NEWS that some Scottish colleges are planning to close their doors to pupils should be a warning shot across the bows of partnership and inclusion (page 37). It is not an auspicious reflection of the collegiality the Executive must presumably have had in mind when it urged closer school-college links in its lifelong learning strategy. Ministers have clearly signalled, both in that strategy and in their response to the national education debate, that these links are an important strand in their thinking.
School-college links do not come cheaply and they do not come easily, albeit that many schools and colleges throughout the country continue to build the productive bridges they always have. As with all initiatives involving colleges, however, the vexed question of how they are funded is never far from the surface. It cannot be much of an incentive for them to receive no more money for taking in 3,000 school pupils than for 15 full-time HND students, as Jewel and Esk Valley College has found. The Executive's commitment to review funding mechanisms to improve these links is to be welcomed.
But, whatever the shortcomings of the present arrangements, we have to be clear what school-college links are for. Are they to help provide a vocational alternative for pupils with a focused interest in that direction? Do they exist to offer a broader education for pupils whose schools cannot encompass the full curricular sweep, vocational or otherwise? Are the schools looking to the colleges to pick up their disaffected pupils?
No doubt links will cover all aspects of that wide spectrum, which will mean challenging times for all concerned. But schools will have to make their expectations explicit and, in similar vein to the reminder they themselves frequently issue, acknowledge that "colleges cannot do it all".