Editorial: A vocational sea change needs a committed crew

3rd April 2015 at 01:00

When the Scottish education sector discusses the implementation of the government's Youth Employment Strategy, it does so with a certain level of confidence.

That's not because the strategy - which echoes the recommendations of the Commission for Developing Scotland's Young Workforce - is calling for change on a small scale. In fact, by asking schools, colleges and employers to work more closely together and offer vocational routes to young people still in school, it demands major cultural change.

But educational institutions know, and the government and the Wood Commission acknowledge, that good practice examples can already be found across Scotland.

Senior phase pupils attend college on day release, local employers spend time in schools and, recently, TESS reported on one local authority that is restructuring its work experience offering to make it more relevant to young people ("Careers guidance needs a lot of work, CBI argues", 20 March).

Craigroyston Community High School in Edinburgh is another example of how much can be done for young people. The school has completely reorganised its senior phase curriculum to give students more choice. It now offers a huge variety of vocational courses in addition to "traditional" academic qualifications.

Staff have built relationships with employers, the local college has got involved and students have embraced the changes: when I visited the school, I met a number of senior phase pupils who were honest about the fact that they would have left at the end of S4 had there not been new, vocational courses to draw them in.

Many of these changes were under way before the Wood Commission published its report and the government announced additional funding to move the agenda forward. But the education sector should not be complacent. The challenge, even for those already engaged with the employability agenda, will be significant.

Craigroyston, as our report shows, has not simply added a few vocational qualifications to the timetable; to achieve an environment in which all students flourish, its staff believe that much more is required.

At a time when teachers' workload is a major concern, budgets are shrinking and the college sector is being overhauled, this is a lot to ask of school staff, lecturers and employers. But in order to offer opportunities to all young people, we need a true sea change.

It cannot be restricted by timetable boundaries, or slotted into a gap in the lesson plan on a Friday afternoon. And, importantly, it should not be seen simply as a way of keeping potential early school-leavers occupied.

Everyone involved in education needs to look critically at how they view vocational routes. And they need to commit to doing whatever it takes to find opportunities for all the young people who walk through their doors.



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