Boosting Engagement and Attendance Amongst Resit Students

One of the biggest challenges facing education providers who want to help resit students gain English and maths qualifications is ensuring that they attend and engage with the support on offer. Having failed a GCSE exam at least once before, these learners often struggle with low motivation, low self-efficacy and feelings of not being in control of their own learning. There is a wealth of evidence that attests to the prevalence of these issues within the cohorts of Further Education colleges.

At Get Further, we offer small-group English and maths tuition within colleges to help re-sit students to get back on track with education. We have reviewed research into interventions designed to boost attendance and engagement in this environment and have used it to guide how our team of Programme Coordinators and Tutors develop relationships with and engage the students we support. Since implementing this evidence-based attendance and engagement strategy, we have seen an increase in engagement with our sessions, and there has been a reported increase in engagement with college classes among the learners we support with our programmes.

Below, you will find a brief summary of the research that underpins our approach, as well as tips on how to implement effective interventions within your own institution.

Support: Reminding and encouraging learners

Learners in FE are likely to need support in developing the routines and mindset that lead to regular attendance and positive work habits. The below have all been identified as effective ways of boosting engagement:

  • Providing encouragement, reassurance and positive feedback.
  • Reminding learners of key information such as times and dates of sessions and assessments.
  • Prompting learners to plan their work habits and routines in advance.

Professionals who work with young people should bear this in mind during all interactions with learners, and text-messages have been identified as a particularly easy and cost-effective method of circulating these messages at scale.

Interestingly, interventions that reassure learners and aim to reduce anxiety about academic ability have been found to be particularly impactful among students from less advantaged backgrounds. Text-based interventions have also been found to be more effective when negative or remedial messages are sent from a different source from reminders and encouraging messages. For example, communications about absence should be sent via a different medium (i.e. email rather than text) or from a different contact number or email address.

Some examples of the text messages we send to students can be found below:

Hi {first name}, your tuition session is tomorrow at {session time} in {session location}. It’s a good idea to check that you know where {session location} is and how long it will take you to get there so that you can plan to get there on time. Have a great session with {tutor name}!

Hi {first name}, your tuition session is today at {session time} in {session location}. If there’s anything you’ve found tricky in class recently, it’s a good idea to make a note of it so that you can tell your tutor – they’ll be able to help.  Remember, lots of students struggle with {subject}, and you will be making lots of progress by attending tuition sessions. Keep up the good work!

Motivate: Goal setting and gamifying learning

Poor self-efficacy and lack of feelings of control over their learning often negatively impact the motivation of FE learners. Intrinsic motivation (motivation that comes from within the individual and the satisfaction they gain from undertaking an activity) is thought to increase attendance and engagement much more effectively than extrinsic motivation (motivation created by external rewards and punishments). Teachers, tutors and other professionals who work with young people are well positioned to foster this.

Taking the time to set goals with students and plan out steps towards reaching them has been found to decrease dropout rates from educational courses. Setting out clear milestones and providing symbolic rewards has also been found to be effective in helping learners to take ownership of their learning, allowing them to see the progress they are making and set manageable targets to be achieved over time.

Caption: part of the induction session that appears in Get Further’s curriculum booklets. The section is titled “Goal Setting”, and encourages learners to set an ultimate goal for the programme, as well as breaking it down into SMART (“Specific”, “Measurable”, “Attainable”, “Realistic” and “Time Measured”) steps.

Connect: Social influence, study supporters and role models

Social influence plays a significant role in shaping people’s behaviour, and this influence can be harnessed to increase engagement through a variety of methods. We are much more likely to do something if we have previously told other people we are going to do it. Therefore, getting students to explicitly commit to attending regularly and for the duration of a programme at the beginning (i.e. through a student-teacher learning contract that establishes an “I do/you do” relationship) can be an effective way of boosting attendance.

Caption: part of the induction session that appears in Get Further’s curriculum booklets. The section is titled “What to Expect”, and is split into two lists: “What we expect from you” and “What you can expect from us”.

Sharing positive stories about other people’s experiences of education has the potential to increase feelings of belonging and motivation and reduce anxiety amongst students, especially if students relate to the subject of the success story. Therefore, using role models can be an effective motivator, conveying an important social norm that others like the student care about gaining and have been able to develop certain knowledge and skills.

There is also strong evidence to suggest that fostering a supportive learning environment amongst the family and friends of a learner can boost success rates. This can be achieved by getting students to nominate study supporters and prompting these supporters to ask about and engage with their studies, encourage and praise them and remind them of key dates and information.  Studies that have used text-messages to execute this have linked these interventions to improvements in attendance and attainment, with the most significant effects being found amongst students at the lower end of the distribution of attendance.

When designing a study supporter intervention, it is important to note that in FE contexts the study supporters a learner nominates is often not their parent, with one study finding that just 2 in 5 students nominated a member of their nuclear family, and just 1 in 3 nominated a parent or guardian.

Some examples of the text messages we send to supporters can be found below:

Hi {SS first name}, next week is half term for {learner first name}, so their session isn’t running, but sessions will resume on {date}. How is {learner first name} finding tuition so far? If they are struggling with anything, please remind them that they can contact me or let their tutor know in their next session. Attending tuition is one of the best things a student can do to boost their progress, so please praise {learner first name} for signing up this term. 

Hi {SS first name}, {learner first name}’s first session back is this {session day} at {session time} in {session location}. Their tutor, {tutor name}, is looking forward to seeing them. Could you please make sure that {learner first name} knows they have a session this week, that they feel prepared, and that they have made a plan to get there on time? Thanks!

Through our tuition programmes, we support students resitting their maths and English GCSEs by combining a curriculum underpinned by cognitive science with a focus on building positive relationships that help to support learner motivation, confidence and self-efficacy.

If you would like to discuss how Get Further might help you support your students through small-group tuition, curriculum resources, and evidence-based engagement strategy, or CPD, please complete our contact form and someone will get back to you.

Further reading: Retention and Success in Maths and English A Practitioner Guide to Applying Behavioural Insights

Written by Connie Lawfull