Transition in: Level 4 strategies to keep students ‘on board’


As the new term begins and we start to build in activities to transition our new students into UCA courses, we thought you might find it useful to see what other programmes at UCA have done to keep Level 4 (first year) students ‘on board’ with their studies.  The Creative Education team talked to our Performing Arts and Architecture courses, about their success in non-continuation practices at Level 4.  Here are some tips from both courses:

Ruth Torr, Programme Director Performing Arts :

  1. We know all our students by name by the end of induction.
  2. We meet all our year 1 students in groups of three during induction.
  3. Induction is fun and workshop focused. Induction information is given over a few weeks.
  4. Year 2 students meet with Year 1 to give them a tour during induction and help them settle in.
  5. They contact an email address called “stage door” if they miss a session.
  6. We email them if they do not attend and/or do not contact “stage door”.
  7. Withdrawn or difficult behaviour is challenged/spoken about straight away.
  8. We have personal tutors to meet with students who have missed more than more session without notifying us. These sessions frequently reveal more information about the student and may lead onto 5 below.
  9. We ask Donna Haston (Student Wellbeing Operations Manager) to conduct ‘Wellbeing Triage’ to see students who may require further services. This is new this year and has helped staff immensely.
  10. We have wellbeing sessions to talk about sleep, diet and how to improve well-being.
  11. In 2019/20, we are having wellbeing sessions for all three years directed by a counsellor. This will be more effective than the one-off session in 6 above.
  12. Staff are available to talk to with an “open-door” policy most of the time.
  13. We have enrichment trips and events to get to know students better.
  14. Students see each other’s work over the three years.
  15. Programme Director is often seeking out students in the morning as they wait for their session. The mood of the group is assessed at this point.

Rob Nice, Senior Lecturer in Architecture, Canterbury


In response to concerns about Level 4 attrition in 2014/15 and the importance of a student’s first weeks in University, I led the reform of the Schools Welcome Week practices for both BA(Hons) iAd + Architecture. In the first instance, in a drive to understand the factors involved, the then Head of School along with the Campus Registry and I, reviewed various qualitative and quantitative data, but it was clear that there was seldom one factor involved in a student wishing to leave their studies in their first year of University. Some of the factors identified were; issues around entry-level requirements, anecdotal evidence of financial issues, family responsibilities and attendance. But with no single factor in the mix and much evidence to suggest that a student’s first weeks in University are key to their long-term success, it was decided to focus our attentions on revising the Welcome Week experience.

After many years of setting a summer project, with very variable outcomes, at the end of 2014-15 it was decided to bring it to a close. It was proposed that we move to provide a more supportive Welcome Week experience, where students worked together with a wide range of course staff in the design studio. In support of this change, I developed a new Welcome Week brief and the produced a ‘User’s Manual’.

The Induction week brief is intended to be an enjoyable introduction to some of the issues, processes, skills and tools that will help ease students into their studies. The outcome of this brief is not assessed and so students are encouraged to relax and enjoy the first week of their time at University. This model provides a social, as well as, academic induction that enables students to meet their peers and some of the key members of staff prior to the academic year getting underway. Key to this approach is that students do not require access to support and resources pre-arrival.

The Users Manual outlines the trials and tribulations of entering a Higher Education setting, on very demanding courses, both BA(Hons) iAd + Architecture, giving an overview of the year ahead. It also contains profiles of key academic and technical staff. The aim is to support the student’s transition into Higher Education, especially in the early weeks of their studies. In the second year, we issue a printed copy, as we found that the digital resource was hardly being used. I have since refined the briefing material and manual year on year.

I have also developed a Reflective Journal (in response to a document Kim + Anna produced for Cultural Context) for both Level 4 BA(Hons) iAd + Architecture students, which was trialled in Terms 2+3 of 2018-19. The RLJ is intended to enable students to track their own progress and to engage in ongoing reflection. It also requires them to assess their academic confidence, using the Academic Behavioural Confidence scale developed by Sander & Sanders (2002). The aim is to combine the content of the User’s Manual and Learning Journal for 2019-20. My longer-term goal was for this document to be rolled out across Level 5 + 6 BA(Hons) iAd (as CL), but as my role has now changed, this will be a decision taken by the new established PD.


This academic year just finished (2018-19) was also the first time that the Level 4 iAd and Architecture students were brought together in their respective cohorts under the guidance of two distinct studio teams for Terms 2+3. This initiative is intended to provide a better sense of identity, when sharing Unit delivery across courses. Again, the hope is that this will aid long term retention and progression.


The briefing documents issued across all Level 4 Units ensure that the students can see the project as a whole, but also break the brief down into bitesize chunks to ensure that each brief is broken down into a series of manageable tasks.


Whilst a demand on time, I believe the way we handle Formative Reviews and the subsequent written feedback, at Level 4, also assists students as they adjust to what is very likely to be a very different way of learning.


My working relationships with colleagues across the School are also incredibly important. So, whilst the curriculum tends to revolve around the design studio, any changes to be made are easily discussed with core members of staff and key sessionals across the school. Having a team of staff that are happy to engage in these types of conversation is fundamental to the success of the Level 4 curriculum. It is also my firm belief that the year convenor system is key in supporting student retention. As at each Level the various cohorts have a key member of Academic Staff to head towards if they are encountering any challenges, whether they be academic or otherwise. This is a message made clear during Welcome Week and reiterated throughout the year.


It may also worth noting, that regardless of my other commitments over the past three years, since joining as a sessional in 2007, I have always been involved with Level 4 delivery, which has enabled me to understand and evolve the curriculum in response to the various needs of incoming cohorts.

The Course level Retention data issued as part of the BA(Hons) Arc AAM indicates good progress has been made at Level 4 with the Withdrawals + Academic Fails rate diminishing year on year; 15-16: 12.2% / 16-17: 9.2% / 17-18: 5.3%. The more perplexing conundrum (challenge to be addressed) is that the same cannot be said of the BA(Hons) iAd students whom have exactly the same Level 4 experience as BA(Hons) Arc, but the data paints a less positive picture; 15-16: 23.7% / 16-17: 8.1% / 17-18: 30.4%, which continues to be food for thought as we move forward…

Whilst the various initiatives alone cannot stop students wishing to withdraw, so far, the anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that combined they have had a positive impact on student experience and more broadly on studio culture.  To conclude,  I believe it’s the holistic developments that have been made across the curriculum; from Unit Descriptors to Welcome Week activities that have enabled us to better support and  address the challenges encountered by our incoming Level 4 students as they make the transition into an HE learning environment.

Useful guides

LSS Health and Wellbeing 

LSS When to Refer Guide

Learning Development Tutor Core Offer


Collated by Annamarie McKie, Teaching & Learning Development Manager, 24 September 2019



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