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Sights set on lifelong learning

THE shackles that have been removed from the secondary curriculum are already beginning to turn around many young people's views about lifelong learning, Alex Easton, education convener of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, told MSPs on Wednesday.

Mr Easton, head of Falkirk High, said the end of age and stage restrictions and flexibility to tailor courses was bringing success to many students who had been overlooked by the traditional system.

In his own school, Higher Still courses were replacing some Standard grades while Access courses were proving popular with many young people who would previously have attended special schools. "Nothing succeeds like success, even for youngsters leaving in fourth year," Mr Easton told the Scottish Parliament's lifelong learning inquiry.

None of his departments wanted to step back because students were enjoying the new courses and attending more regularly. "All the signals are that it's a step in the right direction," Mr Easton said.

All secondaries were trying hard to reduce social inequalities and to lay the foundations of lifelong learning, he said. The new Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework would allow leavers to gain further credits and finish units in further education colleges if they had failed to complete their studies in school.

At Falkirk High, teachers were worried that some students might not even turn up for the exam. "For many youngsters, things going wrong are not necessarily in the school," Mr Easton said.

Students taking Highers and moving on to university had been "relatively well served" by schools but others had not been. There was still no proper parity of esteem and status between academic and vocational courses.

Earlier David Raffe of Edinburgh University, had stressed that participation in lifelong learning depended largely on people's previous experience of education.

In a report to MSPs, Professor Raffe said a recent study of 16-18s showed that 31 per cent were not in education, employment or training. "On paper, the flexible Scottish system appears to offer opportunities to continue learning, but many early leavers gain no further qualifications, and the proportion returning to education, at least during the teenage years, is low," Professor Raffe states.

But the evidence from a study into Higher Still courses in schools and colleges was of "improving provision for the most disadvantaged students".

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