At last, the overlooked are getting a look-in

2nd September 2011 at 01:00

Rising unemployment, fewer college places, more competition for university places - the prospects for school leavers these days are daunting, even for the more able or privileged. So what chance have the children who grow up on estates with drug addicts and alcoholics in the home and gangs and dealers outside?

Maureen McKenna, Glasgow's director of education, launched a staunch defence of her city's schools in last week's TESS, with statistics showing that the majority of children in its most deprived areas now achieve a few Standard grades and many have Highers. For years, Glasgow has worked wonders with its nurture groups for the children most in need. Defying Government policies at times, it has stuck to its guns about what its young citizens require and, on the whole, it has proved justified. This week it has demonstrated that deprivation need not lead to dole queues and dead ends, when committed headteachers and careers advisers can guide youngsters towards "positive destinations", be they college, training or employment (page 5).

But what happens to those children in times of straitened finances when you cut school budgets and staffing and take these individuals away? Cities like Glasgow - for it is not alone - are endeavouring to find imaginative solutions. So while employability officers are increasingly thin on the ground, pilots are being set up with outside agencies to extend the support on offer. On a national level, careers websites like Skills Development Scotland's My World of Work can reach across the country to all kinds of communities, and spread information on the choices that are open to all sorts of individuals. But for children with difficulties, it's the nurturing care from adults that will most likely improve their chances.

Work needs to be found for teenagers who do not want to stay on at school, but benefit from a team of people around them. That is where the modern apprenticeships featured in this week's News Focus come into their own (pages 12-15). Young people like the apprentices with the Macphie of Glenbervie bakery are thriving under the scheme, as can the businesses which employ them.

The Government's pledge of 25,000 new places may prove difficult to deliver this year. CBI Scotland director Iain McMillan admits it is a challenge when the economy is not growing as fast as expected, and when businesses go to the wall, the apprenticeships go with them. But at last Scotland is focusing on a sector of the population that has long been overlooked. Sometimes it takes an outsider like university principal Petra Wend to state the obvious (page 16). Coming from Germany, where 50 per cent of school leavers go into apprenticeships, she says: "If I were to rewrite history in the UK, I would put a lot more emphasis on vocational training."

Gillian Macdonald, Editor, gillian.macdonald@tes.co.uk.

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