Two months ago, Sir Tom Hunter, the country's most talked about businessman and educational philanthropist, floated the idea of enterprise colleges outwith school for pupils likely to leave with few qualifications and few prospects. Michael O'Neill, North Lanarkshire's education director, disagreed. Secondaries, he argued, had to be truly comprehensive, offering vocational options from S1 or S2 and a mix of academic and vocational subjects for the many thousands of students for whom the traditional system does not work.
This week, we report (page five) on the xlerate with xl programme which does just that. With the release of Standard grade and Higher results a mere month away, it is salutary to reflect on the imaginative work in secondaries with those not likely to be involved in the scramble for places at university or college. The revised xl programme is, evaluators say, proving its worth in providing alternative education within the school system, combining enterprise activities with social skills building and many other dimensions. This is unrecognised success for the comprehensive system - not before time, some might say.
The truth is that schools remain in the early stages of developing options for the disaffected and working out how courses dovetail with National Qualifications to ensure certification for all. But as we showed last week at Bathgate Academy, intensive work with difficult students in a school setting can pay off. It does not have to be outside school, although some dimensions might be.
The xl programme is not without its strains, particularly on staffing and, as the evaluation report makes clear, there could be further improvements.
But its essential message is equally clear. Many of the shy, nervous, withdrawn "loners" - girls and boys - can benefit from an alternative programme in school, led by teachers. Where there is space for teachers, they can give of their best for pupils normally destined for the NEET group when they leave school. Let's have more of the mix and match curriculum.