Labour likes Fast-trac;FE Focus
Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, will unveil details in the autumn. A study of the Fast-Trac scheme in Fife will be published and a consultation paper issued proposing its extension to the rest of Scotland.
Mr Wilson told the Association of Scottish Colleges conference two weeks ago that "early evaluation results indicate that there may be lessons to be learned elsewhere from the Fife experience. So we have decided to take matters forward by consulting all the key interests - the colleges, the enterprise network, the careers service and others."
Fast-Trac started work three years ago. It earned praise from the previous Conservative Government, which intended to use it as the basis for "skills vouchers" for school leavers.
The project has been piloting an integrated approach to training school leavers by the four Fife colleges, employers and the local enterprise company.
The alleged failure of the LECs to direct business towards colleges has been a running sore in FE for some time.
But the Fife approach pools college and LEC resources, including bursaries, in a common fund for 16-18 year olds.
Mr Wilson told the ASC conference that Fast-Trac had boosted the number of 16 and 17 year olds entering college and forged closer collaboration between the Lec and the four colleges. It had also increased "opportunities for colleges to work more closely with employers to develop courses more directly relevant to the local labour market".
The Scottish Office is also impressed that youngsters move from college into the voucher-based Skillseekers programme in order to continue with employer-led training. Moreover, significant numbers carry on in FE to gain better qualifications.
A survey published by Fast-Trac last December showed that the number of 16 and 17 year olds going on to FE has more than doubled, from 457 in 1995 to 1012 in the current session.
The drive by Fast-Trac to involve more employers in training has paid off with 2125 of the 3540 Skillseekers in Fife based with more than 1300 employers. In private sector companies, 75 per cent of Fife Skillseeker trainees have employed status compared with just under 35 per cent under the old youth training scheme.
The Fife scheme also appears to have succeeded in reaching the parts that training has traditionally failed to reach - 90 per cent of employers taking part in Skillseekers have less than 25 employees.
The Fast-Trac survey, based on a fifth of Fife's Skillseekers, revealed a 98 per cent satisfaction rate with their training.
Mr Wilson announced two new Scottish Office research projects. The first will investigate the factors which influence participation and non-participation in FE "including what has or hasn't worked in a particular situation".
The second research study will look at the distribution of FE provision across Scotland, focussing particularly on identifying areas where there are gaps or overlaps, as well as significantly lower or higher levels of access.
The Minister linked these announcements to a pound;1 million wider access fund to encourage participation with Kilmarnock and Reid Kerr colleges taking the largest slice at pound;50,000 each. Twelve of the smallest colleges will receive pound;10,000 apiece.