20 out of the 249 FE colleges in England are now recruiting full-time 14 year old learners, putting them in direct competition with secondary schools for the first time. With the attraction of greater funding for younger pupils, many colleges are setting up academies alongside or within their existing institutions. Recruitment is clearly growing, with increasing numbers of younger teenagers opting to follow the more clearly defined vocational pathways offered by FE providers.
A report by the nfer found that ‘teaching 14–16 year olds in colleges was becoming increasingly embedded and an expected element of the lecturers’ role’ and, although perceived by some as more challenging than teaching older teenagers and adults, the benefits for lecturers are multiple:
- Learners are often taught in much smaller groups than in traditional classes in both schools and colleges, making it easier to get to know individuals well and making class management easier.
- The academies themselves may be fairly independent from the rest of the college, with distinct leadership allocated to this area of provision, allowing rules to be reinforced more consistently.
- There is often increased training and support given to staff working with 14 and 15 year olds, providing valuable professional development.
- The experience of teaching younger teenagers conveys greater transferability between sectors, for lecturers wishing to make the transition into school teaching.
- Many lecturers comment on the satisfaction they gain from working with learners who may not have flourished within the school setting and who are given a “head-start” on those entering FE aged 16+
10 tips for teaching 14-16s
- Have as few rules as possible. Although most sources advise negotiating ground rules with learners, one lecturer I know has 3 non-negotiable rules which work perfectly. These are: Be on time, try your hardest and be kind to everyone.
- Learn your learners’ names quickly, use them and encourage them to use your first name.
- Aim to provide structure, security and routine. Lessons need to follow recognisable patterns, particularly at first, with a clear starter, main section and plenary.
- Build a sense of belonging. Learners may wear a uniform to make them identifiable, but beyond this, take opportunities to build positive group dynamics. Ice-breakers aren’t just for the beginning of the year.
- Plan for active learning. It’s a cliché that younger learners have shorter attention spans. I have seen plenty of classes where learners are perfectly able to concentrate on tasks which are stimulating and creative, particularly those involving technology. Younger learners are often more creative than older teens or adults and can be less risk averse with their learning.
- Discourage “hands up” in favour of more inclusive questioning techniques, such as “think, pair, share”, or use student selectors such as fruit machine
- Highlight vocational relevance wherever possible, flagging up where learners may need the relevant knowledge or skills in future.
- Reward them wherever possible. Concrete rewards such as trips or prizes are helpful, but praise may be just as effective, in terms of building self-esteem.
- Familiarise yourself with the support that is available to you as a teacher of this age group. There may be different Safeguarding procedures to follow.
- Above all, enjoy the opportunity to work with some of the most unpredictable, creative and affectionate group of learners within FE.