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How to write a Learner Engagement Strategy

A step-by-step guide to writing a Learner Engagement Strategy
by

Dan Baxter

on 9 July 2014

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Transcript of How to write a Learner Engagement Strategy

How to write a
Learner Engagement Strategy

consultation mechanisms
using the strategy
Conclusion
why have a Learner Engagement Strategy?
setting the scope of the strategy?
college-led mechanisms
learner-led mechanisms
agreeing purpose, aims and objectives
agreeing a mission, a vision & values
cycle of engagement
obligation
Colleges have an obligation to engage students in college decision making processes as described in the Education Act 1994.

The Instrument and Articles of Government (I&A) is essentially the ‘rule book’ for colleges. These state that a Corporation has a duty to publish arrangements for obtaining the views of students (and staff) on specific matters for which the
corporation is responsible - this includes:
• the determination and periodic review of the educational character and mission of the college
• the oversight of the college’s activities
• the effective and efficient use of resources
• the solvency of the college and the safeguarding of its assets
Ownership
opportunity
democracy and citizenship
Quality improvement
Through education, individuals are equipped to take charge of their own destiny. The same is true of learner rep systems where learners should create their own agenda for discussion and debate. There is value too, in colleges working with their students by engaging them in college meetings, involving them in decision making processes and consulting them on quality improvement.

To encourage this engagement, students will need training and support and more importantly they will need to feel a sense of ownership of these mechanisms and a sense that their opinions are valued. Involvement in the development and ownership of the learner experience leads to a sense of individual and collective responsibility which in turn encourages deeper engagement in decision making processes.
It is vital that colleges work with students and their representatives to create equal opportunities for all students to participate in learner engagement activities and college decision-making processes.

Colleges should consider various initiatives to ensure participation is possible for all. Colleges needs to consider their communities when planning how to involve students, and should do so regardless of background or beliefs, ensuring that differing needs and aspirations are met. Diversity should be celebrated and be intrinsic to all engagement by embracing all learners regardless of ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, age, gender, religion and/or cultural beliefs. Equality and diversity monitoring should enable the identification of participation gaps which can be addressed with student representatives.
Learner engagement activities are key opportunities for students to become active citizens, as is involvement in democratic processes. The process of elections - be they for class reps, students’ union officers, or student governors - ensures that learner voice exists from classroom to boardroom, and promotes a learner-led learning community.

Where such processes have college support, and where those elected meaningfully influence the learner experience, participation in democracy will undoubtedly increase.

Engaging students in mechanisms which impact on their learning experience is crucial to increasing engagement in decision making processes, as well as in shaping their community and wider society.
All colleges implement their own policies and procedures that allow them to monitor and measure students satisfaction in relation to the quality of learning experiences. It is the implementation of these processes and procedures which are used to develop improvement plans.

Quality improvement is just one of the key areas that colleges will focus on to improve provision and increase participation. Learner engagement with policies and procedures related to this are vital.

Colleges will need to ensure they have rigorous internal self-improvement measures in place to ensure continued success. Who better to involve when discussing the quality of the learning experience than the learners themselves.
existing mechanisms
Before developing new engagement mechanisms it is important to first identify and consider the existing mechanisms that are currently used in your college.

It may be that by making small changes, it will be possible to use existing college structures, committees and other processes to engage learners before looking to establish new mechanisms.

In so doing, the college will be able to consult with learners on the development of teaching and learning and the improvement of the college experience whilst engaging learners in various college decision making processes.
what to consult on?
Learners should be consulted on:
College policies
Governance
Teaching and learning
Quality improvement processes
Academic affairs
All matters relating to the student experience
Student-focused leadership team meetings
Welfare provision
Safeguarding, health and safety, and student well being
Equality and diversity
Catering provision
Estates management
Security
Facilities
HR
Procurement
Recruitment
Finance related to specific topics affecting the students' union
Any other key decisions that will have an impact on students
college-led mechanisms
College-led mechanisms are used to ensure the inclusion of students in the improvement and decision making processes of the college.

