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Go it alone Fife gets numbers up

FIFE'S unique FAST-TRAC programme for under-18s has succeeded in attracting more of the age group into full-time, non-advanced further education, according to an evaluation report issued last week. It was particularly effective in recruiting young males and the less qualified into colleges.

During the project's first four years from 1994-95 to 1998-99, numbers taking part through the college route rose by 9 per cent in Fife compared with 4 per cent in the rest of Scotland. This brought Fife from below to above the national average.

Part of the reason may have been a falling off in numbers opting for training with employers, down by 38 per cent compared with 22 per cent elsewhere.

Numbers have increased at a time when school staying-on rates have been rising. Despite the fact that many more less qualified entrants have been recruited through FAST-TRAC, retention and achievement have not suffered.

But the report, produced jointly by the Centre for Research in Lifelong Learning and the Centre for Educational Sociology, points out that the Fife initiative has been toiling to make a difference because it is attempting to introduce a major change in the education and training of 16-18s at local level without any national support. It therefore does not recommend that the programme should be extended to the rest of the country.

FAST-TRAC - Fife Action for Skillseekers Training, Recruitment, Administration, Careers Planning - aims to bring together the different players and funding mechanisms involved in education and training of 16-18s.

But the difficulties faced have led the evaluation team to recommend that the Scottish Executive should look at the case for having a more unified funding structure for education and training. The Fife model has involved bringing together funding from Scottish Enterprise National, Scottish Enterprise Fife and the Scottish Further Education Funding Council.

The intention is to integrate college-based education and employer-based training more effectively, cutting duplication in learning and avoiding barriers to student transfer and progression that were criticised in the Opportunities and Choices consultative paper on post-school provision three years ago.

The FAST-TRAC report noted that the initiative had led to closer collaboration between the local enterprise company and the four Fife colleges, and was credited with developing more "flexible and appropriate" vocational education and training.

But the report says this is taking place against a national "fault line" in the different arrangements for education and work-based training. It recommends that the enterprise agencies and the funding council should produce a more effective national structure, while the Executive should bring schools and the universities into the discussions so the focus is not purely on the post-school vocational scene.

The evaluation team also urges those involved not to become too hung-up on the "integration" of different elements of the present system. The FAST-TRAC approach has involved new integrated courses combining further education and work-based training. The programme has also attempted "matching exercises" between the National Certificates offered in colleges and vocational qualifications in the workplace.

The report quotes one college principal who argues that the emphasis should be on progression, with integrated studies simply seen as one of the means of getting there. The report itself states that the difficulties involved with integration "are compounded by the assumption often made that it is achievable and desirable to achieve integration in areas where this may not be possible.

"It may be that other concepts are more appropriate, for example the notion of articulation."

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