Working with FE colleges

Brightside Project Manager Tom Greenidge describes the launch of our mentoring project with Pathways at Northampton College, and shares advice on the best ways to get FE students onboard and engaged with projects.

Recruiting post-16 students at FE colleges for additional activities and programmes can often be a tricky task. Just turning up and saying “I have this wonderful programme available for college students” often isn’t enough to get students to actually sign up for it.

One of the initial difficulties is the student timetable. Unlike students of the same age in Sixth Forms, each individual at an FE college is likely to have a different timetable. Large groups of Sixth Form students can easily be reached through whole year group assemblies but in FE colleges this golden option is not available. So what can you do?

Brightside recently recruited high numbers of first year students for a 12 week online mentoring intervention at Northampton College, as part of our work with the Pathways NCOP consortium. By matching students at the college with trained undergraduate mentors, this project aimed to raise aspirations and equip students with the confidence to make clear and informed decisions about higher education. Within a two week time-frame, we successfully informed, signed up and collected key data from 180 students at the College.

How did we engage so many students in such a short amount of time? Here are our top tips:

Have a good contact: Relationship building with a reliable College contact in advance is crucial to ensuring you are able to pass on information and arrange sessions. It’s important that they fully understand and buy-in to your particular offer. Staff who have more direct contact with a wide range of students are best placed for this, rather than individual subject tutors or heads.

Clear time frames: Be strict, have a clear deadline and make your offer exclusive. Be prepared to do a lot of recruitment in a short space of time.

Tutor time is best: Being able to speak to students directly about an opportunity makes a huge difference. Most FE colleges will have a weekly timetabled tutor period, these are often arranged by different subjects. If you need sign-ups or data collected as well, do it in this same session.

Engage your audience: You may think your particular programme or incentive is the best thing since sliced bread but young people may need more convincing! It’s important to adapt your delivery to the specific group you are talking to so don’t treat all young people as the same. They don’t need tons of information. Make your information sessions fun, visual and interactive rather than just talking at them.

Base yourself in the College: Being based in an easy and recognisable place (e.g. Careers Office) for students to drop-in over a few days can also be an effective way of speaking to students directly. Always avoid sending students emails about opportunities or asking them to attend a face-to-face session that is not timetabled. You will be left in a cold dark room alone and no-one enjoys that!

Brightside will now be continuing this approach as we expand our Schools and College Network to continue delivering high-impact online mentoring projects and helping more young people to make confident and informed decisions about their futures.