Editorial: Joint enterprise could do the job for apprentices

5th September 2014 at 01:00

Scotland's further education principals are not known for agreeing with one another. But there has been an unusual degree of consensus at the start of this academic year, with college boss after college boss voicing delight as their campuses buzz with the sound of teaching and learning. After a period of major structural reform, this is hardly surprising.

Schools have also been coping with huge pressures and couldn't be blamed for just wanting to get down to the business of educating students. But a desire for stability is not the only cross-sector similarity this September, as the recommendations of the Commission for Developing Scotland's Young Workforce begin to be implemented.

Among these recommendations is a call for colleges, schools, universities and industry to work more closely together to find fresh ways for students to navigate successfully through education to a career. Of course, this idea is not entirely new. Many such institutions have already joined forces to provide opportunities for the young people who cross their thresholds, and innovative schemes have taken place all over the country.

But the final report from the commission, led by Sir Ian Wood, has provided a welcome boost to this work, allowing for a more focused, coordinated and nationwide approach.

The government has already put some money where its mouth is, offering pound;4.5 million to, among other things, introduce new foundation apprenticeships that allow school pupils to take part in structured vocational training at local colleges at the same time as working towards their Highers.

These courses are not just a way to fill the days of people who may otherwise leave school, disengage and become government statistics. The aim is to train the innovators of the future, with young people moving on to Modern Apprenticeships, higher-level training or university. As a result, it is hoped, these courses can begin to tackle the long-established stigma of vocational training not being considered the "right" choice for those who excel in school.

As they become more established, these foundation apprenticeships could be the key to lifting high-quality vocational education up to the same level as academic courses. They could become another viable option, a real alternative for those seeking to make a success of themselves.

Foundation apprenticeships benefit young people by showing them promising career paths they might not otherwise have considered. The courses also benefit businesses, particularly small ones, by cutting the time and cost involved in taking on a Modern Apprentice, and by introducing employers to new talent.

The Wood report may not have made the Scottish education sector gasp with excitement. But it could have set it on a path that will lead to lasting change.



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