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Moving on from further education: Guidance for colleges


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Leaving college to join the workforce or to enter higher education can be one of the most important milestones into adulthood. Research indicated that transitions at this stage of life can be difficult, as college leavers may feel both ‘young’ and ‘adult’ as they try to develop their identity while coming to terms with increased independence.

Transition difficulty during this period is associated with five key areas for young people, namely:

  1. Anticipations for their future
  2. A sense of loss for the previous stage of life (their college identity)
  3. Anxiety about their future
  4. Difficult with the ambiguous status (as both being a young adult, but having increasing independence)
  5. Psychological readjustment

When students run into difficulties with their transition from college it can have an impact on their ability to become productive members of their community, and can lead to unemployment or underemployment. The unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds was 11.9% for the time period of July-September 2017. When this is compared to the general national unemployment rate of 4.3%, it is clear that far too many 16-24 year olds are not in meaningful employment or training. Supporting successful transitions for this age group is something that can be a key factor to ensure that they remain in training or education, and thus go on to reach their full potential.

This guidance was informed by:

  • Reviewing existing literature exploring transitions with this group.
  • Discussions with college staff to explore their perception of the transition support they provide.
  • Gaining student’s perspectives of college transition through the use of an online questionnaire.

For any queries about this document, please contact: Dr Cian Carney (Educational Psychologist):

Executive summary

Major Risks to transitions out of college

  • Poor information sharing.
  • A lack of awareness of needs, a focus on a ‘fresh start’ over information sharing.
  • A mismatch between aspirations and the course the young person is studying.
  • Young people starting courses outside of the standard timeframes.

Major supports to transitions

  • Young person-led.
  • Social Connectedness – perceived availability of peer support.
  • Family support and aspirations including all relevant adults to the young person (e.g. their partner/close friends).
  • Good information sharing – a consistent approach to whose responsibility it is to share information and when.

Aspects college students felt impacted their transition into college

  • Support from others, their families in particular.
  • Knowing someone who went to the setting and having questions answered by someone who knows the answer.
  • Being clear about what the course would involve and where it could lead to in the future and the level of difficulty.

Guidance on identifying those in need of support

In this guidance the terms Universal, Targeted, and Specialist are used to identify and plan which transition arrangements are appropriate for college leavers with differencing levels of need. The diagram below offers examples of those college leavers who may be included in the strands. The list of examples in not exhaustive and it is important for professional’s to use their discretion and judgement regarding the level of transition support a student will need


  • Transition support for all students.


  • Socially isolated or those with communication and interaction difficulties.
  • SEMH needs (including mental health difficulties).
  • Students who previously attended a setting outside of their community (alternate provision or mainstream).
  • Students with SEND, including those who have needed additional support during their time in college.
  • Students who entered Devon as refugees.
  • Students for whom English is an additional language (EAL).


  • Children in care or previously in care.
  • Students with an EHCP.
  • Young People who are not in education, training or employment (NEET).
  • Students for whom there has been recent multi-agency involvement.
  • Students who have previously been educated in an ‘alternative provision’.
  • Students who have previously been electively home educated.
  • Students who have withdrawn from education or been school refusers.

What college students think about their transitions

To inform this guidance we asked college students their perspective on the transition out of college. Their responses indicated that:

  • A majority of the participants (84%) felt supported with their transition out of college.
  • A majority of participants (70%) started to plan for their future career while at college.
  • Just over half of the participants (54%) did not receive support with their transition into college.

The responses from the college students demonstrate that while a majority of college students feel supported with their transition out of college, many did not feel they are involved in the planning process.

How to identify which students may benefit from ‘targeted’ transition support

Many of the students who would benefit from targeted transition support may not fall under an identified ‘at risk’ group. Use the Figure on page 5 (see download document) alongside the information below to identify what level of support is likely to be needed.

Academic vulnerabilities

Students with learning difficulties are more vulnerable to dropping out of higher education and employment. The transition to higher education can be a challenging time as students move to a different learning environments, that with increased expectations and different models of curriculum delivery.

Who is at risk?

  • Students on the college Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) register; this includes those with weak literacy skills and those who experience challenges with organisation.
  • Students with an identified Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD).
  • Students who are studying courses that are focused on developing life skills.
  • Students who are finishing a course that may not ‘match with’ their career aspirations are also at risk.
  • Students who experience difficulties completing their course while at college.
  • Students with poor attendance and/or low self-confidence in relation to their learning.

Social communication and mental health vulnerabilities

Many students are supported by their family, friends and romantic partners during their transition. There are also clear links between a student’s wellbeing and their engagement in higher education and training. Research indicates that any form of social and emotional wellbeing difficulty is associated with an increased risk of disruption to education and transition difficulties. Longer-term outcomes associated with emotional difficulties include poorer attainment and employment prospects.

Anxiety and other mental health difficulties are also important factors when considering supporting a student’s transition out of college as they can impact upon the student’s resilience (i.e. their ability to overcome difficulties).

Who is at risk?

