For City College Southampton
By Janet Lewis-Jones
On behalf of department for business innovation and skills
16th to 18th November 2010
Having carried out the Accreditation Review in accordance with the guidelines provided, City College Southampton - Student Support has demonstrated that it continues to meet the matrix Standard for information advice and guidance services. Continued Accreditation to the matrix Standard is granted for the external services provided by the Student Support Team.
This Accreditation Review Report details the services provided by the Student Support Team and includes a brief description of the organisation, the Assessment methodology and an overview of how the Team demonstrated that it continues to meet the matrix Standard.
City College Southampton is a Further Education (FE) College which offers general and vocational education and training. The College serves three main groups - 16 to 18 (general cohort who tend to be full time students); adult learners (including Learner Responsive, Employer Responsive and Full Fee); and 14 to 16 key stage 4. The College is part of a group which includes City Training (focused on work based learning and providing apprenticeships and Entry to Employment programmes); and City Business (which provides bespoke programmes for local employers and their employees).
The College has in the region of 400 staff and serves around 9000 students a year (1000 apprenticeships; 1600 full time students and 4000 to 6000 adult learners over the course of a year).
The Student Support Team offers services to learners across the College and employs around 65 staff (including sessional and associate personnel). The Team is divided into three sub-teams: Recruitment and Guidance; Student Experience; and Learning Support.
The Recruitment and Guidance Team comprises the Team Leader, three Admissions Co-ordinators (one for each of the three main cohorts: 16 - 18, adult and 14 - 16); four Information and Advice Officers; and two Customer Service Adviser's. This Team focuses on bringing learners into the college and on getting them onto the 'right' courses.
The Student Experience Team comprises the Team Leader; five Retention and Progression Co-ordinators (2 for level 1; 2 for level 2; and one for level 3); and an Every Child Matters coordinator. The focus of this team is to help students successfully complete their studies by providing IAG in relation to a broad range of issues that might impact on the learner's ability to complete.
The Learning Support Team comprises Tutors and Support Assistants who work to help learners with special needs undertake study.
The staff involved in providing IAG are therefore based within the Recruitment and Guidance Team and the Student Experience Team.
In addition to College personnel, IAG is also provided on site through partnerships with the Prevention, Inclusion and Support Service (previously Connexions) and nextstep, who both have a permanent base in the College, as well as a number of visiting partner agencies such as C&SH (PCT sexual health service), Relate (relationship counselling) and No Limits (youth counselling).
The main focus of initial IAG delivery is a raised space next to the reception known as the 'Podium', but services are delivered across the college in an effort to 'take them to' students. Other key areas include the 'Mall' an open space which is the main thoroughfare through the College and is used for a wide variety of activities; the Learning Resource Centres; and curriculum areas. The Contact Centre is also managed as part of Student Support and is the 'call centre' for anyone contacting the College about anything.
Significant changes have taken place since the last matrix Assessment. The Student Support function has been completely restructured (Spring 2010) - previously the function had been divided to reflect the 3 user groups (16-18; adult and 14-16). Alongside this there has been a substantial change of personnel with most post holders being new to the function if not the College. Those posts involved in managing IAG have been 'upgraded'. As part of the restructuring other customer service functions such as reception, finance and registry have been brought together and are collectively managed as 'front of house' - there has been a particular focus on customer service in the last year.
The college has also undergone a major refurbishment programme - this had commenced at the time of the last matrix Assessment but has moved on considerably with the opening of what is known as the 'Hub' - a state of the art building open to the public with a theatre, restaurant and coffee bar, as well as salons, classrooms, and recording studios.
The Student Support Team responded to areas for improvement identified in the 2007 matrix Assessment Report as follows:
Throughout the Assessment there was evidence of a culture of 'progression' with a clear commitment to ongoing development and improvement - the college is aiming to become an 'outstanding provider' (Ofsted) by 2015 and this is reflected in the strategic plan.
The Assessor used a range of methods to gather evidence against the matrix Standard:
One to one interviews - fourteen face to face interviews - Director of City Horizons, Learner Support and Quality (senior manager); Head of Student Support; Recruitment and Guidance Team Leader; 2 x Information and Advice Officers; Customer Service Advisor; Adult Recruitment coordinator; 16 - 18 Recruitment coordinator; Quality Assurance Manager; Retention and Progression coordinator; 4 x partner organisation employees; 1 x student
Informal group interviews -five groups of between 2 and 8 students - 20 overall
Tour of facilities and review of areas where IAG is delivered
Document review - examination of a broad range of policy and practice documents; promotional material; resource information and reports
During the Accreditation Review, the following strengths were identified. The numbers and letters in brackets refer to the relevant elements and criteria in the matrix Standard.
