Losing those first-day nerves

Learning Account; A Week in the Life of Lesley Donoghue, Director of Student Services at Solihull College of Further Education
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The Independent Online
The students are so nervous when they arrive for enrolment, but they're all desperately pretending not to be. The full-time students enrolling this week, mainly for A-level and GNVQ courses, are all very quiet while they wait to meet their tutors, though within a few weeks we know they'll be the opposite.

At Solihull College, we began enrolling in June this year for courses starting this autumn, so the usual burst of activity in September has been a bit calmer. There's been a steady stream of people signing up for part-time courses, and we're already 2,000 enrolments up on this time last year.

This week we are doing all we can to make the new full-time students - who are mostly school leavers - as welcome as possible. There will be 3,000 of them, but we have opened a new centre for sixth form studies so they can experience the college atmosphere they want without being overwhelmed. At enrolment, we interview all full-time students and they meet their tutors, where possible, and guidance staff who advise them on their choice of course. One of the advantages of being such a big college - we have about 24,000 students in total - is that we can provide very comprehensive guidance, and we produce masses of prospectuses and literature to help them choose courses. The students come along bringing their records of achievement - a sort of CV of everything they have done in school, including their qualifications. They arrive casually dressed; one of the attractions of college for them is the lack of uniform.

In a way though, they create their own alternative uniform, which I think is a shame, I'd like to see them in something a bit more wild.

Once they've signed a learning agreement with us, they join our induction week, where they'll find out about all the counselling, guidance and welfare services we offer.

For the part-time students, the enrolment process is usually simpler. There has been a real buzz this year - people have been rushing for information technology courses in particular.

I don't think it's so much a case now of adults wanting to keep up with their children in computing. They are hearing e-mail addresses given out on the radio or seeing Website addresses in newspapers and they want to find out what it's all about.

The best thing about being in the advice centre is the sheer range of people coming in. There are people signing up for life-changing courses which will give them particular skills for work and there are others enrolling for swimming at the local baths.

We often find adults bring a friend along for moral support. I've seen plenty of cases where the friend gets inspired too and is back the next day to sign up for something themselvesn

Lucy Ward

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