  • Students with identified emotional or mental health needs (e.g. depression, a history of self-harm, ADHD, anxiety).
  • Students with Autistic Spectrum Conditions and/or social communication difficulties.
  • Students who find it hard to develop and maintain positive peer relationships.
  • Students with language difficulties.
  • Any student who has experienced a fixed-term or permanent exclusion in the past.
  • Students who have had low attendance or difficulties managing the college environment due to anxiety or social difficulties.
  • Students who have experienced challenging home environments, including those with involvement from children’s social care services.
  • Students with low motivation and limited aspirations for their further training and/or employment.
  • Students who have moved from an alternative setting/were electively home educated before starting their college course

Social isolation

Our research exploring transition for college students identified that their parents, romantic partners and peers, play a large role in supporting successful transitions out of college. Pre- existing research found that college students rely on parents and peers to support their emotional wellbeing during the transition. As the students age out of their teenage years the importance of the parents reduced, as students felt they no longer needed practical help (e.g. a lift to an interview or exam). Over a student’s college life, with the importance of their parents reduced, the importance of their peers and romantic partners is increased. However, when students lack a support circle, this can have a large impact on their transition.

Who is at risk?

  • Socially isolated students or other vulnerable groups may be at a greater risk of experiencing social and emotional difficulties at times of transition.
  • Those for who English is not their first language.
  • Students who have travelled more than one county to attend college.

How to identify which students may benefit from specialist transition support

As colleges will have grown to understand the needs of their college students, they are ideally placed to identify those in need of specialist support. As part of supporting the students with their transition out of college a transition passport (appendix B – see full version – document available as download) should be developed detailing the needs of the young person and the type of support that have proven successful. Colleges commented that it can be difficult to identify those who are in need of specialist transition support, as a guide the following categories are examples of those in need of additional support:

  • Children in care or previously in care.
  • Students with an EHCP.
  • Young people who have been identified as not in education, training or employment (NEET) in the past.
  • Students for whom there has been recent multi-agency involvement (including health and educational professionals).
  • Students who have previously been educated in an ‘alternative provision’ or a setting with an alternate educational philosophy (e.g. Stiner Schools).
  • Students who have previously been electively home educated.
  • Students who have withdrawn from education or been school refusers.

What works to support a student’s transition out of college

Universal transition

The majority of young people will make the transition out of further education without the need for a high level of support. The following can act as a prompt for those settings wishing to review their universal transition protocols.

Referral/application forms

These are often the first interaction a university or employer has with a college leaver. On the referral form, universities and employers often ask individuals to self-identify if they have any identified difficulties or disabilities. This is often the first indication a university or employer will have that a young person may have additional needs and require support. Colleges and Further Education settings should provide information to all learners about how to best complete forms.

Open days and trial periods

Many universities and employers run a number of open days and events for prospective students/employees. At these evens students can enquire about additional transition supports and start making connections with the support or Human Recourse departments. These often provide a great opportunity for prospective students/employees to ask what types of support the institution can offer and who the best contact person is to explore any additional needs. Further Education settings should support students to make the most of any visits and ensure these are meaningful and reflected on.

Internal college career support

Students who have input from a careers tutor at college can be supported to make the best career/training decision to support them to reach their career aspirations. This can initially be informal before moving to a more formal meeting as the student approaches the end of their time at college.

Targeted and specialist transition support

The pre-existing literature examining college student’s transitions and the interviews, and questionnaires completed for this guidance, indicate that students with additional needs may not feel supported with their transition out of college. The following are practice guidelines to be considered for Further Education settings when a learner with identified difficulties is leaving the setting.

  • One of the most important aspects to supporting students in need of a Targeted or Specialist is early identification and planning.
  • Further Education settings should involve parents and carers in transition planning as appropriate.
  • Further Education settings should make the Transition leaflet for young people available to young people where necessary.
  • Many college leavers in need of this level of transition support may need an adult they trust to help them communicate their views.
  • Young people who require targeted or specialist support are likely to need further support in helping them make decisions about their future. The student may require support, for example through mentoring to support them in developing their aspirations. Many young people with significant additional support needs have aspirations but require mentoring, coaching and support to understand how best to achieve their ambitions.
  • Further Education staff should ensure that students are making post-18 decisions that fit with their hopes and aspirations as well as their ability levels and strengths. Staff should be able to be supportive but also offer appropriate challenge and question decisions made by students.
  • Support centres within Further Education settings (e.g. Pastoral/wellbeing hubs, disability/learning difficulty centre) should ensure staff are trained in how to support young people with additional needs over their future transition. Further Education settings should follow national and local guidance on reducing the NEET population and offer targeted identification and support as appropriate.
  • Career agencies: Careers Services can offer advice for some students (including those with additional needs) to support their transition to university or advise them on their career path.
  • Transition meeting: holding a transition meeting with a student, parents, staff and any other professionals can act as a useful way of discussing the best way forward and identifying potential difficulties that need further support or planning. See Appendix A (in full document – available to download) for an example template for this meeting.
  • After the transition meeting a member of college staff can help the student to complete their learning passport. The aim of the transition passport is to help the college leaver share information with the university/employer that can help increase the likelihood of a successful transition. This passport includes a brief summary of the student’s needs, current supports and their perspective of the level of support they would like to receive (see Appendix B – full document available to download – for example passport).


Further guidance and templates can be found in the following appendices within the full document version which is available to download (above):

  • Appendix A – Transition planning meeting template
  • Appendix B – Transition Passport
  • Timeline.