Partnership vital to make the right life-choice

The Scottish Executive is consulting again, and this time colleges and schools, employers and families, all have a vested interest in making sure the right decisions are made and the best possible future for all our youngsters is secured.

The interim report on school-college collaboration, Building the Foundations of a Lifelong Learning Society, is out for consultation, and college managements and boards will be keen to ensure they continue to make an informed contribution to the continuing debate about a very important link in the chain that is lifelong learning.

Colleges have a range of partnerships with schools, and there is no single model in operation. What is true in each case is that local arrangements have been devised to meet local needs, and the flexibility that is one of the strengths of the FE sector has allowed this to happen.

Colleges learn from one another what works well; schools within local authorities discuss how best to work with colleges, and there are many opportunities to share good practice.

It's right that the Executive should be interested in making sure that the concerns of both schools and colleges are identified, and from the perspective of colleges, that the costs of vital vocational education are identifiedand met.

Scotland's colleges are increasingly modern, well-equipped and sporting industry-standard hardware and software to support specialist training. All colleges have a mix of core business and specialist provision that offers opportunities for school pupils of all abilities to benefit from resources that are simply not available in even thebest-resourced schools.

If we're serious about preparing our young people for work, and so combining a good general and specialised secondary school education with the vocational specialisms that allow youngsters to focus on what they want to do as a career - and sometimes just as importantly give them a taste of careers that help them to decide what isn't for them - then effective partnerships between schools and colleges, to consistent standards across the country, are vital.

In colleges, we see the effect on school pupils of well-structured time spent in a different environment, and we have become used to the energy they bring and the positive experiences they report in our joint evaluations with schools and local authorities. We share with our colleagues in partner schools the reward of learning that someone who has proved problematic in a school environment sometimes finds a different commitment and interest when engaging with vocational education in a college.

Our interest is not purely altruistic - the best possible recruitment officer for the local college is the school pupil who has had a good experience, achieved good results, and found a future career. And many of those who come to us in S3 and S4 arrive later as students on courses that are clearly linked to the vocational courses they studied while at school.

Schools and colleges in partnership provide one of the great strengths of the Scottish education system, and the projected growth in capital spending for Scotland's colleges should ensure that this is increasingly delivered in well-equipped and modern college campuses that will encourage the habit of learning for life. The consultation is bringing a number of issues into focus, and we have some way to go to find workable solutions for everyone that provide the greatest possible benefits, both for individual pupils and for the Scottish economy.

It is heartening to read in the Executive's interim report a recognition of the complexity of geographical and other factors: "We will ensure an equitable national framework for all Scotland's pupils with decision-making at a local level on the most appropriate means of delivery."

Colleges throughout Scotland can be relied on to deliver within this framework.

David Green is principal of Lews Castle College, which works with schools throughout the Western Isles to provide vocational education in support of the school curriculum.

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