case study seventeen: Waltham Forest College AP

Brief Description of The Provision

Waltham Forest College AP is based in and run by Waltham Forest FE College. This is housed in a large, grand, town-hall-type building in Waltham Forest, North East London. It runs two programmes for pre-16s and has space to cater for 60 young people, although when the research visit took place there were 46 young people on roll.

Content and teaching

The main programme is Vision 12. There are three tutor groups, with a maximum of 20 students in each tutor group, with a tutor and two support workers. The day begins at 9:45. The morning sessions lasts until midday when everyone has a lunch break. Staff run weekly projects, and the work for these takes place in the morning session.

Project example: The week of the research visit the young people were doing a project on London landmarks. Staff did preparatory work on Monday and Tuesday morning and then took the students out in three groups to see some landmarks in central London. Staff told us this was a good opportunity to ‘take them out of their comfort zone’ and to show young people who live in East London how easy it is to get to central London and how safe it is to wander around. The students spent the rest of the week creating work around the landmarks. e.g developing marketing material for one of the landmarks. Literacy, numeracy and ICT are embedded in all projects. The college head of quality said that this kind of skills embedding was being done very successfully.

Researcher field notes.

Every week young people do a different project for an entire week. The advantage of this is that if a new student joins they can easily slot into the programme and will not be at a disadvantage or have to catch-up with work they have missed.

Staff use the projects to work towards a qualification, the Edexcel level 1 in Personal and Social Development. The aim is to get all students this award. The award can be done at different levels- an award (6 credits), a certificate (11 credits) or a diploma (37 credits). There are no exams; it is all based on the weekly project work.

The sessions are academic and classroom-based in the morning. Students are in the same classroom with the same tutor and same support workers every morning. This provides consistency and young people cannot claim that they don’t know where there lesson is. Sometimes people change groups if this is seen to be beneficial for learning.

In the afternoon students are offered a range of vocational options, which change over time. When the research took place students were doing the following on various days:

  • Attending a local YMCA gym
  • Doing activities at a sports complex at The University of London
  • Performing arts
  • Outdoor pursuits
  • Off-site football sessions
  • On-site food technology which are “really popular and the secret for that is that the students turn up and they are given the ingredients and a recipe and they spend a two hour session cooking and walk away with a product and they can eat it. So it is easy to see an outcome” (programme staff).
  • Bike repair (taught by a member of the staff team)

In the past staff have provided beauty and fashion courses too

  • The provision has a football team and they play in an AP league
  • They attended karate lessons at a local university
  • A visit to the Olympic park and tickets to the para-Olympics
  • Work with a charity called mybank where the young people were given £40 to build a business in one week.
  • The provision has linked up with The Challenge, which is a national citizens service
  • One of the students was selected to be mentored by an Olympian
  • The provision have had a pop up shop
  • St John’s ambulance came in to do a session
  • The young people had a tour of Leyton Orient Football Club
  • They did a residential at Landbourne End (described in the newsletter)
  • The young people had a trip to Brixton prison to meet prisoners on a programme to encourage young people to stay away from crime.

Previous activities: researcher notes, school documents

The programme offers have to be flexible. Some courses work better than others, we were told, and this varies from one year to the next. Staff carefully track engagement levels in these vocational offers and change them if they feel that students are disengaged.

In 2014 staff introduced an hour of English and hour of Maths on a Wednesday afternoon. This was really successful and has resulted in the young people working towards Entry Level 3 English and Maths qualifications. The students took this very seriously. On Friday the students finish at midday.

Waltham Forest’s aim is to ensure that learning is taking place all of the time, and staff take a view that learning is not just about pen and paper in the classroom. For example, a lot of learning was embedded on the trip to London, but learning of a different kind – using a travel card and planning a journey across London, using maps, following signs and behaving in public. Staff see this type of learning as being essential for these young people

The other programme is called Stepping up.

This is where young people, who are thought to be able to cope/be more mature, are moved straight onto an introductory post-16 course in the college. This enables them to blend in with the post-16 students. It works well when young people start in September, but is difficult if they start late. Young people are given extra support to access these courses.

Identifying Features of Quality

Mission/aims/purpose

The aim of the provision is to provide a positive end to compulsory education in order to encourage young people to continue in education and training at post-16, and to reduce the likelihood of them becoming NEET. Karl (senior member of staff) emphasised that they have worked really hard to establish a consistent ethos and way of running the programs.