The Assessor identified the following areas where further development may improve the quality of service. The numbers and letters in brackets refer to the relevant elements and criteria in the matrix Standard.
The following information is a summary of the findings against each element and should be read in conjunction with the previous sections.
People are made aware of the service and how to engage with it
The CEIAG Strategy, CEIAG Policy and IAG Statement of Entitlement make it clear that IAG services from the Student Support Team are available to all learners across the 3 cohorts (14-16; 16-18; and adult) from the pre-enrolment stage right through until completion of studies. The Team has been structured to reflect the nature of support provided for each stage and appropriate partnerships have been developed to underpin services. All of this is evidence of the work that the Team has undertaken in the period since the last matrix Assessment to redefine the purpose and range of services offered.
A range of promotional activities take place. Recruitment Co-ordinators for the 14 to 16 and 16 to 18 cohorts regularly attend events and assemblies at local schools to provide information about courses available at the college and the services available to students to support their learning. The Adult Recruitment Officer holds regular open events and ensures that staff from the support services such as the finance department and nextstep are present as well as teaching staff and current students - the aim is to provide potential learners with information not just about courses but also about the support services available.
The College Prospectus itself includes a number of pages providing information and advice about entry routes into the College.
The Team screens applications and uses a 'triage' system to target learners who may require further advice or guidance. Possible needs are identified using a formal scoring system based on issues such as a mismatch between anticipated grades and course choices (for young people) or from answers to questions such as 'did you choose this course yourself or did someone suggest it'; 'why did you choose this course' used to identified learners with a lack of confidence (for adults). Learners identified as having a need are offered an automatic appointment with an Information and Advice Officer. All applicants are in any event supplied with general information about the IAG service.
Once enrolled IAG services are promoted in a variety of ways - presentations to classes; placement of leaflets and postcards at strategic points (the Mall and Learning Centres); on the student intranet (City Bit) and on the staff intranet - once enrolled curriculum staff play a major role in promoting IAG services and in signposting/referring. Team staff attend Head of Faculty meetings to ensure that teaching staff are kept up to date with developments in Student Support, and curriculum leaders are invited to attend Student Support Team meetings - most curriculum areas had taken up this invitation during the term prior to this Assessment.
The Learning Support Team and the Equality and Diversity function are able to provide specialist personnel to support people accessing IAG services. An Information and Advice Officer described how she had used a signer to help a learner during a session; and another explained how there were speakers of a variety of languages common in the local area available to help with sessions. Most promotion activities are 'warm body' meaning they can be tailored to individual needs and therefore embody the principles of equality and diversity.
The Team has plans to introduce 'pods' at various points around the College - the Mall, the Hub and in Reception. These would be touch screen interface and would enable students to access information on a range of issues including course information and a College map, as well as being able to book an appointment on the Podium or with Retention and Progression Staff. Ultimately it is hoped these might also have a role in enrolment, registration and payment.
People's use of the service is defined and understood
Information and Advice Officers interviewed described how they introduced their sessions by explaining their role and therefore what the learner might expect from the session. They also described how they covered the areas of data protection/confidentiality and diversity - a particular challenge as many sessions are brief one off appointments...
"I just keep it simple so that they don't get impatient. They really just want the answers to their questions, so I just explain that the service is confidential, that the data we collect is to help them and that I can remove it from the system afterwards if they would like"
"I tell them it is confidential and tell them we can move to a private room if they prefer. I tell them our service is available to everyone"
A Recruitment coordinator explained that he encouraged learners to consider lots of different colleges to explore what might be right for them. Another member of staff explained how the College attracts a high percentage of young people who are NEET and therefore it was important to help them understand what support would be available to them to inform the choices they make about what college to attend.
The offering of an automatic appointment with an Information and Advice Officer to those identified as in need of further advice ensures that learners are given ample opportunity to consider their requirements and options before joining. An Information and Advice Officer explained how she saw this as a key role...
