Priest aids reluctant students

October 4, 1996

Colleges are proving inventive in their struggle to retain students in further education.

One has employed a priest to help, while others are sending counsellors and teams on home and youth club visits to pursuade reluctant learners to keep on studying.

Colleges lose cash for every student who leaves so the pressure on them to keep their intake is intense.

Drop-out rates in further education are high with 16 per cent failing to complete their qualifications, according to Further Education Funding Council figures. Its national committee of inquiry, headed by Helena Kennedy QC, is looking at failure and drop-out rates, and reports next month.

East Durham Community College is offering students three instalments of Pounds 50 plus concessionary meals as an incentive to remain.

The college, which grew by 20 per cent last year and has a drop-out rate of about 18 per cent, employs six trained counsellors in a placement team, chasing students who fail to turn up four times in a row.

This year it has decided to add two full-time youth workers whose task it is to trawl youth clubs and leisure centres sounding out the opinions of reluctant students.

It has also employed a college priest "in case students want any sort of religious guidance".

College principal Ian Prescott said: "We have counsellors, student liaison officers and course tutors already and we thought another angle could be religious.

"We have moved away from the days when students just arrived and had no support. Now you have to offer the 100 per cent package."

Lancaster and Morecambe College has set up HELP, the Helping Early Leavers Project, which employs one full-time and two part-time staff to check up on attendance figures and help students.

Principal David Roddam estimates that the team encouraged 50 students to stay on this year. He said: "That's phenomenal amounts in money terms."

At Lewisham College, south London, new students are each assigned their own "study buddy", a fellow student who acts as a friend and helps identify problems before they become too serious.

Arnold and Carlton College in Nottingham has recently taken on a student welfare officer who telephones students missing for more than three weeks. If the reasons for their absence are financial, there is a small pool of emergency cash to help them out, or the officer can advise them about other grants.

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