From the very beginning staff make it clear to the young people that they will not be studying for GCSEs during the year. It is possible for the young people to go on to do this at the college once they are in year 12. The year is about them getting used to school and learning, reengaging and getting into a position where they can do GCSEs if they want to.

Staff use the themes of stretch and challenge; this is what they want to see in lessons. Staff want to check that the young people who are academically able are sufficiently stretched in the provision.

Target Group

Young people attending the provision have either been excluded from school, at risk of exclusion or have had very poor attendance.

Recruiting

Staff try to get to know potential new employees before they recruit them by offering trial periods. Potential new staff come in and observe first, then they support, and then they teach with support. Karl (senior member of staff) is involved with the interviews, but the job descriptions are written by the college.

Staff

Karl is a senior member of staff. He has a post-graduate certificate in further education teaching.   He is responsible for planning the curriculum, for writing the annual evaluation reports on the provision and reviewing this as part of the quality assurance process.

There are a team of well-established, permanent staff who work on the Vision 12 program. Karl (senior member of staff) described the team as “a very solid staffing”. Tutors take the level 5 teacher training diploma, which is a way into teaching in a FE setting. An expectation would be that all tutors either have this certificate or are working towards it. This can be provided at no cost via the college, paid for from the AP budget. The provision has 5 support workers who are contracted for 18 hours a week. Waltham Forest are in the process of setting up job criteria for support assistants as the existing criteria don’t quite work for them. Their learning support assistants go above and beyond their job description. Support staff are offered the chance to do the Preparing to Teach in the Life Long Learning Sector PTLLS[1] course, also be paid for from the AP budget.

Staff can access central training and professional development in the college and a network of events at the borough level, via Waltham Forest post-16 training.

We were told that the team trust and support one another, and get on well. Staff socialise together. Many had difficulties when they were at school so they can empathise with the learners. Staff have a consistent, joined-up approach and support one another on decisions:

the other thing that is really important is that if someone makes a decision then everybody else in the team supports that decision. So if someone decides a student should be sent home they will be sent home and if someone else on the staff doesn’t agree with that then we’ll talk about that later. So you can’t kind of undermine someone’s decision making or authority. So we are united but not united in order to protect the staff but united to impose boundaries consistently” (Karl, senior member of staff).

The students finish at midday on Friday, and the staff stay on in the afternoon to meet, plan, review, and undertake further training.

Communication

There is a staff briefing at 9:15 every day, where staff go through anything that might be happening in the day. This meeting is seen as vital for sharing information and ensuring a consistent, shared and firm line.

Safety and Safeguarding

There are security staff at the college and all students are expected to wear identification badges, and will be challenged if they are not. Visitors sign in at reception.

The AP provision has provided missing booster injections[2] to students where necessary. They try to ensure that things like this are not missed because the young people are not in mainstream school.

Rules and Discipline

Swearing is challenged on the basis that ‘it is not a professional way to conduct yourself’.

Monitoring of progress

Staff undertake a diagnostic assessment of each young person when they first come in. An Individual Learning Plan is generated, and this is looked at as pat of the overall quality assessment of the provision.

Inclusion

In 2014 when we visited the ratio of boys to girls was 3:1, but the number of girls is increasing.

The project-based curriculum and delivery is designed to be inclusive. It caters for rolling enrolments: if a new student arrives they are not ‘behind’, and can slot straight into the work programme with their peers. This is important as the provision does get referrals throughout the year. It is also important for what Karl calls “dodge students”. These are chronic non-attenders:

someone is paying for a place for them because they need to be educated but they [the pupils] are not turning up but if they do turn up they are not, like, six months behind and they can just drop in and start afresh” (Karl, senior member of staff).

Transitions

Most of the young people are from Waltham Forest Borough, but the provision does take young people from other boroughs. They also receive referrals from five or six schools, who refer directly as and when needed. Staff try to get the young people in as soon as they are referred in light of the 5 day exclusion rule. In other cases, the school may pre-empt exclusion when things are not going well and plan the placement in advance to begin at the start of the new academic year. Twenty of the 2013-2014 cohort started in September and another 26 started in January.

In all cases the young people visit with a parent/carer, have an interview and be invited to make a decision whether to attend or not. All staff are involved in the interview and induction process, so the young person will have met several members of staff before they begin, which Karl (senior member of staff) thinks is important. Different staff have different experiences and ways of working with students, so this is valuable.

