Nine colleges are looking to join the ranks of the existing seven that have been allowed by the Department for Education to recruit 14 to 16-year-olds directly. A year after his own college started direct recruitment, Lee Probert looks at what lessons have been learned.

September 2013 saw our Hull and Goole colleges welcome 100 young people to study their key stage four programme with us, following Professor Alison Wolf’s recommendation that colleges should be allowed to enrol 14 to 16-year-olds directly.

While this cohort of students had a new legal status for us, welcoming them to the colleges built on a long track record of partnership delivery with schools for key stage four provision.

In the two years leading up to launching the HCUK 14 to 16 college we had worked with the local authority to deliver the Energy League, a cohort of full-time 14 to 16-year-olds who transferred from a school as part of a managed closure.

Key to success in setting up this provision has been ensuring an appropriate balance of high quality national curriculum provision as well as a rich vocational diet alongside. Specialist pathways have been offered which complement local enterprise partnership priorities in engineering, construction, sport, health and care, creative and digital media, renewable technologies and logistics.

Across the group of colleges we can offer progression routes through FE and into higher education at undergraduate and post graduate levels.  This has proved to be significant in supporting young people and parents to commit to a change in education provider at 14.

A specialist and focused curriculum with good progression routes to further learning and employment has led to us securing a full mixed ability cohort of young people. Young people in our 14 to 16 college are rightly proud to be part of it, having been selected following interview.

The admissions process is individual to each child involving their parent or guardian making an application directly to the colleges. Students have chosen us as much as we’ve chosen them. This stage is critical to ensuring that we have offered places to students who can truly benefit from a college learning environment. It’s not easy to obtain transition information for individual students and therefore this investment in the admissions and initial assessment process is critical.

Investing in dedicated staff whose primary responsibility is to the 14 to 16 college demonstrates our commitment to this as a new and important part of the group as well as ensuring we have the right skills and expertise to work with 14 to 16-year-olds.

Alongside a dedicated senior leader for 14 to 16 provision, we’ve appointed an experienced secondary head teacher, special educational needs coordinator and experienced GCSE teaching staff. This core team works alongside our experienced and industry qualified vocational staff to offer complementary skills and experience to the curriculum offer.

Our 14 to 16 college is based in a dedicated zone offering the students a choice of bustling college life or their own private and safe space. The newly created 14 to 16 zone houses the designated teaching space to support national curriculum delivery as well as their own social space.

Students selected their own informal branded uniform giving them a sense of identity and community within the college. Almost all 100 students have a dedicated mentor who has volunteered to work with them for the duration of their programme. Trained mentors are drawn from college staff in senior leadership, teaching and support roles as well as A-level students. These relationships support progress and achievement as well as provide a point of contact for pastoral support.

There are bespoke policies and procedures as well as new data sets and tracking to become familiar with. Specialist training for staff and a discrete policy framework ensures that each student’s needs are met as well as ensuring that our offer is consistently high quality. Ofsted said we had made significant progress in all areas following our monitoring visit and reflected that we had often exceeded minimum requirements.

As we look forward to the current year 10 moving to year 11, following the obligatory prom night we’ll welcome more than 100 new year 10s to the 14 to 16 colleges in Hull and Goole in September 2014. This reflects our commitment to investing in this new college financially along with leadership time.

Dedicated open evenings, taster events and above all the experience of our students makes this a part of college-life which is here to stay.