These will include the collection and use of student views through a variety of processes including surveys and focus groups. Colleges should consider how they will use these mechanisms to gather the information they need to support their policies and improvements whilst also ensuring that learner-led mechanisms are also in place. These mechanisms could include:

• The development of a Learner Engagement Strategy
• Regular meetings between SMT and elected student reps
• Enrichment programmes and activities
• Surveys and methods such as ‘You said, we did’ for reporting
• Individual tutorials and review meetings with students
• Focus groups
learner-led mechanisms
Learner-led engagement is where students are empowered to initiate and discuss the views of fellow students, allowing them to actively shape their own learning experiences, as well as allowing them to participate in the day-to-day decision making processes within and outside of the college. These mechanisms could include:

• Elections for student representatives at all levels
within the college
• Paid elected sabbatical officers
• Student-led clubs and societies
• Students’ unions / student councils (as defined in
the Education Act 1994)
• Peer-to-peer training
embedding the strategy
Using a mix of college-led and learner-led mechanisms to consult learners on policies, procedures and improvement will result in a collection of statistics, data, feedback and action plans. However, this raft of information should not be seen as the end point to the process.

The collection of this information, especially when beginning this journey of learner engagement will produce a variety of outcomes that will prove to be much more lasting and meaningful in terms of
embedding a culture of learner engagement within the college.
initiating the strategy
College and learner-led mechanisms will highlight the issues that students and staff should take personal and collective responsibility for.

Consultation mechanisms underpin development and continuation of an engaged student community. Where mechanisms are supported with appropriate commitment and resources, the engagement of learners should grow each year - something which can be measured by participation rates, success rates, democratic involvement and more importantly, the positive changes that are a result of engagement.

Where a college has a high engagement with all of these mechanisms, it is vital to continue the promotion of learner engagement as the needs and interests of students continue to change and adapt over time.
reviewing the strategy
While colleges have a duty to engage their students. It is for each college to decide how best to do this and how to review their practices accordingly.

Reviewing the learner engagement strategy is a task for the college corporation who will need to consider all college policies and how they work alongside the Learner Engagement Strategy. As part of reviewing this strategy, corporations should seek evidence and feedback to gain a true picture of how it is making an impact within the college and the community it serves.

Any changes should be drafted in consultation with students and be agreed and ratified by the corporation at a future corporation meeting.

The Learner Engagement Strategy should be reviewed at least annually by the corporation, with a process outlined and identified within the document itself and in a way which includes students.
benefits of the strategy
inspection
Colleges always use their Ofsted inspection reports when measuring effectiveness and impact in relation to learner voice.

A college will only be judged ‘outstanding’ overall if its teaching and learning is judged to be ‘outstanding’. Whilst Ofsted may be less strict about how teaching is delivered, student success and progression into further and higher education or employment are also likely to be seen as indicators of good teaching.

With this in mind, engaging students with the design, delivery and co-production of their learning is highly likely to impact positively on the indicators that Ofsted will be looking for.
added benefits
There are no outcomes, good, bad or indifferent, without learners’ time, attention and motivation – learners are a factor of educational production. It is important for colleges to recognise the benefits of learners who co-produce their educational experiences both individually and collectively, and to have a Learner Engagement Strategy that enables students to be more than merely consulted.

When students become co-producers of their educational experience as well as the co-producers of successful college outcomes, it is highly likely that the college will maximise a student’s commitment to the provider. If a college acknowledges this then they will be able to access a wide variety of added benefits.

These added benefits comprise a wide range of skills, knowledge, experience, social networks and available time. If a college corporation can truly embrace and maximise these then it will go some way in delivering on its duties in relation learner engagement.
benefits for students
A learner-led approach to representation and engagement means learners taking responsibility for issues that concern them. For example, students should propose policies and action plans, rather than simply highlighting areas they are unhappy with or responding to surveys.

This promotes independent thinking, as well as allowing learners to develop an understanding of their rights and responsibilities in the college community. It also encourages learners to be self-starters and think about how they can work with others to solve problems - skills which are essential in the workplace.

Learners are engaged when they are not just involved in a decision making process, but when they feel that there is a realistic chance that their views can have an impact.
measuring impacts
While colleges have a duty to engage their students. It is for each college to decide how best to do this and how to review their practices accordingly.

Reviewing the learner engagement strategy is a task for the college corporation who will need to consider all college policies and how they work alongside the Learner Engagement Strategy. As part of reviewing this strategy, corporations should seek evidence and feedback to gain a true picture of how it is making an impact within the college and the community it serves.