"It's about getting the right person on the right course. This is what makes the College successful. This means it is my role to find out what the person is looking for, make sure we can provide it, and if not help them find someone who can. We aren't pressured into just enrolling as many as we can here"
Staff explained how they might not always be the best people to meet the learner's needs and how in these cases they were able to refer to partnership agencies or colleagues. Learners with issues to do with adult careers advice are offered appointments with nextstep; young people with complex needs are offered appointments with the Prevention, Inclusion and Support Service; learners presenting with social or emotional problems might be referred to Relate, C&SH or No Limits - all of whom hold regular sessions at the College.
A Retention and Progression coordinator explained how she saw it as her role to provide information about what IAG services were available, but how it was up to the individual student as to which if any of those services they took up.
Because a range or services are available on site either through College personnel or through permanent or visiting partner agency staff, information and advice workers have built up considerable knowledge and contacts which means they are able to supply comprehensive information to learners relevant to their requirements enabling them to make informed choices as to which services may be suitable for their needs.
People are provided with access to information and support in using it
In line with student behaviour patterns, the Team is moving away from paper based resources towards electronic information. Some pertinent leaflets and prospectuses are kept, but in the main staff described how they generally used the Internet to access information on behalf of learners. Information and Advice Officers interviewed demonstrated a good working knowledge of resources relevant to student needs and interests, and partnership staff explained how they often referred to these staff as "experts on everything to do with the college and courses".
The introduction of the planned information pods will provide further self directed access to information and resources.
Because most supporting information is accessed via the Internet it is by default up to date and accurate, but staff explained how they do routinely share information about 'good' sites and less helpful ones, as well as ones that students themselves seem to find the most useful. There are some standard sites that they frequently refer to.
In terms of the range of leaflets available on the Podium and the careers guidance books in the Learning Centre, staff explained how these are kept up to date as part of "annual clear outs".
The paper based information that staff choose to display is mainly focused on initiatives and organisations that might be of use to learners - leaflets examined during the Assessment included a 'Student Survival Guide'; information about a moped loan scheme; a guide to HE for parents and carers; information about how to use the Learning Centre; information about support available from the Learning Support Team; information from a range of organisations such as Victim Support, Samaritans and Rape Crisis.
The Retention and Progression Co-ordinator for level 3 explained how she holds regular sessions for students looking to go on the higher education and has invited speakers from local universities. She holds surgeries to help with applications and has produced a range of postcards to answer the most frequently asked questions (e.g. Writing a Personal Statement, Important Deadlines, What next once my application has been submitted to UCAS).
Learning Support Assistants from the Learning Support Team are available to help learners access information. An Information and Advice Officer explained how she always wrote down information for learners to take away if she felt they might need to refer to it...
"I always write down the information if I am working with someone for whom English is a second language. I realise that they might well need to refer back to it"
Students interviewed were especially keen to point out how much they appreciated the fact that Information and Advice Officers make every effort to resolve issues themselves as opposed to simply passing the learner on to another person...
"It was great, I expected them to send me to the department, then to finance, but actually they just said 'let me find that out for you' and then came back to me 10 minutes later with all of the answers"
"I was impressed that they were able to make me an appointment with the careers advisor for later that week. I thought they'd just give me his number and expect me to make an appointment"
"I just came in to get some information about whether it might be possible to join a course even though I'd missed the start. I was in a lesson that afternoon!"
This 'one stop shop' approach has been a deliberate objective for the Team in an effort to improve the customer experience.
People are supported in exploring options and making choices
Staff understanding of what constitutes best practice in IAG was apparent with those interviewed describing how they implemented practice in line with national standards. The CEIAG Policy states that the College...
'endeavours to follow the National Framework for CEG 11-19 in England (DfES), the Young Peoples' IAG standards (DCSF), the statement of careers education principles (DCSF) and other relevant guidance from the DCSF, QCA and Ofsted...and to meet and maintain matrix Accreditation Standards'
Practice is then further defined in the IAG Service Entitlement statement which covers areas such as impartiality, confidentiality, duty of care, equality, accessibility and continuous professional development.
Staff described how they implemented the Policy and gave examples of how they remained impartial and objective...
"If I think they might find another avenue more productive I will include that in the advice I give even if that means they don't end up as a student here"
And of how they explain the purpose and limitations of the service...
"I explain I can't give careers advice but that I can get them an appointment with someone who can"
Information and Advice Co-ordinators tend to have one off interactions with learners whereas Retention and Progression Co-ordinators are likely to see a learner more than once. The Retention and Progression coordinator interviewed described how she explained her role to learners and the parameters of the support she can provide...
