Arise Warrior Teachers of Guitar and Dj Skills!

I remember the sound of the heavy footsteps in the college corridor... It was my head of department. He’d just been given an earful of complaint by two colleagues regarding the attendance of a student on my level 3 Audio Production Course and was off to serve swift justice

“Get your bag….go!” was his usual style of removing the young men from the premises and the course.

I was around the corner from him and I heard him stomp closer and closer to where I was stood. Taking a deep breath..I stepped out, averted my eyes from his rage and held my hands in front of my face to deflect any blows!

“If you give him a chance..I can get him through this!” I spluttered..

The stomping stopped...

“Ok…If you’re confident?” came the gruff reply

I wasn’t, but I was prepared to give it a go.

Course leaders are under great pressure to build and maintain course attendance, retention and success rates as this has an impact on the Ofsted Report for the college as a whole.  If a student is missing classes, he or she will have a negative impact on the group attendance percentage especially if cohort numbers are low.

If the student leaves or is removed mid-way through the course this will improve attendance but impact upon retention and overall success rates for the course and the department. Courses suffering from low success rates are put on special measures and following this..things get very difficult for the teaching staff involved.

College tutors are given 6 weeks to establish who might have a negative impact on their course. If a student is removed before this curfew then they will not register on the statistics for the cohort…It’s as if they never existed.

For many course leaders and tutors, along with with a strict admissions policy, this is best option. Set a difficult initial assignment and remove the student if they’re looking like they wont make the grade, before they have a negative impact on the stats. This is done regardless of the challenges that the young person may have faced in the past and the day-to-day difficulties they currently experience.

Personally, I didn’t subscribe to this approach and I successfully fought to keep my students from the NEET register on many occasions. However, there was one time when I gave in. I was asked to remove some deadwood for the 'greater good' and I agreed.

As the young man entered the class..late…and sat down at his computer I asked him to shut it down and step outside with me. I explained the pressure that I was under and that due to his poor attendance he was being asked to leave the course. He thanked me for my help and exclaimed that he was always spoiling things for himself. I felt for that moment that I was stood at a crossroads with this young man and shepherded him to the left. 

Some weeks later, as I walked out of ASDA with the weekly big shop I caught sight of the local paper in the corner of my eye. I backed up my trolley and stared at the picture of the same young man on the front cover. Above his head it said  ”Murderer”

At the Youth Music funded Plugged In Project at Orford Youth Base, we’ve built strong ties with local colleges. The aim is to share our experiences of successfully engaging hard to reach young people with music activities with a view to enabling them to embed some of our techniques and attitudes into their own courses. What we haven’t managed to change as yet, however, is the management agenda.

I think that courses with ‘difficult’ students should receive extra support or at least those students should not be subject to the same retention and success expectations.  Had I been able to work with that young man on a reduced timetable, working towards different accreditation, with lower expectations.. would that have been the end of the world? I don't think so. Would it have kept him out of prison? I do think so.

As the 6 week curfew approaches, the NEET register in towns like Warrington grows steadily as more and more young people are pushed out to avoid the embarassment of special measures. If you’re a FE tutor reading this I’d encourage you to resist and be strong. If your manager pushes you..push them back. Some of these young people need more from you and you might be their last chance. 

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Sophie Appleby's picture

wow, thanks for sharing the story Steve, how very sad. What kind of persuasive tactics or arguments have you used when faced with senior management pressure to meet targets?'s picture

Hi Sophie,

For me it was about not worrying about being unpopular! I'm not a difficult person to work with but I found that I became quite 'spiky' in department meetings ,this time of year, when the conversation turned to 'getting rid'.

I never worked full time for any college so have always had other ways of supporting my family if things went wrong. I appreciate that many people don't have this kind of portfolio career and feel more pressure at work. From my experience, people sometimes loose sight of why they got into teaching with all the other things they need to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

This week I spoke to a young man who is working with us on our Young Music Leaders project at Warrington Youth Cafe. He's just turned 18 and has recently become an expectant father. He's a seems to have a good head on his shoulders. He's committed to supporting his girlfriend, being there for his child and bettering himself at college in order to provide a safe future for his young family.

He's supporting his girlfriend by attending scans and meetings with midwives etc. However, this has resulted in him missing college on a few occasions. Because this particular course has not connected with the community which it serves, the enrolment numbers are very low and any member of the group missing classes has a dramatic affect on the attendance percentage for the course as a whole. I know that the course leader will be being bombarded with figures and stats and requests to 'remove the problem'.
They don't have the capacity or empathy to address this situation properly.
The young man has explained his situation but has been given his first formal warning. I'm sure they'll have him out before the 6 week curfew so that the pestering from above will stop.