Any changes should be drafted in consultation with students and be agreed and ratified by the corporation at a future corporation meeting.

The Learner Engagement Strategy should be reviewed at least annually by the corporation, with a process outlined and identified within the document itself and in a way which includes students.
benefits for the college
When learners are engaged in decision making and when they feel that there is a realistic chance that their views can have an impact, this can improve retention. This is not only because learners feel a stronger connection to the college, but also because the perception of situations being unchangeable, and issues insurmountable, is changed to one where learners have the ability to make choices.

In this scenario, it is more likely that learners will recommend the college to their family, friends and neighbours. Learners will encourage others around them to join communities they feel valued and respected in, if they feel that they have a say in the decisions that community makes. Colleges that strongly value learner engagement provide an important opportunity to learners, and demonstrate the importance of citizens taking an active part in society and the community around them.
a Mission, a vision & values
The college mission, vision and values will be stated at the beginning of the document in order to ‘set the tone’ for the strategy that follows.

Everything the college does on a day-to-day basis should, in some way, contribute to the mission, vision and the values of the college which will be stated in the prospectus, on the website and other visible places in and outside of the college.

The mission, vision and values should be demonstrable through the behaviours of the college staff and students, the quality of teaching and learning and other practices such as learner engagement.

The college senior management team will set the mission, vision and the values and students should be involved in creating these.
an example: values
The College Corporation, SMT, staff and students should all have been involved in creating and setting the values which the college will look to aspire to.

These should be listed in the Learner Engagement Strategy and could include the following:

Equality
Achieving
Respect for others
Be accountable for our actions as individuals and teams
Putting students first
Commitment in all we do
Positively challenge ourselves and each other
an example: mission
The mission of the college should be a simple over-arching goal that will be defined in the College Mission Statement.

This could read like this:

“To provide high quality education and training for our learners, serving the needs of employers and our community by developing and enhancing life chances
for all.”
an example: vision
The Vision of the college should be set out as a statement of intent, perhaps in a way like this:

“We will enable students to transform their lives by creating a learning environment that fosters and inspires success. We will continue to create and
maintain high standards in all we do as a teaching and training provider and as a valued member of our community, achieved through strong leadership at
every level within the college.”
purpose, aims & objectives
It is important that the aims and objectives are clear and concise so that the user of the document knows exactly what the Learner Engagement Strategy sets out to
achieve.

Aims and objectives are often laid out in a simple list which often follows on from a short introduction or statement on the ‘purpose’ of the document. However,
some colleges prefer to produce a list of statements about what the strategy aims to achieve, but this tends to happen when the mission, vision and values have not
been stated beforehand.
an example: Purpose

"The college firmly believes that embracing learner engagement enables individuals to shape their own learning experience whilst having a significant and effective impact on developing the college’s quality improvement processes.

The college is committed to ensuring that learners are supported and engaged in maximising the opportunities available to contribute to self-assessment and all key decision making processes.
an example: aims & objectives
The college will:
• be responsive, inclusive and provide outstanding services
• measure and evaluate student feedback, participation and satisfaction in all areas of college life
• embed learner engagement at all levels within the college
• develop staff to enable our mechanisms to work
• provide appropriate resources and training to support engagement and effective learner voice
• ensure learners are engaged in co-producing their learning and also in the wider student experience both as an individual and collectively
• continuously improve
• have student-led structures that are professionally supported
• acknowledge and celebrate success, creating an achieving environment
The ‘scope’ details how the college will work towards its ‘vision’ and identifies each individual key mechanisms for delivery.

There will usually be a short descriptive paragraph outlining the mechanisms, detailing its specific functions. There are many individual ‘mechanisms’ that can be implemented to increase engagement with learners at a college.

It is best to begin by considering the mechanisms that are already implemented, how successful these are and then think about mechanisms are missing and where there are gaps in engagement. These mechanisms will depend on your college circumstances, priorities and resource levels.
What is the scope
When considering the scope of the learner engagement strategy is it important to consider wide variety of mechanisms that can be implemented and how these will be used within the college to increase engagement.

It is also important to consider how the strategy, and engagement itself, is led by learners and their representatives. Therefore, considering and deciding upon a mix of learner-led and college-led mechanisms will be the most productive.
college-led and learner-led
College management groups will commit time to learner voice by listening to updates from the student council or students’ union executive committee. All managers will be expected to make a ‘pledge’ in terms of something they can offer individually to support the students’ union or learner voice process. The pledge should be written down and reviewed at future management meetings.

