Salute idea for skills academies

The proposal to expand vocational education is seductive, but it also has merit (page 3). At one fell swoop, skills academies would enhance the status of this area of learning, improve the skills base and Scotland's competitiveness, and entice disaffected secondary pupils away from potential Neetdom. At the same time as spending anything from half a day to several days in a school or college-based skills academy, the S3 or S4 pupil would have to study core modules in literacy, arithmetic and ICT.

But we must be alert to potential problems. There is some evidence to suggest that youngsters "let out of school" to attend college courses do not return bursting with enthusiasm to learn. Some are even more disenchanted with the school environment.

Secondary headteachers have raised the prospect that it will be the middle-ability pupils who are attracted by the prospect of apparently easier options - not the disaffected who have poor attendance and negative attitudes. They may be right to warn against the possible creation of a two-tier system developing between schools designated as "skills academies"

and those which are not.

Funding will, of course, be key. From the college perspective, there must be sufficient money to expand the existing work that has been done on building links. The new focus must not, however, mean that funding currently targeted at adult courses is skewed towards the middle years of school.

There is a tremendous fund of goodwill for the motives behind these proposals - but they do need to be funded. Skills academies will not act as a silver bullet, solving the problem of the 20 per cent of under-achievers.

They must be carefully thought through and well-resourced.

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