"I explain what I can do and what I can't. I tell them what they can do - different places they could go. I explain the boundaries of confidentiality i.e. it's not just me, I might have to inform tutors for example if a risk assessment is needed for a pregnant student. I tell them that I won't tell their parents, but encourage them to think about doing so. I ask them if they want to have someone with them. I basically help them work out what they want to do and then help them in any way I can to do it"
Students who have had support from a Retention and Progression coordinator are also 'followed up' to check if they have resolved their issues/identify any further assistance needed. This is also explained to them.
A student described how she had been supported when she discovered she was pregnant. She explained that staff talked through her options with her and were able to accelerate her course to ensure she completed prior to having her child. She described how it was made clear that everything was her choice throughout and how she was given time to consider her options, then how helpful staff had been in arranging for her to complete early.
An Information and Advice Officer explained how she always gave learners information or a plan to take away to take time to consider their options.
Again, staff from the Learning Support Team are available to support any students with special needs through this process.
Service delivery is planned and maintained
Planning is a key strength within the Student Support Team. The Team uses SARs and QIPs as well as the College's strategic plan to inform the setting of individual performance objectives which then are combined to form the Team work plan.
Individual personal objectives set during performance reviews are generated by the staff themselves and then negotiated with line managers. In this way front line staff views form the basis of service delivery. The wording of individual objectives is SMART producing a measurable set of performance objectives for the Team.
Staff attend training in 'Investment in Excellence' and all of those interviewed described how much they had benefited from the experience. There is a very real commitment to individual staff taking responsibility for and being accountable for their own work plans.
A manager explained how she was keen that new staff reviewed and redrafted policies, procedures and action plans in order to promote ownership.
Staff are enabled to hold Team meetings between peers (i.e. not attended by line managers) indicating a confident management style.
A strong and much respected leadership was evident during the assessment along with good staff morale and a conscientious approach to work.
Managers are open to requests for additional resources (e.g. the new information pods) and it was clear that existing resources are well managed with investments being directed to the areas of most need/potential. For example the move away from paper based information not only ties in with student behaviour patterns but also represents a cost saving allowing funds to be redirected. The new structure has included appointments at a higher grade in an effort to attract appropriately skilled/qualified staff.
As the CEIAG Policy indicates, staff are familiar with current thinking around IAG practice and with relevant legislation and ethics associated with working with children.
Staff keep up to date through membership of a variety of fora. The Director chairs the City wide 14-19 consortium IAG Group; Team Leaders are members of the National Association of Managers in Student Services and regularly attend events and meetings; staff undertake visits to other colleges to "cross fertilize".
A wide variety of partnerships have been established to offer additional specialist IAG to learners in particular with nextstep and the Connexions(equivalent) service. Partnership work is also being undertaken with Job Centre Plus - an ESF funded project focused on bringing long term unemployed into education.
More generally staff network and keep in touch with local developments as an Information and Advice Officer explained...
"We're always popping into the Council Offices. I check out their leaflets and pick up anything that I think might be useful for us to know about. I'm from one side of the City and [my colleague] is from the other, so between us we pick up loads of information on what's going on just from our local papers"
Staff competence and support they are given are sufficient to deliver the service
All college staff have a thorough induction delivered in two parts - induction to the College generally and then induction to job role. The former is organised centrally through regular induction days and the latter is organised by individual teams and line managers.
A Team Leader (relatively new in post) explained how he would plan a job role induction for a new member of staff to include meetings with curriculum leaders, training on the various systems and databases used, shadowing of someone already in the job role and regular weekly reviews. Staff (who could remember) confirmed that they had undergone something similar, but also how, in any event, they felt very comfortable asking for extra help and advice from managers and peers alike.
Since the last Assessment it has been agreed that all Information and Advice Officers should be qualified to NVQ level 3. The newly appointed Team Leader is able to provide this and so aims to take staff to qualification by summer 2011. NVQ learning materials were examined as part of the Assessment and were comprehensive whilst also being tailored to the specific job role in the College. Materials included an IAG observation sheet which the Team Leader had developed which has been designed to reflect the specific IAG roles at the College and which will therefore enable staff to better understand qualification requirements and engage with their learning.
