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What Next? Supporting Student Progression from Further to Higher Education

Abstract: This case study describes the development of a resource for supporting student progression to Higher Education from level 3 and 4 courses at London College of Fashion.

The experience of completing the applications process is fraught with anxiety for students, considering their own strengths and abilities, selecting an appropriate course, preparing both their work and themselves for interview, the financial implications of acceptance and the need to deal with possible rejection.

For tutors supporting these students at this very sensitive time there is a need to have good, relevant and current information, advice and guidance.  Information has to be consistent and easily accessible and suitable for dissemination to a very large and very diverse student body.

This project was developed in consultation with staff and students who recognized a need for a better more user friendly way of accessing this information and building on the already existing good practice. The project was funded through a joint Creative Learning in Practice Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CLIP CETL) Fellowship between Sarah Atkinson and Vija Vilcins at The University of the Arts London.

Keywords: Progression, Peer, Tutorial, Resource, Visual, Support.

Author information: Sarah Atkinson is Director of Programmes, Foundation Art and Design, School of Media & Communication at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London

Date: July 2010

Download PDF: What Next? Supporting Student Progression from Further to Higher Education

Context and Rationale

The ‘What Next?’ Project arose out of a Further Education (FE) staff development session held on 8 November 2007 that identified the lack of a coherent body of information and material to support student progression from FE to Higher Education (HE) at London College of Fashion (LCF).  Discussions with staff indicated that the current materials to support student progression produced by the University of the Arts London (UAL) Creative Careers, UCAS and by individual courses themselves, were unwieldy for both staff and students. Many students with a range of diverse backgrounds find this information from a variety of sources difficult to access and often confusing and intimidating, with the websites themselves difficult to navigate. Up to a third of students on FE programmes at LCF are international and for many English is not their first language. Added to this, the UCAS online application process is complex and students have not been familiarized with the University applications system through sixth form colleges or careers services. Once this is overlaid with internal Compact schemes, whereby students can, if they wish, have an early portfolio review and interview date, the complexity of the situation is multiplied.

Whilst it was readily accepted that there is much good practice across the further education sector within the college, there was a need to develop a shared information base, one that would support students and staff at a critical point in the student life cycle. It was envisaged that all FE courses at London College of Fashion would benefit from the resource, providing tutors with a portable ‘one stop shop’ for all progression, information.

A key factor in developing this material was that the proposal was in line with the UAL Medium Term Strategy aim for the development of e-learning and establishing ‘high quality, well resourced, consistent support to guide and support an increasingly diverse range of students’ and with the Quality Enhancement Theme for Student Support and Engagement.

Description of Activity/Initiative

In the first instance it was intended that these materials would be developed for all FE courses at LCF. The aim was to develop the resource to be available for both staff and students at the start of the 2008/2009 Higher Education application process; i.e. October 2008. After exploratory discussion with staff teams, the initial idea that the resource would be available online and in memory stick format was altered to focus on developing the latter (as the more immediate and user friendly tool) with further opportunity to disseminate the package across other UAL colleges, partner colleges and the National Arts Learning Network (NALN).

Due to the limited timeframe for development, material was collected throughout July and August 2008. Two days filming of simulated interviews took place in the studios at the John Princes Street campus in September 2008. The latter involved students from LCF courses, who had been successful in their transition from FE to HE at UAL in the 2007/2008 academic session and who represented a cross-section of Higher Education courses progressed to through the UCAS system. Two different films were produced: one showing a simulated interview of poor interview practice, the other showing students’ responses to pre-arranged questions regarding what they had found most useful in preparation for their interviews. The two days of filming were eventually condensed into five minutes of film footage.

As expected, course teams had their own stores of information, Creative Careers at UAL produced a range of booklets and the UCAS website included much that was useful. Other materials were newly created in response to student and staff feedback; for example interview feedback sheets from previously successful applicants, the main body of work was completed during September, with the aim of having everything ready to put onto the memory sticks prior to student briefings and tutorials on the applications process in October. 

The materials received their initial trial in the first term of the 2008/2009 academic session, focusing on only a selection of the materials originally proposed. Feedback from course teams and student representatives following the trial was then used in evaluating and monitoring the effectiveness of the package and informing its further development. 

