Keeping the rain off

Keeping the rain off
Date6th Dec 2021AuthorSandra McManusCategoriesStudent Life

You might think the title of this Blog refers to the weather in the North West of England. In reality, it’s just an analogy for the methods and processes that we employ to develop the essential life and study skills that our learners need whilst they study with us and to support their seamless transition onto their next steps in life. 

This Blog therefore aims to explain and highlight some key of the reasons as to why we believe that our students leave the Sixth Form Bolton as well-rounded individuals.  They can cope with their next steps and have a range of life skills to help ‘keep the rain off’ when it does fall.

I believe as a College that we take the exact same approach with our curriculum provision and our pastoral care. It is this consistent and collaborative approach that we have sought to develop fully, sharing best practice across our entire offer. The variety of approaches used by staff to build the personal skillsets of learners can be represented visually by an umbrella – one each for curriculum and pastoral.

The image below shows the ‘curriculum umbrella’. Some of the tools or ‘spines’ in the umbrella are specific programmes or ways of thinking, like VESPA, that your college may or may not be familiar with, while others are skills that can be built via a number of approaches, like self-leadership. 

Picture 1

Many of our students are from deprived backgrounds so lack many of the opportunities they deserve to support their own social mobility. To use the words of the moment, in order to ‘level up’ across our cohort, we have to begin with the basics.  As all other providers are aware, the impact of lost learning though the pandemic has been immense.  Whilst our second-year students had full timetable delivery, albeit remotely or with periods of blended delivery, the reality is that their learning has been disrupted. Year one learners, meanwhile, definitely show greater disadvantage from their varied experiences and disruption in schools. Their knowledge and skills are not where they or we would like them to be, but they are working really hard and are very grateful to be receiving face to face education. 

We have just undertaken a ‘focus week’, dipping into lessons to explore the theme of ‘systems’. What is very clear is that students value the broader systems in place across the college and those their teachers embed as part of their teaching. These include systems around basic behaviours but also systems designed to support metacognitive development and self-regulation, confidence in making connections, and recasting information in their own words, for example. What is also apparent is the willingness of students to develop their own systems and practice to support their personal development. This has been a very heartening experience and suggests we are travelling in the right direction.

In terms of ‘keeping the rain off’, our ‘double umbrella’ approach helps to level up experiences, skills, and knowledge in a combined effort from our curriculum and pastoral teams. The image below again shows some of the offer that our pastoral provision makes which keeps our learners on the right trajectory and supports them when they falter.

Picture 1

Our learners are constantly building and refining skill areas that will enable them to leave us with excellent qualifications and the benefits from a personalised development process.  Whilst our ‘brollies’ give an indication of just some of our strategies, the reality is that we have a number of well thought out approaches and policies that engage our learners fully in their own personal journey.

We gauge that we are on the right track with our thinking and provision by how resilient our learners are when some form of adversity emerges.  Covid-19 is the obvious one, but so too was a significant cyber attack on the college 15 months ago that meant staff and students lost everything. The resilience of our college community has been outstanding in exceptional times.

In these instances, we believe that if the learners, and indeed our staff, turn their ‘brollies’ upside down, then the same well-developed skills and strategies that kept the rain off, keep them afloat even when the issues are significant, until such time as the metaphorical flood abates. 

Screenshot 2021 12 02 at 10.49.06

So, I suppose our guiding light is to continue to develop these college-wide systems and opportunities such that our learners develop fully, flourish in the good times, build the personal resilience that supports them in the bad times, and are successful in their personal next steps.

Sandra McManus is Vice Principal at The Sixth Form Bolton. With thanks for the images created by Rob Coyle.

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