Example pledges could include:
“As Finance Director I will support the students’ union with its budgeting and financial processes at targeted times during the academic year”.
“As the Head of Department I will ensure every tutor group receives a full learner voice tutorial at the start of term”.
“As Principal I will commit to meeting with the Student Union President at least once fortnightly and at all other times deemed appropriate”.
“As Head of Student Services I will develop (in conjunction with students) ways to tie our enrichment offer in with student-led clubs”.
college management groups
Through the 1994 Education Act the students’ union is the recognised representative body of students at the college. The college views the students’ union as a key driver in the Learner Engagement Strategy and will channel all other mechanisms and learner engagement activities in consultation with, or via the formal structures of, the students’ union.

The students' union executive - elected by students via a cross campus ballot - will be responsible for liaising directly with students, class representatives and external bodies such as the National Union of Students on issues that impact on teaching and learning and the wider student experience. Members of this team will have constituted job descriptions that reflect what the student council deems to be the areas for which students require representation. The Executive will produce reports to the student council on their work and activity to ensure accountability and effectiveness in a peer-to-peer environment.
the students' union
The some examples, the union is headed up by an elected sabbatical student president, supported by a team of professional staff and is paid to carry out the duties of the role. Upon election,the sabbatical president will also automatically assume one of the student governor roles for the coming academic year, and act as a key communication link between the class representatives, the student executive committee, trustee board and the college. This sabbatical officer could also be supported and trained using an identified apprenticeship framework by the college, who will also act as the employer.

The majority of student officers in Further Education are elected and serve as volunteer officers alongside the strain and pressures of full-time education and other personal circumstances and responsibilities. In these cases, the college should ensure that the students' union and these officers have the required support to carry out their studies and personal responsibilities outside of the college, whilst also enabling them to effectively carry out their students’ union and learner voice duties.



student officers
The student executive, most commonly the President, will meet with the senior management team responsible for quality improvement at least once per week to encourage a regular two-way communication.

This two-way communication should be between both executive groups. Should either of the designated individuals not be able to make an appointment they may select another member of their respective executive teams to take their place. The principal will also attend one of these liaisons at least once per month.
exec and SMT relationships
The student council will comprise department reps, student governors, all members of the student executive committee and the chairs of any student clubs and societies. The student council will meet at least three times a year and at least once per term. Any student can observe student council meetings. These meetings will serve two purposes with the first half of the agenda focusing on ‘college business’ and the second half on ‘students’ union business’.

Areas of learning and site councils comprise representatives from each tutor group, a senior member of staff from the area of learning, a member of the student executive and a college governor responsible for that area of learning. Two students should be nominated from this area of learning to attend each student council meeting and report on issues. Upon arrival each rep will have their details registered, and they will also be asked to write down the primary issue they would like to bring up during the meeting. The list of issues on the register will then form a priority ballot to ensure that widely felt issues are discussed first.
student councils
Each tutor group from every curriculum area of the college will elect one or two representatives who are mandated to voice the views of the group at meetings, the areas of learning/site councils and student council as appropriate. The class rep structure should feed directly into the constituted students’ union structure, ensuring that student voice is heard at every level within the college. This structured approach to student voice gives meaning to the term “from classroom to boardroom”.

These individuals are elected from a group of class reps from specific departments. In much larger colleges it is often these individuals who are expected to attend student council meetings, as part of the requirements outlined in the students’ union constitution and college learner involvement strategy. In colleges where department reps are in place, the class rep role only extends to areas of learning/site meetings, and it is the department reps who take on and raise the collective issues, specifically issues that cannot be solved or addressed at department level, at a central, more strategic student council. Department reps are referred to in some colleges as ‘super reps’.
class and department reps
On an annual basis, two students' unions will be elected the student body as student governors. Usually, the successful students’ union presidential candidate, or another identified executive role, will automatically become a student governor. This individual will also be known as the Learner Advocate.

These individuals will be members of the Corporation and will be able to give their views on college policies as students, not as student representatives.
Student governors
From time to time the student council will delegate responsibility to its membership on certain issues. Alongside any college “You said, we did” mechanism, focus groups should be used to ensure students are given the opportunity to solve problems and issues for themselves and on behalf of the college and/or students’ union.

