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Mind the gap and make a difference

Can hands-on courses for teenagers improve their chances of getting and keeping a job? Raymond Ross reports

Giving youngsters a taste of the real thing is the idea behind a new programme of vocational courses being introduced to Scotland.

The Skills for Work programme for 14- to 16-year-olds (S3 to S4) is intended to bridge the gap in the curriculum and make the young people involved more employable.

It's run by the Scottish Qualifications Authority and is being piloted in some 40 colleges around the country, involving partnerships with 150 schools.

There are five courses to choose from in four subjects - construction crafts, sport and recreation (both Intermediate 1 level), financial services (Intermediate 2) and early education and child care (Intermediate 1 and 2).

The new courses started last month and could benefit around 1,500 pupils through schoolcollege partnerships across Scotland, with pupils attending partner colleges on average one afternoon per week for two years.

"The emphasis is on real work experience in a simulated environment in the colleges, a practical hands-on experience coupled with reflective learning to encourage the pupils to become responsible learners and responsible workers," says SQA project manager Nancy McPherson.

Experiencing a different (college) environment, closer to that of a real workplace, and learning through practical work are central to the ethos of the courses.

The emphasis is very much on employability skills. "Each course was designed in consultation with employers. The response has been very positive and the uptake much bigger than we first anticipated," says Ms McPherson.

The hope is that the courses will become a staple part of the curriculum by 2007-08 with further courses which may include subjects such as hairdressing, engineering and rural skills.

The emphasis on employability skills is designed to promote a positive attitude to learning at work, to learn how to take instructions in necessary skills as well as in health and safety, along with regular, punctual attendance.

"Putting attitudes as well as skills high on the learning agenda is what employers and lecturers say we need," says Ms McPherson. "In construction, for example, there is a high drop-out rate among schoolcollege leavers and we are hopeful the new Skills for Work course will counter this.

"We believe the hands-on experience in a simulated work environment will mean young people are more prepared for the real thing," says Ms McPherson.

"We're very excited about it."

Assessments for the new courses are internal. Effectively, there are no exams. "Employers are happy about this. They are used to working with SVQs which like these new courses are levelled but ungradedIThe SQA is moderating the internal assessments, which brings in the element of quality assurance," says Ms McPherson.

Alasdair Bale, education liaison manager at Cardonald College in Glasgow, part of a pilot partnership, says the college is confident the courses will make a valuable contribution to the young people's education. "I think learning in an adult environment closer to a work environment will be an advantage to them," he says.


Skills for Work Courses Pilot by Alistair Cairns of Learning and Teaching Scotland and Lesley Joyce of the SQA, Wednesday, 9.30am

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