New Blog: Supporting Students to Make an Effective Post-16 Transition
Written by Alps Educational Consultant, John Roe.
Effective transition planning can increase progression to further education and employment, dramatically increase retention figures on post-16 programmes and support student wellbeing. In this blog, John Roe shares practical tips that post-16 leaders can use to support them with this process.
- Careers Education
Placing students on courses and pathways where they can thrive and be successful is a key element of effective transition planning. When formulating transition plans, it is vital that post-16 and KS4 leadership teams work closely together to ensure that all students get appropriate advice and support. Pastoral teams in year 10 and 11 will often have the best knowledge of students’ personal strengths and qualities which is critical when advising students on potential pathways. Post-16 leaders will be able to offer specialist knowledge of post-16 courses as well as entry requirements for apprenticeships, further/higher education courses and school leavers programmes. Working together when planning a careers programme or transition activities can therefore be extremely beneficial.
Using the Gatsby Benchmarks as a framework when planning a programme of activities, can help to ensure that students develop knowledge of potential careers and the different post-16 options available to them. Careers advice and opportunities to engage with employers, colleges, training providers and universities is vital if students are to make the right choices. For some students, staying on at their school beyond year 11 to pursue sixth form courses will be the preferred option. For others, employment, or a fresh start either at a new sixth form or college may be more appealing and offer more appropriate pathways. Strong partnership work between post-16 providers and employers is therefore critical if students are to fully understand the range of options available to them.
Tutorial time and progression-focussed assemblies can provide excellent opportunities for students to receive careers education and guidance. Holding careers events within school can also be a fantastic way of engaging and informing students of different pathways. Careers talks where speakers discuss their career and education pathway can be excellent at informing and motivating students. In my experience these tend to work best with small groups of students who are interested in specific careers, however assemblies and tutorial time can also be used for these. Careers carousels involving a range of volunteers from different employment sectors can also be a wonderful way of engaging students. During these, students speak to a volunteer for 5-10 minutes either individually or in small groups about their job or career. At the end of this period, they move on to a different volunteer allowing them to learn about a range of careers during the duration of an event. Careers fairs where students can engage with employers and post-16 providers in one space can also be an excellent way of raising awareness of different pathways and options.
A key feature of the Gatsby benchmarks is that all teachers should link curriculum learning with careers education. When working as a post-16 leader, I found ‘The Ladder: Supporting students towards successful futures and confident career choices’ by Andrew Bernard to be a fantastic resource. The book is full of great ideas and engaging materials that teachers can use to inspire students. It also offers practical tips to help teachers link their subject area to career opportunities as well as advice on how to form strong links to local businesses and external organisations which can enhance your careers provision.
- Options Advice
For those students who have decided to study with you for their post-16 education, supporting them to make informed option choices can often be the key to successful outcomes. It is important when advising students to ensure that courses complement their strengths and skills and fit in with any career plans that they may have for the future.
Options evenings where students get to discuss potential courses with subject leaders are an excellent starting point for many students. However, from my experience, these become more effective at guiding students when they take place in conjunction with progression meetings. Many students and parents will appreciate the opportunity to talk through possible options choices with staff and therefore progression meetings held before students finalise options choices can be extremely beneficial. During these meetings, it is essential that staff have access to predicted grades so they can be used when discussing the suitability of different courses. When working as a post-16 leader, I also found it useful to work out average GCSE points scores for students based on teacher predictions. From this I was able to share with students what their Alps MEGs (Minimum Expected Grades) would be on starting year 12 if they achieved these. This information was particularly helpful to students when finalising options choices and when deciding between A-levels or alternative post-16 courses.
When working as a post-16 leader, I also found it useful to involve current year 12 and 13 students in the options process. Sixth form students would act as guides at our options evenings, and this provided good opportunities for them to share with year 11 students their experiences of studying different courses and post-16 study in general. Alongside videos made by our subject leaders, which gave an overview of the different courses on offer, we also invited current sixth formers to make a series of vlogs to support year 11’s with their options choices. In these, sixth formers shared their experiences of the options process and the factors that influenced their course decisions. They also discussed their sixth form experience and the differences between post-16 and KS4 study. Year 11 students told us that they found these vlogs extremely beneficial not only when making option choices but also during their first few months at sixth form when making the transition from KS4. It was also excellent for bringing students together from different year groups and encouraging them to mix and form friendships outside of their usual peer groups.
