Far from being a dumbing-down, education for work can be both practical and enlightening,writes Neil Munro
Getting a life - not just a living. That's how Douglas Osler, HM senior chief inspector, sums up the current drive to push education for work up the classroom agenda. Brian Twiddle, director of the new National Centre: Education for Work and Enterprise, agrees with this distinction and is anxious to play down any fears that this latest vocational impulse in the curriculum could represent a dumbing down of pupils' learning. "It's about developing good education," he says. "You shouldn't be able to see the join between what is education for work and what is education."
Some would say this does not square with the involvement of Scottish Enterprise, the Government's economic development and training arm, which sees education as an essential ally of its "business birthrate strategy". This is reflected in the agency's "From P1 to plc" campaign. But Twiddle denies this is a subtle brainwashing initiative. "Scottish Enterprise is aware of the importance of not imposing something on the education system but of working with it."
The emphasis on education for work was given a new lease of life in November 1997 when Brian Wilson, then Education Minister, said enterprise education should be "at the heart of the curriculum". Twiddle adds that the distinctive contribution of enterprise education is that the enterprise "must be real with a real outcome, whether it's selling something or creating a garden. The youngsters must have responsibility for something. They must be taking decisions or it's not an enterprise. But many teachers have a problem with that because it means not intervening too early.
"The pupils should be encouraged to realise there are public consequences of failure."
The vocational impulse will be given a further boost next month when the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum launches "tools for implementation", a support pack which will include eight case studies of successful practice, guidance for school management, and a revised version of its 1995 education-industry links framework covering the 5-18 stages. National guidelines on work experience will follow later.
The SCCC also plans to issue guidance in the summer on how education for work can fit into the existing primary and secondary curriculum.
Gordon McVie, associate director of the new national centre, says the intention is not to burden schools with something new but to embed enterprise ideas. The 5-14 programme has easily adapted to enterprise education, he says, while Standard grade business management, social and vocational skills courses and personal development programmes are also natural vehicles.
Schools that have become prominent in enterprise education insist it helps young people develop initiative. Greenwood Academy in Irvine even has a designated "principal teacher (world of work)".
At Bathgate Academy, headteacher John Irvine believes "basic educational targets can be achieved within an enterprise framework (which) sit very comfortably with the other aims and values of the school."
Education for Work policies now aim to encompass infant classes and special schools. They also aim to include all levels of ability and all sectors.
Critics will continue to see all this as just another attempt to drum up support among children for the profit motive. But Ian Nicol, who is developing the SCCC's "tools for implementation", believes there is no conflict between the aims of industry and education.
Both, he says, require pupils with "vision, imagination, reliability, creativity, social responsibility, communication, team work, leadership, self-help and can-do attitudes".