Staff spoke of other development opportunities they had been given and additionally very much viewed their role in setting their own objectives as a development process in itself. One Customer Service Advisor described how she had been able to visit another college rated as having exemplary customer service in order to see what lessons she could bring back for implementation in the College.
Staff were able to clearly describe their role and the boundaries of the role...
"A quick question I can answer such as is there a course on X. But otherwise I refer them on to the Podium"
"We can't do careers advice, we're not qualified. But we can make them appointments with someone"
"I wouldn't get into anything too personal or emotional, I'd probably bring in [member of partnership agency staff] as they are qualified to deal with things like that"
Staff supervision and support is well structured regular and much appreciated by staff...
"I find it really helpful just to go through things and sort of re-order them in my mind"
"I always find I'm much more focused afterwards. It's a chance to offload and then get going again"
"It's definitely my agenda. Well, [manager] might also have some stuff to raise, but you certainly feel it's your time to talk about what you want to"
Staff also welcomed the annual performance review process and very much embraced the concepts of being responsible and accountable for their own objectives. They described how many objectives had additional stretch targets...
"The target is to get 100 students into university in the year, with a stretch target of 120"
Staff also described how individual continuous professional development was discussed during the review. A review form was examined as part of the Assessment.
There are 5 teaching and learning days a year and 2 conferences which also provide opportunities for personal development.
Feedback on the quality of the service is obtained
The Team uses a variety of methods to obtain feedback from learners. At the end of each interaction on the Podium a very brief comments card is given to the enquirer which records basic information about the reason for the visit and a rating of how helpful the service was.
Staff also invite responses via online forums/blogs. The Retention and Progression coordinator described how she had recently invited feedback on a UCAS presentation on her personal blog and how this had generated more response than feedback forms.
Feedback is also gathered by the Quality Assurance Officer using focus groups and surveys. Issues pertinent to the Student Support Team are then collated and reported back to them. Similarly the recently introduced Student Ambassadors structure will provide aggregate information that will be decanted and fed back.
The soon to be introduced pods and Vox Boxes will provide additional sources of feedback.
The Team is currently using a 'mystery shopper' to assess services received first by telephone and then on a visit.
There is a general complaints procedure that applies across the College.
Students interviewed were broadly aware of the different ways in which they could feedback - with many mentioning student surveys as the mechanism they were most aware of. However most said they would be more likely to feedback directly to tutors, and many would feel quite able to speak directly to the Principal if they wanted to complain. This means it is particularly important that the Student Support Team maintains the close relationship with curriculum staff to ensure that feedback received by tutors continues to be shared with the Team.
There was evidence of how feedback from students has been used to change practice for example introducing eight instalment payment plans (as opposed to four); changing the format of UCAS presentations to make them 'jazzier' and more engaging; speeding up enrolment sessions; and changes to format of prospectus.
There is room for improvement in terms of feeding back on how comments received from the learner population informs service development, though this is already planned for example as part of the new information pods and via CityBit.
Feedback is also sought from curriculum staff and partnership agencies. One partner described how the Team was open to being flexible and trying things out.
Continuous quality improvement is ensured through monitoring, evaluation and action
There was a sense of 'forward movement' throughout the Assessment. Staff described a number of quality improvement plans including achieving 'outstanding' status, achieving Customer First, implementing the principles of TQS and so on. There was a wealth of evidence that the services provided were continuously developed and improved.
The sophisticated monitoring tools employed allow for thorough evaluation of performance against very detailed personal objectives. Key areas reflected include conversion rates from application to enrolment (i.e. to what extent has IAG at this stage helped to improve rates); overall retention (including success of 'right student right course' advice and retention support); and progression (how well the Team has supported learners in moving on/review of destination data).
Service development is also informed by "the triangulation of feedback from tutors, students and Team members".
Tracking of Students who have been in receipt of services allows the Team to ensure that appropriate action has been taken and resolution achieved for individual students.
Regular staff conferences address College wide issues - the last one in July looked at why adult learners weren't receiving the service they wanted and so included discussion of IAG services offered.
Overall there is a clear commitment to continuous quality improvement.
The Student Support Team at City College Southampton has undergone substantial change since the last matrix Assessment and new staff and systems are only just embedding. However there was plenty of evidence that the matrix Standard continues to be met and that the Team are working to improve structures and processes further as part of an ongoing commitment to quality improvement.
Overall staff were competent and welcoming which makes for an excellent student experience.