No two college visits are ever the same, and the few hours that I spent in the fashion department of Glasgow Clyde College last month were certainly unique.
I had come to the college to see first-hand an unusual project where a group of students were putting wedding and evening dresses that they had created up for public vote, after which some of them would be chosen to be included in a catwalk show at an event at Paisley Abbey.
There was a touch of the surreal about it all – with a reasonably open brief from teaching staff, many of the predominantly female students had opted to create their dream wedding dresses.
Walking in felt a little like stumbling upon the silk and lace manifestations of their childhood dream wedding scrapbooks, propped up on dozens of mannequins. In fact, one of the students told me that, although she had no plans to get married, she had tried on the beautiful fish-tail dress that she had created in front of her boyfriend’s parents.
There was no denying the level of skill and sheer hard work that went into those creations – from planning the dresses, creating the patterns, sourcing the materials, to hours and hours of machine and hand-sewing and fitting them to a live model.
It was a great example of college education at its best – allowing students to apply the practical skills that they had learned to introduce them to the industry that many of them hope to join.
But one student also told me that she had attempted to copy the design of one of the most famous wedding dresses made in recent decades – the one worn by the Duchess of Cambridge – so she could, in her words, “learn how to do some of that detail while in a college environment.”
Imagine that: learning new skills and techniques not to pass an exam, but just because you can.
I was struck by the clear vision that these students had of their futures. All of them either had firm plans or were in the process of choosing from a range of options, such as going to university, taking on further college training, or employment. Progression, whether or not they knew the educational meaning of the word, was key for them.
Much of the current discussion in Scottish education focuses on attempts to close the attainment gap and ensuring that those from disadvantaged backgrounds can access the same opportunities as those from more privileged backgrounds.
With this in mind, ensuring that students can progress seamlessly from school into further and higher education or apprenticeships is absolutely key.
Indeed, the new chair of the SCQF Partnership board, North East Scotland College principal Rob Wallen, stresses the importance of this in an interview with TESS this week. Creating effective routes was crucial to not failing learners, and was about “breaking down the barriers between what used to be seen as distinct, separate entities,” he says.
His own college is known for the numerous progression routes that it has established, particularly with local schools and universities, allowing students to move from school into college, university, and eventually employment.
Knowing that their learning, at whatever stage of their educational journey they may find themselves at, will give them options rather than leading to a dead end, must surely be one of the most promising ways to raise aspirations among Scotland’s young people.
It can turn education and training in to a smooth journey into employment, rather than the educational equivalent of a rail-replacement bus service.
This is an article from the 8 April edition of TESS. This week's TESS magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here