From education to employment

Exclusive – Joanna Gaukroger

“Like so many other urban areas in the UK, Tower Hamlets has its concentration of poor quality housing, overcrowded living conditions, low incomes, poor economic activity, street crime and family breakdown. You name it, we”ve got it. However, modern transport means that Canary Wharf and the City of London are close by, and there is exceptional long-term potential for those who study to level 4″.

Explaining the key to Tower Hamlets” success as a “relentless focus on improving learning and achievement”, she outlined some of the key initiatives the college has implemented in achieving this goal: “Subject workshops ““ separate sessions in which students can obtain subject-specific help in their subjects; Queen Mary College mentors ““ teams of undergraduates attend the workshops to improve achievements and act as role models”.

“Also, Aim Higher activities ““ Saturday schools, master-classes, careers workshops, study visits (for example we have done Kenya and New York in the past few years), career-focused links with local employers; Peer tutoring and E-mentoring”.

“We have good links with employers. We run “employability” courses as part of enrichment for our 16-18 year olds, and within specific programmes for unemployed residents. Employers tell us they want staff who are positive about change, good team players and who have the right blend of social skills and attitudes ““ and these courses concentrate on giving students these skills”.

“Our BTEC National Business and Finance students are part of the Career Academy scheme ““ which involves paid summer placements with large financial services employers. Students find this highly motivating and a real raiser of their aspirations; employers understand that social disadvantage does not mean that our students aren”t innovative, competitive and intelligent”.

And feedback from students has been positive: “It’s ok to work hard and to want to do well”, explains one. “Do well, and the sky’s the limit.”

Joanna continued: “What we”d really like is for the Learning and Skills Council to commit to a programme of longitudinal tracking ““ this would help the whole sector develop strong networks of alumni and raising the status of FE colleges through demonstrating their value”.

Detailing the methods employed by lecturers into motivating the students to achieve, she explained: “Focus on feedback and planning learning ““ ILPs, reports, assessment for learning; balancing the teaching of skills alongside direct knowledge; variety in classroom teaching ““ using ILT, active learning, checking for learning, and short term targets to boost performance ““ presentations, seminars, reports, displays”.

And addressing the recent debate on FE News regarding academic and vocational skills [linked below], she added: “I think it’s very difficult to compare academic and vocational qualifications ““ their merit lies in their difference not their similarity. It is quite possible to develop strong powers of analysis, logic, problem solving and argument through the right qualifications along either route”.

“Given that employers complain that students from the best academic institutions often lack the skills they need ““ it’s difficult to see why the academic route appears to be routinely held in such high esteem”.

And a message of support for other colleges: “Don”t listen to people who say you can”t do that here or this would never work for your students”.

“See all students as having huge potential. Focus on learning and success and accept no limits or boundaries to what you can encourage students to achieve”.

Vijay Pattni.

With thanks to Joanna Gaukroger for her time.

Related FE News articles:

“It’s All About Reputation Management” ““ 02/10/06

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