- Lynda Fitzwater (Senior Lecturer, Fashion Promotion and Imaging)
- Katie Allder (Senior Lecturer, Fashion Promotion and Imaging)
This qualitatively-researched cross-campus UCA report highlights course leaders’ views on level 4 tutoring practices and retention. Email and phone interviews after 2017’s resits, facilitated retrospection. We asked two initial questions around retention, attrition and withdrawal; How is tutorial support for stage one students working on your course? How do you experience this as linked to retention, attrition and withdrawal?
As an institution, we need to respond resiliently to shifts in the HE landscape. The research has shown the demand and need for additional pastoral care and support, and training for lecturers to provide professional for this demand in ameliorating issues with withdrawal. This, in addition to ‘getting to know…students quickly…through regular conversations in the classroom and day-to-day passing’, are all essential for student retention alongside increasing student confidence, mental health and financial issues.
1. Approaches to timing, resourcing and training for pastoral tutorials
Participants approached pastoral tutorialing highly analytically, deeply considering their dynamics and effectiveness for the early student experience. Key issues raised included:
- scheduling during induction, timing around stressors/opportunities;
- informal or scheduled for all students;
- what should be the focus of the chat;
- serious resourcing pressures e.g. training, hours and physical space;
- strong potential to surface and ameliorate problems for students uncertain about HE, their course or their own aptitude/ambitions;
- benefits: initiating students into courses’ personalised learning, shifting students’ shyness with academic staff, and, most importantly, facilitating staff familiarity with students’ needs and hopes;
- challenges: it was noted that further tutorialing of students who had already decided to withdraw would not have reversed their decision.
2. Value and pressures of academic tutorials
Academic tutorials were described as distinct from pastoral tutorials because they are designed to support a unit through formative feedback on particular pieces of work (which cannot be usefully offered during the induction period). The research found that:
- non-attendance was attributed to pressure of expectations that new work would be forthcoming;
- other students’ increased inclination to attend academic rather than pastoral tutorials was attributed to strategic learning;
- advanced scheduling fuels anxiety for some, while informality can be generative;
- students’ mental health is enhanced by more frequent use of individual academic tutorials to boost confidence more consistently.
3. An increasing number of students are reporting poor mental health
Most respondents noted a recent shift in anxiety levels and other mental health challenges faced by the student body. The research found that:
- mental health and anxiety concerns presented through both academic and pastoral tutorials, and also in group learning;
- students are often keen to discuss strategies for holistic wellbeing;
- some respondents noted a lack of social opportunities/confidence;
- mental health severely affects learning, in several cases causing withdrawal;
- the potential benefits of MHFA training don’t appear to be well understood (only once specifically mentioned in the data). Perhaps concomitantly, academic staff attempting to support mental health issues is a concern as well as correct signposting to LSA/support;
- hypothesised reasons for this shift included precarious domestic, financial, and emotional environments, a lack of preparedness for Higher Education (due to different types of intake like A level, clearing and foundation), and the cultural/social/political zeitgeist.
4. Peer mentoring
Trials by a small number of respondents were felt not to have fully explored the potentials for embedding peer mentoring into their course culture, despite its ability to improve students’ sense of belonging and metacognitive understanding of HE expectations. The research found that:
- course-specific physical space would enhance peer mentoring trials
- improving retention emerged as a key benefit, especially for level 4 combination with the tracking of ‘at risk’ students to avoid withdrawals
- level 4 withdrawal rates sometimes reflected missing interaction with family, friends and peers, so peer mentoring could be usefully targeted
Against the backdrop of UCA exploring the ‘continued enhancement of academic quality and the student experience’, we recommend:
- a more substantive and consistent pre-enrolment strategy of staged contact between the course and the firm-accepts;
- re-launching induction tutoring as a funded project for level 4, term 1, with provision of guidelines for timing;
- raising awareness of the MHFA’s benefits and power to build capacity alongside guidance on the academic pastoral role;
- scoping to identify potential co-working studios (e.g. Epsom’s FPI/GRD) or other enhanced social spaces
- peer tutoring trials for level 4
- developing an ‘at risk’ profiling strategy to target support towards students who may withdraw, and make better use of existing networks.