Adult learners in employment, as well as pensioners, individuals with additional support needs and other groups often excluded from education, will soon have their achievements recognised by a national award.
In a move hailed by education secretary Angela Constance as a "global first for Scotland", the Adult Achievement Award (AAA) will be used to accredit the informal learning of adults in community education settings, the voluntary sector and the workplace, as well as in colleges.
Following a consultation, the awards have been rated by Edinburgh Napier University as levels 2, 3 and 6 in the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF), and training of partner organisations starts this month. The first pilot schemes will begin in September.
"I hope the Adult Achievement Award will be a stepping stone for adults to recognise their own achievements and move on to further and higher education," Ms Constance said, adding that the government wanted to see more people from deprived backgrounds enrolling in Scottish colleges and universities.
She told TESS that offering opportunities for learners at all ages was "very important", adding: "In many ways, I think of our education system as a life stage model."
`Learners, not courses'
Newbattle Abbey College, Scotland's only adult education residential college, developed the national awards last year in partnership with Education Scotland and the SCQF.
This process came about after two national adult learning conferences at the college and the establishment of a National Strategic Forum for Adult Learning.
The scheme is based on the Youth Achievement Awards model, which is already used widely across Scotland, and is flexible regarding the kind of learning that can be included.
The college believes the AAA to be the first award of its kind, with no other country offering a national accredited award for informal learning by adults.
Newbattle Abbey deputy principal Marian Docherty said the programme was focused around "learners, not courses".
Principal Ann Southwood added: "This award will enable adults to gain formal recognition for their learning. It will focus on learning and transferable skills, not on the content or context of learning."
Local mentors will help students to compile a journal as evidence of their learning, which can be spoken or written.
This year's pilot will involve a range of education providers, including Newbattle Abbey and Glasgow Kelvin colleges, as well as third-sector providers. They will work with older adults, volunteers, adults with learning disabilities and, in the case of Newbattle Abbey, adult offenders.
Emma Whitelock, learning and business development manager at Lead Scotland, which aims to widen access to education for people with disabilities, said disabled people were half as likely as their peers to hold a recognised qualification.
Lead Scotland has signed up to run a pilot offering learners "a valuable opportunity to accredit their learning, to believe in themselves and to reflect on their own progression". Ms Whitelock added: "We also plan to offer this opportunity to some of our volunteers, 35 per cent of whom are disabled people."
Craig Green, head of community and information services for Glasgow Kelvin College, said: "The AAAs will be a key factor in the development of Scotland's adult learning framework, enabling progression to formal main campus opportunities for adults in some of Scotland's most impoverished areas, many of which are local to the college.
"They'll support us to better serve local partners in community settings, to better support people in recovery programmes towards employability and further education, and will provide another key tool in our support for communities to thrive."