At this time of year we know the exam results for last academic year and there is an opportunity to both celebrate the success of learners and to look at trends to help us plan for the future.
But however hard we interrogate the results, it is too late to have an impact on those learners who have left us.
Certainly, we can look ahead – anticipating that specific groups of learners are probably less likely to achieve and progress. However, in looking forward to the possible needs of groups, we must not neglect to respond to actual individual need as it presents itself.
Any learner could become at risk. This can be brought about by many factors – including changes in home life, family or work responsibilities, income, security, safety or health.
So what can we pay attention to, share, and act on while learners are with us?
Some obvious questions we can ask include:
- Does the learner have support needs?
- Are they receiving the support they need?
- What impact is this support having on their learning?
- Does the learner have access to the resources they need? This applies both inside school or college and outside and can range from a physical space, to text books and equipment.
- Does the learner have sufficient time to enable them to study?
- What are their family and work commitments and responsibilities and what is the impact on learning?
- Does the learner have sufficient self-organisation and time management skills to be able to balance their workloads?
- Does the learner sufficient confidence and ambition to do well? This includes the confidence to contribute in class, to work effectively with others, ask for help when they need it, and challenge themselves and others to do better.
- At what level of independence or autonomy is the learner operating and does this match what is required?
- Are the learner’s patterns of punctuality or attendance indicating any issues with specific aspects of the course or programme?
- Does the learner have any health issues and how will these impact on learning?
- Does the learner have a safe and secure home environment?
- Does the learner have any skills gaps which may prove a barrier to learning?
- Is the learner sufficiently challenged and is this challenge appropriately paced and delivered?
Apart from the quantifiable indicators that learners may be struggling – such as attendance, punctuality, quality of work, meeting deadlines, grades, and progress – there are also less tangible indicators.
Some other things that we can look out for include:
- Lack of contribution in class and general disengagement from others
- Mood changes and unpredictable behaviour
- Difficulty in expressing opinions or points of view
- Lack of concentration or poor memory
- A negative attitude towards the subject or specific activities
- Avoiding tests or assessments
- Not having necessary books, equipment or taking advantage of visits or extra-curricula activity
- Not asking for help when required
These behaviours will be familiar to most teachers but the key challenges for professionals is to move beyond noticing this behaviour to early intervention to enable learners to progress and succeed.
Staff need to be confident in:
- identifying the underlying issue affecting learning
- taking early action to assist learners in addressing this issue
- advising learners on the resources and specialist support that is available to them
- where appropriate, providing support and challenge to learners
- working with other agencies, carers and families as required
The organisation needs to:
- provide appropriate resources to support learners at risk
- put in place systems that enable the timely sharing of information between staff on the needs of learners, the range of interventions provided and a review of the impact of intervention
- identify clear roles and responsibilities for all staff
- ensure consistent responses and follow up
- ensure curriculum flexibility to enable learners to change their learning programme if required
- establish systems, policies and support for staff to work with other agencies, carers and families as required
All this requires a culture which values early intervention and takes a holistic view of learning and the learner. It enables us to move beyond looking at results to recognising the challenges and rewards of learning, the value we bring to individuals, and what it really takes to be successful.
Sonia has been involved in education for over 20 years. She began her career as a teacher, and then moved into a range of middle and senior management positions in London colleges and then on to cross-borough strategic roles, including working for two local authorities.
Her responsibilities have included curriculum development, strategies to raise achievement and retention, learner support, and developing whole-institution systems and processes for tutorial, enrichment and one-to-one support. Sonia can provide organisations with briefings, workshops and a range of other forms of support to organisations to support them in effective intervention and support strategies, and tutorial review at post-16 level. Please contact us for more information.