Staff use an interview proforma. The aim is to make this quite personal in order to build up a detailed picture of the young person’s context. They seek the following information:

  • Medical information, contact details, living arrangements, travel arrangements and lifestyle.
  • Information about any external agencies the young person has involvement with
  • An opportunity to say which of the Vision 12 subjects and activities they would be interested in doing.
  • Questions about their education: are they still in school, what were their experiences of school, favourite subject, extra activities, any problems in school, how spend lunch time, did they have a mentor and how did they feel about this, what do they want to do once they have finished school?
  • Questions about how they feel about not sitting GCSEs

Other, more personal questions at interview include:

  • What time to you go to bed on week nights?
  • What is the worst trip/holiday you have ever been on?
  • Name a country or place you would most like to visit? Why?
  • What is your favourite TV programme? Why?
  • Tell me something you have achieved/are proud of?
  • Name a friend or family member you respect? Why?

Waltham Forest do have a referral form but they find that these are often not filled in very thoroughly, and that different things come out during the interview that the school didn’t know or didn’t share with them.

Ideally the parent/carer is involved in the interview, but because the aim is to get the young person involved as quickly as possible sometimes staff have to go-ahead without the parent/carer, particularly in cases where they are too difficult to get hold of/cannot attend. Often someone from the school will attend the preliminary meeting as an advocate, as well as a parent/carer, and a representative from the LA.

The provision has a welcome video for young people which they were adapting for the 2014-2015 school year to make it more interactive.

New students tend to know someone who went there before. This can be useful as students often promote the success of the scheme to others.

If a student attends the provision in year 10, they will either move on the Stepping Up programme in year 11, or they will move tutor groups in the vision 12 programme.

In terms of transitions at post-16, the young people on Stepping Up are already engaging in post-16 level qualifications – this allows them to apply to continue with these in the college if they wish. Similarly, the young people from Vision 12 can apply for a college place. All students are interviewed as any other young person would be. Being housed in an FE college means that students are well-placed for transition onto college courses. About 50% stay on to the FE provision. The ex-students we consulted were both completing courses at the college and were clearly getting on well.

Staff run a lot of trips and excursions in order to get the young people ready for post-16 progression, in terms of their behaviour. They also support them with applications and interview preparation. Staff ran sessions in the last 2014 half term with mock interviews for the students:

they are going to come dressed smart and we’ll prep them up in one of the rooms and then send them down for mock interviews. And we’ve asked the Principal and a couple of Vice Principals to come and do those interviews” (Karl, senior member of staff).

Relationships with Students

The provision is small enough that staff get to know individual students well, and Karl values this and says he would not want to work in a provision where he did not know every learner.

Some of the learning situations create less hierarchical relationships between staff and pupils. For instance, one member of staff teaches the bike repair workshop, but he is learning alongside the students and has been very honest with the students about his lack of expertise, which has been successful in engaging them.

At the end of the 2013 year celebration event one of the students got up to speak and broke down in tears:

he was talking about how he was kicked out of school but we never gave up on him and that was his point – never give up – and he got a standing ovation from all the kids and the parents” (senior member of staff).

One of the expectations of the young people is that they try everything and give everything a go. Then if a young person decides they don’t want to do something, their decision will be respected because it is based on experience. Staff also stress the importance of communication to the students. Staff can only support the young people if they know they are having problems. Staff do not dwell on things; every day is treated as a fresh day. Staff emphasised the importance of sharing and celebrating success. They draw on the example of the previous year group; “a year ago there were another group of young people sat where you are sat and thinking what you are thinking but they made it through the year” (senior member of staff)

The student newsletter often illustrates the strong relationships between staff and students

The staff are a cool lot (well some of them), they try to keep a group of 36 14-16 under control. Although they might not succeed all the time they get paid whether we are here or not so it shows they care if they are always bothered to get involved. They constantly go out of their way to ensure all the students are on time, safe and happy; they push us towards success by telling us our good points and how we can work to improve” (newsletter written by the young people).

Young people’s views of staff also came out in the discussions with current and ex-students. The young people we spoke to were critical of the way that mainstream schools keep things on file, “never forget”, and “drag things up from the past”. The young people felt that labels stick in school, whereas Vision 12 provided them with a fresh start. The staff are “nice, caring and don’t give up” on them. They don’t punish them by compromising their ability to learn by sending them out of the lesson.

