School of Humanities and Social Sciences

Building academic self-efficacy in English and Maths in Further Education resit learners

A new project has been launched – with funding from the Department for Education – to help pupils in Further Education (FE) colleges, who are resitting English and Maths GCSEs, to succeed. Dr Eleanor Willard, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, is part of the research team. Here, she shares the aims of the work and why this is so important.

Dr Ellie Willard

As a former secondary school teacher, I am only too aware how important confidence is to helping learning. Failure can thwart that confidence and make students feel like they will never achieve.

Every year there are students who do not manage to reach at least Grade 4 in their English and Maths GCSE qualifications at the end of Year 11. Current numbers stand at around 200,000 per year (English and Maths resits combined). As they continue onto further training, they most often join Further Education (FE) colleges to resit the GCSEs or to complete functional skills qualifications so that they can improve their qualification profile and also importantly, improve their literacy and mathematical skills.

Resit students come from a variety of school experiences but they all 1) need to try and secure a pass at GCSE or functional qualification to access their chosen career path and 2) have experienced failure in one, or both, of these subjects. FE Colleges inherit students who often have a lack of self-efficacy to learn (and achieve) in English and Maths alongside a negative view of the subject.

The project – a Learning Nutrition approach

Following a successful competitive grant application to the Department for Education, Create Development (an educational continuing professional development CPD provider) and myself, were successful in securing funding to provide training to the tutors in FE colleges who teach resit students.

These tutors take the students through the process of revisiting English and/or Maths when they have previously failed to reach the current target from the government of at least Grade 4. We are aware that this can be a difficult job - and the focus of the grant awarded will be a Learning Nutrition approach with FE Colleges in the North East and Yorkshire.

Learning Nutrition supports positive learning behaviours including resilience, connectivity and critical thinking, particularly for students that need it most – it’s not about what they learn, more how they learn. As a psychologist, I can see how this shift of focus is an important step to help overcome the effects of perceived failure.

As part of the intervention, I will design and run a rigorous independent Implementation and Process Evaluation (IPE). This will consider key factors and collect data to check that the delivery of the CPD is standardised and high quality is maintained in all colleges. Following this check, I will also look at the effectiveness in terms of self-efficacy and attainment over time.

Our aims

Having struggled in these two core subjects it could be easy to view these resit students as a ‘difficult cohort’, requiring more behaviour management than academic tasks. These students can often be viewed through the wrong lens as a troublesome group that no-one wants to teach. However, the Learning Nutrition approach reframes this narrative, so they become the most rewarding teaching opportunity.

The focus is around improving tutor and student self-efficacy using an online Development Wheel that facilitates a move to independence and is motivating for the student age group. It is anticipated tutors will also feel more confident in the difference they can make, enhancing their teaching experience.

Ultimately a key aim is to improve student numeracy and literacy skills, employability and economic prospects which will help them into their futures.

It is anticipated that 8600 resit students will benefit from the work over the duration of the project - which runs until Spring 2025, as the training will be provided to 580 tutors across 29 Further Education Colleges.

It’s a big job, and we are excited to get started.

Dr Ellie Willard

Senior Lecturer / School Of Humanities And Social Sciences

Dr Willard's research interests centre around educational, developmental and cognitive psychology. Eleanor is also currently the course manager for the onsite and distance learning masters conversion course.

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