When choosing post-16 courses, it is important that students pick subjects that they are good at and enjoy. This might sound obvious but when working as a post-16 leader, I would often encounter students who would choose subjects that they struggled with at GCSE, just because they felt it was essential for a particular career pathway. Some students will excel in exam-based subjects, while for others picking a combination of subjects that have a balance of assignment and examination-based assessments will be the best option for managing workload. Encouraging students to research courses thoroughly using prospectuses, exam specifications and through conversations with teaching staff before making any decisions is therefore vital. Post-16 taster sessions run by departments that year 11 students can attend prior to finalising option choices can also support both their decision-making and the transition process.
- Transition Programmes
Making the jump from year 11 to sixth form or college is not always easy. A successful transition will require students to develop both existing and new skills. An effective programme should therefore target the development of skills such as communication, critical thinking, time-management, organisation, and teamwork. It is also important to support students with study skills such as note-taking, essay writing, research, academic referencing, and revision.
Many students will struggle with both the increased workload and course content at KS5. Some students may need extra support to organise their class and revision notes and modelling effective organisation of these in tutor periods and subject lessons can be hugely beneficial. Students will also find that they have a greater amount of ‘free’ time in which to complete set tasks and independent study. This can be difficult for some students to manage effectively and for many students it can be tempting to fill this time with less productive activities.
When planning a transition programme, it is essential to find out as much information about your new cohort as you can. Effective communication between KS4 and post-16 teams prior to students starting in September can support planning and the transition process. Identifying students early who might find the transition from KS4 challenging can be crucial to the success of any programme. It is also essential post-16 teams are aware of students who may need additional wellbeing or academic support, so this can be put in place prior to them starting their courses. Some students may work better in friendship groups, while for others the oppositive may be true. Information gathered from KS4 teams can therefore be incredibly valuable when constructing tutor groups and when working with subject teachers in the first few weeks of term.
Forming strong links with other local schools and post-16 providers can support the transition process, especially if students have changed provider for post-16 study. Sharing information that can support students’ wellbeing and academic progress can help new students to settle quickly and hit the ground running. Strong partnership work between providers can also broaden and enhance the curriculum available to students.
- Tracking and Monitoring Student Progress
Effective tracking and monitoring of student progress is a key part of a strong post-16 transition programme. During my time as a post-16 leader, I found Alps Connect invaluable when evaluating outcomes and identifying priorities. When analysing in-year monitoring data, the Student Analysis Overview section of Alps Connect enabled me to quickly identify students who were underachieving as I was able to measure progress against both Alps Minimum Expected Grades (MEGs) and Personalised Targets.
When coordinating student interventions, I found the Student Performance Group comparison tool incredibly powerful, as it broke down cohorts into groups of students who were above or below target in any or all subjects. If students were underachieving in just one subject, departments would take the lead in informing parents and putting in place appropriate intervention strategies. If underachievement existed in multiple subjects, we felt it more appropriate for the sixth form team to take the lead, communicating with students and parents and working with individual departments, form tutors etc. to develop appropriate strategies.
Within the different sections of Alps Connect, users can add comparison groups to allow them to compare the progress of different student groups (i.e., by gender, disadvantaged/non-disadvantaged, SEND, ethnicity, previous prior attainment etc.) providing a powerful insight into student progress. It is also possible within the Connect platform to upload Custom Comparison groups. For example, you may want to analyse the progress of students who are new to your sixth form or investigate the impact poor attendance is having on your value-added outcomes.
Involving post-16 tutors in the tracking and monitoring of student progress is also incredibly beneficial, making interventions at a student level much more manageable and effective. Focussed tutor interviews with students can help to identify reasons for underachievement and can enable students to get the academic and pastoral support they may need quickly to turn this around.
I hope you have found the tips in this blog useful and that they help you when supporting students to make an effective post-16 transition.
About John Roe:
John has worked in education for 22 years as a science teacher, head of department and pastoral lead. John is passionate about creating an aspirational culture and supporting students to achieve their full potential. Prior to joining Alps, John was Director of Radyr Sixth Form in Cardiff for 10 years, where he lead the transformation of the sixth form with student outcomes consistently matching the performance of the top 2% nationally.