The trial material included:

·      guidance on portfolio preparation and review

·      power point presentations on the applications process

·      guidance on completion of the UCAS application form

·     information on interview techniques – film clip of what not to do and also interviews with students who had been successful

·      guidance on writing the Personal Statement

·      visual tools and exemplars of portfolio work

·      exercises for students to complete – personal development planning

 One of the aims in producing the material and making it more accessible was also to make it more ‘visual’ – It was decided that where possible written information should be kept to a minimum and greater emphasis put on photographic or filmed content. In addition the materials were separated into folders with photographic images for each, however this was dependant on the default setting of the computer used so was not entirely successful.UAL/LCF is an Art and Design institution, there is a high incidence of dyslexia among both staff and students and there are many students for whom English is not their first language. Using a more visual package presents the material / information in a more easily navigable way.


An initial briefing and presentation of the resource was given to key staff during a staff development session on supporting student progression. Following the pilot, feedback on the material contained in the memory stick was collected and evaluated through several stages using questionnaires and focus groups with both tutors and students.

All staff found the memory stick format useful. The opportunity for free text comment in the questionnaire generated very positive responses for example:

·      Simple to select what to use and what to print directly to students

·      Instant access to information

·      Handy usage – usable in various rooms across the site

·      Can be carried around, portable

·      Will definitely use more of the material next academic year. It is very useful. The students gave positive feedback to the items attached to Blackboard.

·      More visuals and students talking about key problems filling in UCAS forms also from an international perspective.

·      Many students asked to borrow the ‘memory machine’ following presentation

·      Keep it coming!

Student responses were similarly positive and gave a clear message that they wanted more information earlier. This became an even more important issue with the changes to UCAS deadlines in 2009/2010.

Students responded very well to the advice from their peers – the interview response forms were very valuable as was the short film made for the resource. The process of creating the film allowed students who had successfully been through the interview process to talk directly to other students from first hand experience. The resulting humour in the film made it very student friendly.

The use of students to express their experiences through film meant that they were instrumental in the creation of the resource. Current students have responded very positively to this advice and information from their peers. Tutors reported that this also opened up useful discussion opportunities with groups.

Students appreciate the more visual aspects of the resource, as do staff, the majority of whom are from visual/creative backgrounds.

The simplicity of the memory stick format was valued especially by staff with dyslexia as they often find it hard to negotiate complex systems to access information from websites. It was also clear from the feedback that they liked the information being all in one place as this saved valuable time.

The project began because staff had requested a central place for all the information they needed to support student progression. It is important to note that the memory stick format was popular because it did not require expert knowledge to use. Staff could access what they wanted far more quickly then finding the same information on the intranet. The aim to produce a ‘one stop shop’ was justified by the popularity of the resource with the staff using it and feedback from students about how they had been supported during the applications process. Tutors found the resource accessible and easy to use, both in studio and small group situations and as a tool for presentations to large groups. The format is easy to customize for individual needs and can continually be developed by tutors to work with their own students. Unlike websites that require a great deal of technical know how to design and set up, the memory stick can be updated and adapted very easily.

Initial evidence from the pilot year showed a greater number of students from LCF FE programmes successfully negotiating the complex applications system and gaining places at HE level.

Feedback from the questionnaire to staff included a section asking them to make suggestions for improvement or additional material they wanted to see included. Their responses as follows were used to update and prepare sticks for the new academic year:

·      Graphic examples of previous years students’ work

·      Extend interview feedback for more courses

·      Pitfalls of UCAS form filling

·      Perhaps more on interview preparation and possible questions

·      Course Criteria / interview questions for LCF courses

Prior to the start of the academic year 09/10 all FE teaching staff with responsibility for progression were provided with the memory stick and an accompanying explanatory leaflet and supported by a number of staff development opportunities to introduce the stick and its use ensuring that all staff receiving the resource are aware of its adaptability in use with their students. To date staff have already used it in a number of diverse ways: accessing information to print out for students, uploading sections to Blackboard, giving presentations, etc. The resource has been further disseminated to other colleges within UAL, to study support tutors and to partner colleges. A total of 75 memory sticks were produced for the launch.  Positive feedback has been received from all participants.

The value that students put on hearing from each other about their experiences, and how a resource like this can be used effectively to meet the needs of different cohorts, is very clear from this project. Colleagues at undergraduate and postgraduate level have expressed an interest in developing a similar tool for their students to aid transition, both to employment and further study. The successful pilot year, has also presented many ideas for how to continue to improve and expand the provision, including a method for annually updating the information held on the stick, this is currently under discussion.

Developing a resource that grew out of an expressed need by staff was a very valuable experience. The aim was to provide something that colleagues would really find useful in working with their students. Finding space and time to develop the resource and complete tasks to the necessary deadlines was challenging and the CLIPCETL Fellowship provided the opportunity needed to carry this out, making it possible to produce a valuable contribution to the resources available to support our students.

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