NORTH LANARKSHIRE will this week have consolidated its reputation for being one of the First Minister's favourite local authorities as one of its secondary schools announces the creation of a skills centre, the first dedicated one in the country.
Jack McConnell sparked controversy over the future of comprehensive schools when he announced his intention to establish 100 skills centres throughout Scotland if he is returned to power, but Caldervale High in Airdrie clearly believes the initiative is on the right track.
The school is teaming up with the MITIE Group, said to be one of the UK's leading support services companies, to build a skills centre specialising in construction.
The centre will teach up to 50 students a year, aged between 14 and 16, offering them a firm grasp of carpentry, painting and decorating and brick and block-laying. Motherwell College will provide the tuition for what will be a new construction crafts Intermediate 1 course.
The Caldervale High centre will be the eighth in the UK set up by MITIE (Management Incentive Throughout Investment Equity), which aims to develop the construction skills of young people in their own communities. Two other private companies, Wolseley and Akzo-Nobel, donated some of the construction material free of charge.
The construction skills centre at Caldervale will be housed in converted space within the school, and MITIE will provide the required tools, equipment and personal protective gear.
The company says it will encourage its employees to become actively involved in the teaching of the course, in ways that are "appropriate", and to act as mentors for students who go on to be employed as apprentices, under the Construction Industry Training Board scheme.
The partnership will also offer work experience opportunities, careers guidance and the possibility of progression in-to employment.
Many in the unions remain fearful that skills centres will re-establish the old fault-lines of junior and senior secondary schools, but Colin Bulloch, Caldervale High's headteacher, has no doubts. "We are thrilled to be one of the partners in the first MITIE skills centre in Scot-land," he said.
Mr Bulloch stressed the intention was "to enhance the educational opportunities for all our pupils, regardless of abilities or interests", and that the result would be to raise achievement in the future.
The council believes its approach delivers the best of both worlds where certificated vocational courses are introduced alongside traditional academic courses, giving pupils "a balanced and comprehensive education that prepares them for working life".
Michael O'Neill, in one of his final moments before retiring last week as North Lanarkshire Council's director of education, added: "Once again, North Lanark-shire is leading the way in education and setting a path for others to follow, which is just terrific.
"Education has to work for those who receive it - our pupils - and we have to ensure that we engage with them at all levels and don't just focus on those heading towards academia. By bringing college lecturers into our schools rather than taking pupils out to colleges, we can deliver these courses within the comprehensive school framework."
Bill Robson, managing director of MITIE Property Services, based in Airdrie, commented: "The construction sector in the UK faces major skills shortages and, if we want to continue to have a vibrant, professional industry, we have to act now to encourage new talent in from schools upwards."