College for the disaffected short on funding

13th January 2012 at 00:00
City council says it can't afford the cost of businessman's dream project

One of Scotland's richest businessmen hopes to open Scotland's first junior vocational college for disaffected teenagers by August this year, but the funding package is still not in place.

Jim McColl's dream of turning his former Clyde Union factory into the bespoke Newlands Junior College in Glasgow's Cathcart area is estimated to cost around pound;1 million per annum for the first two years, half for refurbishment and half for educational services.

But Glasgow City Council has told Mr McColl it can find no more than pound;100,000 from its education and development and regeneration budgets for each of the first two years.

Maureen McKenna, head of education, has written a letter to Mr McColl, stating: "The cost per pupil of the proposal is around pound;13,500, not including the building costs. This compares with around pound;5,500 for a secondary pupil, including building costs.

"This cost would be over and above what we are paying already for secondary education as there is no saving generated by taking a small number of pupils out from different secondary schools. I am not in a position to be able to commit to that level of funding for an initiative."

Instead, she has proposed a more cost-effective scholarship model which would leave the selected S4-6 students in their schools to do a reduced number of subject options, with one day a week's work experience with a sponsoring business partner.

But the scholarship model is a "non-starter", Mr McColl told TESS: "You would not get me or another private-sector business seriously doing that. It is just another initiative set up to fail," he said.

"You need to get these kids into a different environment and inspire them and motivate them on a daily basis."

Under his plan, 30 S3 pupils would be selected from 10 secondaries in the southside of Glasgow to attend the college. They would follow a two-year programme with three strands: academic, vocational and life-skills. Originally intended to open last year, it should be up and running by Christmas at the latest, he said.

Architects have been commissioned to draw up plans to transform the old factory premises. Mr McColl estimates that it will cost pound;500,000 to refurbish one floor of the building for the first cohort of pupils and a further pound;500,000 for the second year's group. These costs would be met by himself and supporters from the private sector.

The education side of the project, however, - costing a projected pound;500,000 for each of the first two years - would, he hoped, be split three ways between the private sector, Glasgow City Council and the Scottish government.

The multimillionaire chairman and chief executive of Clyde Blowers left school at 16 with three O levels, but went on to do an apprenticeship, City and Guilds qualifications, and an honours and two master's degrees.

"I couldn't get out of secondary school quickly enough because I didn't like the environment," he said.

A government spokesman said: "We are interested in hearing more about the proposal and how it would fit into our ongoing reform of post-16, which places a strong emphasis on vocational education to match economic needs."

Vision for Newlands junior college

- The academic element, to be delivered by teachers or FE lecturers, would cover English, maths, science, ICT and possibly technical studies or geography;

- The vocational element would be delivered at a nearby engineering training centre, Glasgow City Council's construction training wing, and the Riverside music studio, where youngsters could learn the technical side of music recording.

- Life skills would be delivered by SkillForce, a charity whose curriculum approach is described as "character, community and contribution".

Photo: Jim McColl at Clyde Union Pumps, which he wants to turn into a vocational college

Original headline: Vocational college for the disaffected short on funding

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