From music labels to best of the best, Raymond Ross reports on the SQA Star awards for further education and lifelong learning
The department of music and creative industries at Stow College has been labelled a great success in more ways than one.
In 1992, in a move to improve the employability of its HND music business management students, the Glasgow college decided to launch a music label which the students would manage themselves. It is a strategy that has led to world class achievement and been recognised by the Scottish Qualifications Authority this year, which presented a Star Award to the college for Innovation and a further Pride o' Worth Award, for being the best of the best.
The college music label, Electric Honey, has been described by Uncut, one of the UK's leading music magazines, as "possibly the most successful student-run label in the world". It is the indie label which launched Belle Sebastian, Snow Patrol (with international sales at platinum status) and Biffy Clyro (signed to Warner Bros).
Due to the success of the model and increased numbers of students, two further labels were created. Gdansk, specialising in electronic music, has produced Mylo's first album, with international sales of more than 100,000; and Root8, specialising in world music, has allowed students to interact with charities and refugee and community groups, thereby embedding citizenship in course work.
"The three labels are no different in concept from the labels owned by Sony, EMI or Warner Brothers, except in scale," says David Hughes, head of department.
"The students have to scout in the music industry for possible bands to sign to the labels. They have to promote the band, organise gigs and the recording of a professional CD which has to be marketed and sold through normal music retailers.
"All this involves them utilising their classroom knowledge in music business law, copyright, royalties, event organisation, marketing, promotions and project management."
The course itself is very intensive academically and involves weekly essays, project submissions and presentations which are all assessed alongside exams.
"It is to the students' credit that they embrace working for the music labels on top of core course work, and the great thing for the staff is to watch them develop their confidence and inter-personal skills as well as their transferable business skills," says Lorraine Mullen, course organiser.
The HND course currently attracts some 80 students from across the UK and from eastern Europe, about half of whom progress to the BA course in Commercial Music at Paisley University. But the course is also attracting a lot of attention from other FE colleges and higher education institutes around the UK, who want to learn more about how the labels are integrated with the course work.
"The students benefit from the international success of Glasgow as a vibrant music scene, but they are also contributing to it directly," says Mr Hughes. "Although several colleges run the music business course, no other college has actual record labels that enable students to gain practical management experience in a real-world environment.
"The model employed by Stow is much admired throughout the FE community and, indeed, by many UK universities," he says.
It is also one appreciated by former students like Laura Plenderleith. "Three of my classmates and I have set up a management company whereby we promote young talent and put on a monthly club night. We would not have felt confident enough, nor had the skills to carry this out, if we had not had the experience of running a real record company," she says.
The college's record labels are run by Cormack Ltd, a non-profit company limited by guarantee, with the college as shareholder and with a budget of pound;15,000 per annum.
Electric Honey was set up by Alan Rankine, ex of The Associates, while its current mentor Douglas MacIntyre is also head of the influential indie label Creeping Bent.
Other staff members, in what must be one of the coolest and most practically experienced music departments in the country, include Ken McCluskey, one of the McCluskey Brothers and ex of The Bluebells, with two number one hits; Mick Slaven, guitarist with Deacon Blue; Paul Turner, a former director of Fopp music retailers; Dee Bahl, manager of Biffy Clyro; and Stuart (Woody) Wood, ex-guitarist with the Bay City Rollers.
SQA Star Award for Lifelong Learning (Centre) Stepping Stones
Stepping Stones for Families is a project to support people with limited employment experience by giving them the chance to gain childcare qualifications and enter the labour market.
"This is the first time that Stepping Stones has engaged in training for employment for the long-term unemployed," says its chief executive Isobel Lawson. "As childcare employers, we often struggle to get full-time childcare workers. So it was a good way to grow our own staff as well as providing quality childcare staff to be employed across Glasgow. Most of the 60 people recruited are in full-time employment."
SQA International SQA Star award
Elmwood College won this award for its successful range of qualifications in golf course management, coupled with flexible modes of attendance, including distance learning and online support.
Recognised as the leading training provider to the golf industry in Scotland, the range of SQA qualifications it offers is central to its success. The college has also addressed the international market, targeting China and other emerging golf countries, while developing a comprehensive student welfare and support system.
"The award underlines our commitment to the golf industry at home and abroad and is a recog- nition of what is a great team effort," says Carol Borthwick, director of golf and international affairs at the college.