Involving reps directly with work on quality improvement, student experience and general students’ union activities will provide them with a sense of ownership. This student-led approach can often inspire representatives to take the next step on their journey as an advocate, whether that is as a student executive member, student governor, regional or national representative.
learner-led focus groups
During the academic year (potentially each term), the college could support the students’ union to run a learner voice forum or conference that consists of all elected student representatives and advocates. This event will reward representatives and students for their activity over the previous year, debriefing them on what has been
achieved and work that still needs to be done. Newly elected student executive and student governors should also attend this event as part of their handover and
induction process.

These events provide an opportunity to widen engagement and give students the opportunity to question SMT during 'Question Time' workshops and panel debates.
learner voice forum/conference
The college conducts a number of student surveys to help inform college improvements procedures and develop students' experiences of teaching and learning.

The college will ensure that students have input into the development of internal surveys. Additionally, student representatives will be involved in survey promotion and the analysis of survey results, as well as in the creation of action plans designed to make improvements. The college will use the results of national student surveys as appropriate to benchmark performance.

The results of all surveys should be made available to students to ensure that they are kept up-to-date with the findings.
surveys
The college recognises the need to provide dedicated, professional support to engage with students. The level, and volume of staff support can vary from college to college, from large groups (such as a student liaison teams) having collective responsibility for this area to a full time, professional Learner Voice Coordinator/Manager. The sector recognises the differing levels of staff support afforded by different colleges and refers to staff in these positions as ‘Learner Voice Practitioners’ (LVPs).

Regardless of their number, the key purpose of a lead staff member responsible for learner voice is to ensure that the Learner Engagement Strategy is implemented and effective within the college, whilst also supporting the students’ union and its officers to deliver its overall aims and objectives. Essentially the role will ensure that a number of the mechanisms outlined in this briefing are planned for, effective in practice, and reviewed at regular intervals. Staff support brings continuity to learner voice processes and strategy.
dedicated staff support
The college believes that learners participate more effectively and become more engaged if they receive training in the roles outlined previously. The college also
recognises the need to offer training and support opportunities for staff that support learner voice.
The college could therefore provide training for:
• Tutor group representatives so they can fully participate in course reviews and student councils, ensuring they are fully aware of their rights and responsibilities in relation to the college and their peers.
• Students elected to student parliament, allowing them to participate fully in that forum and on the appropriate faculty board.
• Students elected onto the students’ union executive and the corporation will be provided with the training necessary to enable their full participation.
• For LVPs and other learner voice support staff as appropriate to ensure continuity and effective delivery of this learner engagement strategy
Training
The students’ union and the college will support students to participate fully in meetings.

This should include providing enablers for those who have a difficulty participating in meetings due to a disability. The college could also commit to paying childcare and travel costs. Students should not be disadvantaged financially if they are elected to attend meetings. The college must also ensure that alternative arrangements and support are made available for students who miss classes or course activities as a result of participating in college committee meetings. If a meeting is during lunchtime, the college could provide food.
college committee meetings

Following the implementation of the Learner Engagement Strategy, its use becomes cyclical based around the academic year.

The strategy could indicate when each individual mechanism will be implemented - perhaps as simply as mentioning which term a mechanism will be used, where appropriate - but once an academic year is complete, there comes an opportunity for review and editing before the cycle beings again.
engagement cycle
The annual review of the Learner Engagement Strategy is an exercise that should be completed as a collaboration between students, their representatives and the college - all of whom could and should feel a sense of ownership towards the strategy.

The review should take place over a period of time that is convenient for students and is perhaps also a useful exercise to initiate new student officers into their new roles as part of a handover.

The review needs to be honest and should look to seal gaps in the engagement activities of college - making sure that where appropriate, mechanisms are owned and led by learners themselves.
reviewing and editing
Learner Engagement Strategies can be powerful tools for both colleges and students. Whilst they provide colleges and staff with a clear plan on how the provider will engage its members whilst also evidencing this to the relevant bodies as necessary, students benefit too.

The ownership that they can take, the confidence and skills they can learn and their ability to become fully involved in decision-making processes can be powerful tools in developing as people and as members of a community whilst having a say, and an impact, on their own learning experience.
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