Case study

Learner perceptions survey explores why college applicants didn’t enrol

Mel Chadwick
Vice Principal
Winstanley College

The Problem

Winstanley College is an outstanding college in all aspects, based in a semi-rural location between Wigan and St Helens in the North West of England. The sixth form college offers a predominately A-Level curriculum and attracts around 2,000 applications from young learners leaving more than 60 local schools each year.

However, only half of these applicants typically show up for enrolment each year in August. Winstanley College were therefore keen to explore local learner perceptions of the college and better understand the reasons why some young learners who applied choose to study elsewhere.

The Solution

In consultation with Winstanley College, RCU designed and conducted a short and targeted telephone survey.

Ensuring the correct permissions were in place, the college was able to supply a list of around 800 college applicants for a place in 2019, from which telephone interviews were successfully carried out with 200, during early September. This ensured we could explore the decision making process while it was still fresh in their minds.

This survey explored a range of important factors, including the respondents current activity, motivations for choosing where to study, their perceptions of Winstanley College and their experience of the application process and induction day.

By the end of September, all findings were presented to the college within a final written report along with a full list of verbatim responses which identified the respondents chosen destination and subject areas and their perceptions of Winstanley College.

The Findings

The research showed that in general, local students hold the college in high regard and that the vast majority of those who attended an induction were very positive about the experience.

Likewise, there were relatively few negative views of the application process. However, for those applicants that didn’t enrol it was clear that Winstanley College was always a back up option and they had already pre-selected other local schools and colleges as their preferred destination.

The rapid follow up also encouraged a small number of young learners, yet to make a post-16 choice, to enrol at Winstanley College.

When asked what the most important factors are when choosing a post-16 provider, the young learners rated quality of teaching top, followed by going somewhere that offers a friendly, welcoming atmosphere or offers the best course or subject choice. The respondents scored Winstanley College highly for many of these important factors, however those respondents who didn’t enrol believed an alternative provider was more suited to their individual needs.

Focussing on each of these factors in turn the respondents provided some really valuable and useful insight which identified key strength areas within the college alongside key areas of opportunity for improvement.

Using the findings, the college are now able to focus attention on these issues, raising perceptions in the areas of greater importance, with a view to improving the conversion from application to enrolment in the years to come.

Importance ratings
We are delighted with the level and detail of the response RCU helped us achieve. The survey findings have been well received in the college and will help us focus our attention on the most important areas first. I think this will have a really positive impact for us going forward.