Supporting every student to achieve

Supporting every student to achieve
Date12th Sep 2022AuthorStephani PistoriusCategoriesStudent Life

Post-lockdown we have seen a vast increase in mental health difficulties amongst students, and this has been widely reported by colleges nationwide.  Often we have to pick up the pieces in Study Support, and more than ever last year, we ended up offering the most support to students without a diagnosis or previous support record. Hence we set out to proactively address the impact of Covid-19 on lost learning and the mental health of our SEND students through increased, often individualised, provision.  

For our EHCP and High Needs students, we increased support for their transition through social stories sent out to them prior to enrolment. These consisted of a pictorial guide to pinpoint main areas of the College campus and easy to read descriptions of how to get to key places.  This was a new initiative to support the usual transition phone calls and visits we had done in the past.  As a result, our ASC students (those with autism spectrum conditions) transitioned and settled in exceptionally well - the social stories were hugely helpful in alleviating anxiety prior to starting college. 

As standard, we offer one-to-one Learning Mentor support to our EHCP and High Needs students, but in addition to that, we have now initiated our dedicated ASC Lunch Club where students can come and socialise and have lunch in a quiet, familiar space.  And our area became more of a safe space with bespoke support (based on extensive team training on various courses related to ASC, mental health, and behaviour).  From this learning, we identified the need to train one of our Learning Mentors to become an ELSA (Emotional Literacy Support Assistant) so as to provide more specific SEMH support, and to convert a small office into a sensory / quiet room for students to detox from the sensory overload they are bombarded with on a continual basis. 

Another recent development is that our department has been given more accommodation and space to grow. What was an office space can now be used as a quiet work area by our students.  We are purposefully keeping this area’s walls completely blank and the benches clear of any clutter to allow for a quiet, tidy, sensory resting space where students can work.  The rest of the space is divided into small, intimate rooms which students find safe, cosy, and relaxing, as it limits the number of students that can use the space at any given time.  This also helps offer more individual spaces during exam times.

As for the whole college cohort, we increased our support provision by initially focusing on economically disadvantaged students through a ‘Grade Riser’ initiative, aimed at improving students’ independent study skills through study support, consolidation, and revision strategies.  These students were identified through both FSM eligibility and on an individual basis by Registry and the Lead for Disadvantaged Students. The sessions ran once a week with a Learning Mentor and consisted of around 8-10 students. Students have disclosed in course evaluation forms how beneficial the Grade Riser was to their study skills and exam preparation.  We also published a weekly Study Support Bulletin to all students and advertised this widely on our social media channels.  The Study Support Bulletin signposts all students (and staff) in bite-sized chunks to better study habits and more positive mindsets.  Feedback on this bulletin was immensely positive and complimentary from staff and students!  We aim to continue the Grade Riser and Bulletin initiatives in the future.

Furthermore, we offered specialist small group support sessions for dyslexic students and IELTS support to second language speakers.  A recent development for next year includes widening our group support to the whole college through small group Structured Study sessions that teachers can refer their students to and which can be facilitated by our Learning Mentors; this initiative will replace our workshop support in limited vocational areas.

Our learner voice about all of these developments was overwhelmingly positive and appreciative with comments such as: “I’m glad study support is a thing,” and “This is the first time I’ve felt supported”.  

In 2021/22 we increased our engagement with other staff too by:

  • facilitating easier communication with the Personal Tutor team (our in-house system now allows us to tick a box on a student’s support record which copies the information onto their tutor log and flags it for the tutor);
  • starting a Study Support chat room;
  • submitting articles to the College’s Voice magazine;
  • signposting staff to relevant training opportunities on neurodiversity and to our Study Support site which contains a wealth of information, tips and advice for both staff and students; 
  • hosting a dedicated training day for the whole college staff on ASC behaviour management, which was extremely well received by the staff who attended.  

Subsequently, staff engagement with the department has increased and staff are keen to learn more about what we do and how to support their students and our team.

Some recent developments in supporting other staff to support their students are:

  • Our work on producing short informational and instructional videos for our staff, which they can access at any point, to facilitate inclusive, quality first teaching for all students, but with a special focus on SEND students.  The first video on ASC has recently been completed and will be available on our training platform.
  • Meeting with departments to facilitate a whole centre approach to SEND.
  • This year the Learning Mentors also did Learning Walks for the first time which has been hugely helpful in opening channels of communication between our department and curriculum areas and acted as a form of quality control.
  • Working more closely with the SEND departments in the other trust schools to ensure smoother student transition and better sharing of best SEND practice across the trust. 

Assessments for exam access arrangements were expanded to group assessments in vocational areas to screen for underlying difficulties not picked up over lockdowns.  We are planning on expanding this idea by screening all first-year students in September to ensure that no student is disadvantaged in exams for lack of identification of underlying difficulties. The department celebrated Go Red for Dyslexia and hosted a programme of events to raise awareness of dyslexia, which was re-tweeted widely and internationally.  We plan to continue celebrating diversity with a focus on ADHD next, and hosting speakers with disabilities to present talks to the staff and students. Other recent developments have included making all our college-produced videos accessible for deaf people (kindly undertaken by our executive office) and arranging a training day for staff on accessible teaching strategies for deaf students.    

In summary, 2021/22 was a super busy and successful year, which was topped off by being awarded the SFCA Health and Wellbeing Award in the summer!  Our team couldn’t have been more proud of our achievement.    

The future will see:

  • Increased accommodation and staffing to support an ever-growing number of SEND students
  • The sensory room will support our ASC students with sensory overload and anxiety
  • The therapy support dogs hopefully visiting us more regularly
  • We are training our ELSA and have trained two more exam access arrangement assessors
  • Us expanding our exam software to facilitate more independence for students who need readers and scribes
  • Team training is a continuing objective, as well as spreading our own knowledge to the teachers and staff via short interactive sessions on neurodivergence, disabilities, and making reasonable adjustments
  • Us looking at motivational speakers and trainers and fostering closer working relationships with our counterparts in the trust
  • We also want to support parents better by signposting them to external support agencies more clearly. 

 The future is exciting and inclusive!

Practical tips for success

  • Get the Senior Leadership Team’s support and backup;
  • Work closely, and foster positive relationships with other support staff, e.g. Reception and Estates, to ensure their support and help;
  • Stay on the mental health officer’s radar through attending meetings and keeping your agenda current;
  • Especially in a large college like ours, regularly attend meetings with other stakeholders in college to ensure smooth collaboration, e.g. tutor team meetings, support managers’ meetings, etc.
  • Keep staff training high on the to-do list - invest in staff;
  • Work closely with the rest of college and embed a whole-centre approach to Study Support through regular contact with departments, regular staff training, and being on hand to support staff via the study directory and the chat room;
  • Invite outside coaches and speakers who can motivate and support students and also raise awareness of disabilities and the department’s profile across the college;
  • Invest time in software and technology and get staff on board to help embed it;
  • Ensure individual team members play to their strengths, find their own niche in the team and find fulfilment in their own roles, which will lead to higher staff motivation and retention and a stronger team;
  • Ensure staff feel valued by their manager and that their manager is passing their concerns on to SLT and that these concerns are validated, supported, and addressed.

You can get a flavour of what we do in another way by watching a short video on ‘A day in the life of Study Support’ by the Study Support Department of SFCF.

Stephani is head of study support at The Sixth Form College Farnborough. Look out for more blogs from award winners in the coming weeks; this is the second in a series, and you can find the first here.

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