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Talent hunt hits home

The "Aimhigher" roadshow rolls into Culloden today (Friday) - hopefully with more auspicious results than the last time a Government-sponsored army showed up there.

The initiative to get S2 and S3 pupils thinking about what they want to do after they leave school, now in its second year on the road, is spearheaded by the Scottish Executive and Royal Bank of Scotland, which has put in pound;1.2 million over three years. It began its mission last week at Mallaig High in the west Highlands.

Mark Reilly, a Paisley University graduate who facilitates the sessions, hopes to have attracted around 19,000 young people by the end of the roadshow on June 2, up from 14,000 last year.

Organisers believe the project can already be accounted a success, with research last year showing a 21 per cent positive shift in attitudes towards further and higher education, based on surveying the pupils before and after the roadshow experience.

Feedback from teachers who were involved indicates that 95 per cent gave the roadshow top ratings of very good or good for its effectiveness in promoting post-16 education and training.

Mr Reilly commented: "I got so much out of my university experience and I want to encourage more young people that further and higher education is available for them too, regardless of their background.

"It's important that young people are clued up on all the options, from modern apprenticeships to HNCHNDs and degrees, so that they are able to make their own informed decisions."

Allan Wilson, Deputy Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, says:

"Too many talented young people are put off going on to further or higher education or training, believing that college or university is not for them."

Mr Reilly feels the problem is a lack of awareness. "The information is there if people know where to look for it. If there is no family history of further or higher education, young people simply disregard it. What we have to do is to point them to all the options that are available when they leave school."

He is particularly conscious of a lack of awareness of progression from FE to HE. An HND, for instance, can get a student into the second or third year of a degree course.

Mr Reilly acknowledged that second and third-year pupils are not really thinking about their futures, but the roadshow is getting through just at the right time before pupils sit their Standard grades. It "captures their imaginations", Mr Reilly says.

The Aimhigher trailer opens up to become a high-tech mini-cinema and pupils are then given a 30-minute show promoting the benefits of college and university and dispelling the myths. While the initiative is aimed principally at 13-15s, organisers say it is also relevant to 16-19s and their teachers and parents.

The campaign has enlisted support from Scottish celebrities such as author Ian Rankin, actor John Hannah, Olympic medallist Campbell Walsh and television presenters Julyan Sinclair and Jill Robertson, who have all given it their backing.

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