West Lothian College aims to help close the attainment gap through its Erasmus+ projects.
In 2016 it won the prestigious CDN Advancing Equality Award for its work on an innovative project to improve outcomes for young people facing difficulty and deprivation with Erasmus+. Its ‘Improving Skills Through International Learning Exchanges’ (ISTILE) project is linked to Europe 2020 Goals and Indicators to deliver improved results to learners and motivation to staff through increased capacity to help these learners.
It is a two-year project designed to offer disadvantaged learners the opportunity to study and work in an overseas environment.
It also offers the teaching team the opportunity to research and report about financial deprivation across Europe and offer advice and recommendations around best practice when it comes to supporting young people who face barriers to learning caused by financial deprivation.
In 2015-16, 55 college students and 14 staff travelled to seven overseas destinations in France, Germany, Sweden, Spain and Italy. Learners who had never been overseas and who lived in the 20% most financially deprived postcodes were prioritised for travel in the application criteria.
The groups consisted of eight students (seven to Germany) and two members of staff. The students received six weeks linguistic and cultural preparation and then spent a week studying at a partner college in the overseas country, a further week in the overseas destination working in a workplace relevant to their course of study at West Lothian College.
Students came from across college subject areas including Engineering, Automotive Engineering, Child Care, Health and Social Care, Business, Travel and Tourism and Professional Cookery.
At the end of the experience and upon successful completion the students achieved the SQA Work Experience Unit at either SCQF level 4, 5 or 6 dependent upon their level of competence. This was cross certificated to a Europass Mobility Certificate evidencing that the award was achieved overseas, enhancing employability by showing that the learner had worked and studied in an overseas environment.
75% of participating learners came from SIMD20 (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation 20% most financially deprived postcodes in Scotland) postcodes and the majority had never been out of the UK.
One condition of travel for these learners was perfect attendance during the period August to December 2015. This incentive helped keep many of those at risk of dropping out of college and also enabled them to form good habits around attendance which continued afterwards.
As a result of their overseas experiences, participants’ confidence levels have rocketed and their ambitions have soared. Their commitment to their studies has consolidated and they have direction and purpose. Friendships have been fostered and some learners have already returned to the country they visited such is the strength of relationships formed with overseas partners.