19 has forced the world to work differently and education has had to adapt and move more content online. Navigating the online world will be particularly important this year and a great place to start is the university library. Your university library is much more than a place which houses books, it is the hub of the campus, designed with students in mind with expert librarians who are happy to support. Although your physical access may be different this year, we recommend that you explore the online platforms available to you. There will be study guides, online workshops and links to student services. Locate the sources in your module handbooks, find out how to make notes on e-books and build your own virtual bookcase.

3. Create a study timetable that works for you

FE provides an excellent environment for you to develop your independence and become an autonomous learner, as it offers more freedom than school. Use this experience to reflect on how you work best and create your own study timetable for university. You will be expected to complete pre-lecture activities and prepare for seminars alongside planning and creating your assessments, so organisation is crucial.

4. Independent working does not mean isolated learning

Do not underestimate the power of being in a study group or joining an academic society. Having the space to explore concepts and share new ideas is an exciting part of university life. Discussion and debate help to drive ideas forward and being around people who have different perspectives can really help you sharpen your line of argument. It doesn’t matter if the group meet at the university bar, in a study room or an online forum, the key is to share ideas, cement your understanding and inspire your work.

5. Keep connected to the things you love

HE is the perfect place to continue with the things you loved doing on your FE course. Many universities aim to create an excellent ‘student experience’. This includes state-of-the-art fitness centres, access to the top technology, trips which embrace the arts, culture and the outdoors. There are societies created for students, some are academic, other are purely social, so try new things, have fun, immerse yourself in student life and embrace being a student.

Jade Murden is a Senior Lecturer in Education Studies and Liz Atkins is Professor of Vocational Education and Social Justice at University of Derby


Both have extensive experience working in both further and higher education.


Atkins, L. 2009. Invisible Students, Impossible Dreams: experiencing vocational education 14-19. Stoke-on Trent: Trentham Books.
Atkins, L. 2016. “The Odyssey: School to Work Transitions, Serendipity and Position in the Field.” British Journal of Sociology of Education. 38, 5 pp 641-655 doi: 10.1080/01425692.2015.1131146
Colley, H. 2006. “Learning to Labour with Feeling: class, gender and emotion in childcare education and training.” Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood. 7 (1): 15-29. doi:10.2304/ciec.2006.7.1.15

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

AELP Webinar Team added a new event 4 hours

Good Strategy, Bad Strategy

Overview Rumelt lays bare an uncomfortable truth: Most companies have strategies that are quixotic, muddled, and undifferentiated. This is hardly...

  • Tuesday, 03 August 2021 10:00 AM
  • Online

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page