Widening Participation and Student Support
Supporting Students to Improve Retention
The Attraction, Support and Retention Project
Connexions: a bridge for Widening Participation
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Connexions: a bridge for Widening Participation
The University has long been involved in training Careers officers and Guidance workers in schools. In the Department of Applied Community Studies we have also been training community workers and youth workers. This has brought us into contact with communities where there is little or no tradition of moving beyond formal schooling into Further or Higher education. Indeed in some communities, there seems to be a tendency to leave school even earlier than is intended! Now the government wants to make a determined effort to keep these young people in school, working to their full potential and moving on to further training and education which will fit them with the skills for locally needed jobs. One arm of this strategy is the introduction of Personal Advisers, who will work with every young person from 13 - 19 to draw up a learning plan and help to solve some of the pressing problems, which face so many of them. They will take a holistic approach to advice, and work together with other agencies to ensure that no-one falls through the net. MMU has been commissioned to train some of them.
The new service is called Connexions. Every area of the country will have a Connexions strategy and the training for some of the Personal Advisers will be carried out by a team of staff drawn from ACS. But we see this work as much more than just a training package to re-orientate two groups of professionals. We see it as a strand of the university's widening participation strategy.
Geoff Layer's article, Horses for Courses, in The Times Higher 25th Jan , talks about the need for more successful role models from the targeted communities and the importance of recognising learning through work-related and part time study. One government initiative he did not mention in this respect is the Connexions Service. The new service aims to link up advice and support agencies in order to ensure that all young people, particularly those at risk of falling through the education and welfare nets, are kept within the education system.and given the skills to find employment. So, how can the training of PAs make a difference to the scope of Widening Participation?
Who will be these generic, young people-centred Personal Advisers? Where will they be trained? It is the DfES intention to give all of them the same professional training. Professionals from careers guidance, the youth services, health promotion and advice, mental health services, probation and sport: all will come together to undertake a nine month work-based Diploma. It will be delivered at degree level. After the first wave of graduates coming forward to gain this extra Diploma, the Regional training Co-ordinators will be looking for local people, often experienced volunteer advisers in community organisations, to join the Personal adviser teams. They too will be required to go through same multi-professional training process to gain the Diploma.
The courses are designed to bring people from diverse backgrounds together. The process of training together is intended to be a part of the breaking down of professional barriers and a step on the way of developing a new culture and set of protocols for respectful ways of working with young people and recognising their uniqueness and potential. One model for the delivery of these courses is to engage more proactively with colleagues in Further Education.
Many young people are likely to benefit greatly from a second chance to gain qualifications in a Further Education environment, when they failed to do so at school. But few professionally qualified specialist advisers have, in the past, known much about the workings of an FE college. Familiarity with FE procedures, and links with key people, need to be propagated. FE staff understand the transitions from Level 2 to level 3. Access staff know the confidence and skill required for their students to make the next step up into Higher Education.
This is where Connexions trainees can breach some walls. The location of their own work-based part-time course is important. It has to be accessible. It has to be non-threatening. It could be HE in FE! The model is not new. There are plenty of Year Zero programmes being delivered effectively in HE along with Certificate Year courses, which link directly into degree courses (see the article by Karen Moore). There is a long history of Linked Access. But to design the delivery of the Connexions Diploma with deliberate links to key FE staff and resources may be a new way of ensuring the alliances which Personal Advisers will need on behalf of their future clients. This will be true as much for graduate trainee PAs as to experienced advisers coming from the community sector.
The status of the Diploma as a degree level qualification is however important to the standing of the PA s, in relation to other colleagues to whom they may refer young service users. It will be important to have access to University Libraries and to on-line resources available to other undergraduate level students. So a clear link has to be maintained with the University, which validates and ensures the quality of the learning. Seminars and tutorials can be held in the university and the drawbridge between the two institutions can be kept down. FE tutors and learning support staff can be welcomed as colleagues in a joint endeavour. Personal Advisers will become familiar with each and extend that confidence and comfort to the young people they will work with.
Widening participation can, as Geoff Layer suggests, begin to tackle social inclusion. Partnerships for Progression recognises that the traditional barriers between FE and HE need to be breached. Bridges are only as sound as the quality of the relationships, which hold them together. Creative Connexions training can make a good contribution to this. We will work together across the FE and HE divide and make sure the PA s themselves aim higher and achieve to their potential. They are the role models for thousands to come.
Lydia Meryll. Head of Youth and Community Work and Connexions contract manager