Relationship with parents

Staff invite parents/carers to events and encourage them to attend. The provision also has a presentation at the end of each academic year where they celebrate the students, and parents/carers are encouraged to attend this. Staff make phone calls home do a review with parents/carers within four weeks of the young person starting. Staff tend to find that there is a two week honeymoon period when the young people first arrive, where they are very well behaved. Then they begin to test boundaries, and at this point it can be useful to speak to the parents/carers and make sure that they are on side.

Staff make positive phone calls to parents/carers. This is particularly important when a young person first starts. Many parents/carers may not be used to receiving positive phone calls from school, so this strategy means staff often get more input from parents/carers in the long run because they have a better understanding of what staff and the school are trying to do.

Relationships between students

Some of the students know each other before they arrive, and in some cases a student has been informed of the provision by a friend who already attends.

Resources and Networks :

Karl (senior member of staff) keeps his ear to the ground to find out about opportunities for his students. He heard about a ‘free residential’ programme through a personal connection, and spread the word to the other APs in the LA.

Relationships with other Services and Agencies

The provision works with the following agencies:

  • 722 drug and alcohol support service
  • YOT
  • LA
  • Hawkswood Group.
  • Social Workers

Facilities

The provision is based in Waltham Forest College which is an impressive town hall-type building (next to the actual town hall). It has benefitted from a recent refurbishment. The alternative provision base is situated in one wing of the college building. The students on the Stepping Up pathway do some of their lessons in other parts of the college. All of the students are able to access the catering facilities and ‘chill out’ areas during their lunch break. The classrooms were clean, tidy and newly refurbished, with all of the necessary equipment such as interactive white boards and computers.

Staff have created a small outdoor gardening project.

They generally take advantage of outdoor spaces and equipment elsewhere in the borough.

Finances

The provision can house 60 young people, but when we visited had 46 students. The other spaces had been paid for but not filled. The majority of this money came via the Hawkswood group, who support the commissioning process. Some places are commissioned directly by schools.

Evaluation and Quality Assurance

Our discussion with the head of quality in the college focused on the quality procedures, which are similar to those in most FE colleges. These are used in the AP as is all other parts of the college. It is based on elements of self-evaluation and lesson observation. Joint lesson observations take place where both the head of quality and Karl (senior member of staff) provide a rating based on the quality of teaching and learning that the young people receive.

The provision feeds into the wider college cycles of self-assessment. Karl (senior member of staff) writes an annual report, based on OfSTED and College Criteria, about how good he thinks teaching and learning is, what the learning outcomes are, what leadership and management is like, and how he leads on safeguarding and equality and diversity. From this he provides an action plan and reviews this three times a year with a panel of senior staff with responsibility for quality assurance in the college, once when he has first written it, and twice more during the year.

Staff are also responsible for quality assuring the external providers that they use. Karl (senior member of staff) said that he will, and has, pulled people up if things are not being delivered as they should be. For instance, when the karate lessons began:

the guy who ran it was rough and ready and he saw the kind of students that I’d brought and he started playing up to them and I had a word with his boss later on and I said that this isn’t what we are here for; we’re here to learn discipline and we don’t want him to prove what a big man he is. And I had to have that conversation with him as well and it was a really difficult situation but it is important that we do that so we get what we want”(Karl, senior member of staff).

Transformation (Choice and autonomy)

Waltham Forest are keen to provide students with opportunities to grow.

  • The trip to the Olympics was seen as an opportunity to take the students out of their comfort zone.
  • There is a student representative each year who sits on the college council. The current rep takes a student to the meeting with him each time so that another young person gains experience too. This is an opportunity for young people to voice their views and concerns and to see if action can be taken to improve things for them.
  • Students are entered for external awards and competitions, for instance one student won the opportunity to be mentored by an Olympic athlete.
  • Students can get involved in wider aspects of the college, for instance modelling in the college fashion show

The newsletter editor is a student, and each of the students on the course has made a contribution to it. One of the aims of the newsletter is described in the editorial: “we tried to put some information in for new students that will be joining Vision 12 in September after we have left”. The newsletter is part of the legacy of a group of students, and it informs the induction for the next group of students to come through the programme. The newsletter provides opportunity for student voice and autonomy, and a chance for them to write about what is important to them.

[1] http://www.cityandguilds.com/qualifications-and-apprenticeships/learning/teaching/6302-preparing-to-teach-in-the-lifelong-learning-sector-ptlls#tab=information accessed 16/10/14

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/immunisations-at-secondary-school accessed 16/10/14

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