An early Christmas present

More than half of Scotland's councils have signed up to become `early implementers' of the 16+ Learning Choices initiative

All 1,700 Christmas-leavers in Fife are to be offered a guaranteed place to continue their learning or enter employment, under one of the Scottish Government's flagship education and skills strategies.

The 16+ Learning Choices programme will be launched nationally later this year, but two-thirds of Scottish councils have already signed up to become "early implementers" of the initiative, which should be in place for all school-leavers by Christmas 2010.

Last week, Fife Council's education and children's services committee decided to pilot the scheme for all 16-year-olds leaving school this Christmas. The plan builds on the authority's success in reducing the number of young people not in education, employment or training (Neet), who are now being targeted by the SNP Government's More Choices, More Chances strategy.

Fife has reduced its percentage of youngsters in the group from 12.3 per cent in 2003 to 8.5 per cent in 2007. It expects that figure to drop to 7.5 per cent by 2011.

Joe Fitzpatrick, senior manager for community learning and development in Fife, said the authority had targeted its More Choices, More Chances action plan at the seven secondary schools with the highest numbers of pupils at risk of being unemployed. But its implementation of the 16+ Learning Choices initiative will include school-leavers from all 19 of its secondaries.

"Although challenging, it was felt essential that all school leavers should be given the opportunity to benefit from the new approach and from the lessons learned from work to reduce levels of Neet," he said.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said 16+ Learning Choices was its new model for fulfilling its Skills for Scotland commitment. It would ensure there were "clear, robust processes in place", so that all young people completing compulsory education had an offer of a suitable place in post-16 learning, providing more choices and chances for those who needed them. "As such, it will support the planning and delivery of a coherent and inclusive curriculum in the senior phase, irrespective of the setting," he added.

The three crucial elements were that young people should have access to the right learning provision; the right information, advice and guidance from Skills Development Scotland; and access to financial support so that further education is a viable option. The initiative defines a suitable place in post-16 learning as:

- full or part-time education in school, a further education college or higher education;

- a national training programme, for example, Get Ready for Work, Skillseekers or a Modern Apprenticeship;

- locally-recognised, good-quality training or jobs without training;

- volunteering;

- informal learning, including personal and social development opportunities.

The Government recognises that some young people may need ongoing support to help them "sustain and progress their learning", and it is anticipated that the strategy will involve much closer tracking of school-leavers than at present.

The inclusion of volunteering and informal learning are probably the most innovative elements of the strategy. They will involve community learning and youth learning more closely than before.

An example quoted by Mr Fitzpatrick of how Fife might fulfil this was a YMCA music project, attended by 150 youngsters every week night. It teaches them how to write music, play instruments, and operate sound and lighting equipment. "Other options might include another type of artistic endeavour, or participation in a leisure centre to do with sports," he said.

"The aim is not to have someone in as a helper, but to have a negotiated programme of activity to engage their terms of achievement."

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