College sector overview report 2022 to 2023: Learner attainment

Planning and updating the curriculum

In almost all colleges, teaching departments adapted programmes to enhance the accessibility of content for learners and improve attainment. Most teaching departments extended the range of online and flexible learning options. Some colleges provided a wider range of entry and progression opportunities by replacing National Qualifications with National Progression Awards. They also offered alternative industry awards and employer qualifications.

Many curriculum teams had condensed full-time programmes to enable learners to complete their programme more quickly. Arrangements made in the early stage of a programme helped support learner attainment. This included supporting learners to transfer to a more appropriate level or type of programme and offering additional study sessions.

Curriculum teams in almost all colleges adjusted programme design to ensure that learning experiences were taught in a sequence that builds learners’ confidence and motivation. This included:

  • teaching practical activities at the start of programmes
  • integrating formal and summative assessments
  • extending the use of project-based learning

These arrangements contributed to improving the learning experience and widened opportunities for learners to attain. However, this was not consistent across all teaching departments. Rates of learner success in some programme areas remained low.

Learning and teaching

Almost all colleges increased their on-campus, face-to-face delivery to enhance the learner experience and improve attainment including using hybrid delivery approaches, recording lessons and extending the use of alternative assessments.

A number of colleges introduced shorter programmes of study and flexible timetables to better meet learner needs. Collaboration within curriculum teams to plan and integrate assessments reduced the burden for learners. In a few colleges, staff made good use of digital resources to encourage learners to be more proactive in preparing for assessments. This motivated learners to engage with their studies and reinforced an early sense of achievement. However, in a few colleges, teaching teams did not plan and schedule assessments collectively. This increased learner anxiety and uncertainty around assessment methodologies and made assessments more challenging to complete.

A few colleges have developed programmes for school-age learners that incorporate activities to build confidence and resilience to participate in assessments. These included providing individual coaching or mentoring sessions and offering additional opportunities to practice and apply skills. This helped learners to overcome anxiety about participating in assessments.

Staff in all colleges worked with external partners, including employers, to provide learners with access to work placements and opportunities to participate in industry and community-based projects. These experiences allowed learners to practice, apply and further develop their skills. Many benefited from these activities to attain additional vocational skills and qualifications.

Almost all colleges worked well with partner agencies to give learners access to external specialist support. These include:

These agencies supported learners well, many of whom faced personal issues, to achieve their qualification.

All colleges improved e-learning platforms and virtual learning environments so that learners had good support and access to learning materials, particularly for theory-based elements of their programme. However, a few colleges did not provide adequate access to technical support for learners and staff. This had a negative impact on assessment arrangements.

A few colleges have increased learner access to a personal tutor, particularly in subject areas such as mathematics and computing, to support improved attainment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics programmes.

Almost all colleges had invested in their learning facilities to ensure that learners are well prepared to progress to further study or employment. Learners benefited from being able to access hands-on experience in current workplace environments.

Arrangements for improving attainment

Almost all college managers made good use of performance dashboards to analyse key performance data and identify actions to improve learner outcomes. In a few colleges, teaching and support staff used these systems well to monitor and analyse real-time data on learner performance. However, some college managers did not make effective use of these facilities to engage staff in discussions to improve attainment. A few colleges did not have effective arrangements in place for monitoring the attendance and engagement of individual learners. In these colleges, staff did not have sufficient access to information to identify learners at risk of not attaining. Overall, in most colleges, some staff did not participate sufficiently in quality arrangements or action-planning for improvement to support learner progress and attainment.

In a few colleges, staff reviewed their school–college partnership provision. This resulted in several positive developments, including:

  • delivering provision on-site in secondary schools
  • implementing data-sharing arrangements
  • making a wider range of programmes available to senior phase learners

However, most colleges did not systematically evaluate attainment rates across their school–college provision in order to improve attainment where their success rates were low.

The quality of partnership working and commitment to the delivery of Foundation Apprenticeships (FAs) across local secondary schools was variable in almost all colleges. This made it challenging for colleges to support the attainment of school pupils studying FAs.

Despite the efforts made by all colleges to support learners to attain, rates of successful completion for full-time programmes, at both FE and HE levels, remain a cause for concern. Learner attainment rates for part-time programmes remained stable or had returned to pre-pandemic levels.