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Grantham College

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Grantham College
Grantham College and University Centre is located at the heart of the market town of Grantham in Lincolnshire. It provides an extensive range of vocational qualifications for students aged 16+ on both full-time and part-time courses. In the last few years, we have been developing schemes of work and acquiring resources that enable us to deliver a first-class employability offer for our students, which prepares them for their future careers. Skills Builder, through its 8 Essential Skills and Accelerator programme, has been instrumental in helping us to achieve this: its engaging resources are ensuring all our students are getting workplace-ready!
Overall impact
The Accelerator programme is providing us with solid guidance and a clear structure as we develop and improve programme for teaching and learning essential skills within college. We greatly value the sage advice of our Skills Builder Education Associate. The informative webinars are very helpful too and are always filled with great suggestions, tips or sometimes research that underpins the message about the importance of the essential skills. Meeting other Skills Leaders across the UK in training sessions has been a real highlight. These are great opportunities to not only swap ideas, but also to hear about both the challenges other schools and colleges have faced and the solutions they have devised in delivering their essential skills programmes.
Keep it simple
We have raised awareness of the Essential Skills throughout the college. They have featured on desktop screens and the skill icons and skills steps posters are placed in communal areas and in classrooms. The skills have been included in Parent Newsletters and they are sent to local employers as part of our students' Essential Skills work experience targets, so that employers can assess them. All these activities ensure that the language of the essential skills is promoted and used. This year we introduced an Essential Skills Prize, where one student in each subject group was given a certificate by their class teacher, for working especially hard to develop their skills. These subject level winners were then put forward for the prize, with the overall winner being presented with a voucher and prize certificate by a member of the Senior Leadership Team.
Start early, keep going
Our Schemes of Work for Employability and Careers feature lessons on the Essential Skills across the academic year. We also include the Essential Skills within our Personal Development Tutorial Programme. This means that all full-time students learn about the essential skills and have the opportunity to practise them every year they attend Grantham College. We share with parents information about the Essential Skills, through newsletters and parents' evenings, including signposts to Skills Builder Launchpad, a tool for use by students to develop their understanding and knowledge of the skills outside of college.
Measure it
Students have set lessons in Term 1 where they create a baseline assessment of their Essential Skills using Skills Builder Benchmark. Further lessons are scheduled in Terms 2 and 3 to update these assessments and view the progress made. It is our intention to analyse this data at a granular level next year and beyond, so that the college has a more accurate picture of the progress each student is making, which will be shared with our Progress Coaches. We encourage staff to use the Hub to assess their students at group level, to ensure they are placing emphasis on the most appropriate skills steps when teaching their students. Our students' self-assessment data in Term 1 was analysed to help us understand which skills are identified as weakest, as assessed by the student body overall. This data informed our decisions about which skill areas were priorities for teaching and learning. Speaking and Listening were ranked 'lowest', so they were the focus in Terms 1 and 2 respectively.
Focus tightly
Careers and Employability lessons take place each week throughout the year and Skills Builder features heavily. Subject lesson planning documents include a Skills Builder section: staff state here how they will build in and refer the essential skills in subject lessons. The focus skill each term is determined by the Benchmark assessments (as in 3. above), however teaching staff then determine the appropriate skill steps to teach or refer to. Powerpoint slides with extracts from the Universal Framework for each skill step of the focus skill, are shared with staff who then select and add them to lesson materials, as appropriate to the students' next skill step for development and the main lesson content. All staff are encouraged to use Hub resources to teach the skill of the term, however staff on some courses make full use of the resources e.g. workbooks, videos, to promote students' understanding and help them think about and gather evidence of skills, based on their activities.
Keep practising
Within Careers and Employability sessions, the lesson plans include activities that help students to practise skills, according to the focus. So in lessons on Speaking for instance, students are given a choice of speeches previously given by a range of famous people and asked to practise and then deliver them in their groups, with appropriate tone, expression and gestures. One member of staff took this further by recording the students so they could watch and listen to themselves and identify areas for improvement. As in 4, above, teaching staff link lesson content and activities to the essential skills in subject lessons. So this year, Speaking and Listening have been a focus, which can readily be incorporated into lesson activities that help students to practice and develop these specific skills, according to the focus skill steps. This is perhaps also an area for development, to encourage more opportunities for the skills to be practised and for these activities to be documented.
Bring it to life
Prior to their 30 hours of work experience, which every full-time student (aged up to 19 or 25 if the student has an EHCP) must complete annually, students are asked to consider their priorities for development and to select 2 skills they want to work on while at their placements. They then note their activities in their logbooks to demonstrate they are working on their targets. Their host employers will assess their competency in the skills at the end of the student's placement, so students have clear feedback on how well they are doing in developing their skills.
What's next
While we have made significant strides in embedding Essential Skills across college, there is still plenty of work to do to elevate our programme to the point where the language of the skills is used fluidly as part of an everyday college conversation, by students and staff alike. Increasing the presence, and practice, of the skills will be achieved through additional training, more impactful activities and the sharing of best practice among teaching staff. Some training has been planned in for academic staff in Staff Development Week next month and a programme to enable the sharing of best practice among staff (organised by one of our TLACs) is already underway, so plans are afoot to enable us to achieve this goal.
East Midlands
United Kingdom