The Scottish Qualifications Authority has unveiled a new range of "skills for work" courses for S3 and S4 in construction, early education and childcare, financial services, and sport and recreation.
The new courses are regarded as central to the Scottish Executive's alternative curriculum for 14-16s, involving much closer links between schools and colleges. They will be piloted in selected schools and colleges in 2006-07, and are at Intermediate 1 and 2 levels. They do not include an external exam.
Candidates will be required only to complete the necessary unit assessments -involving tasks such as short tests and keeping personal records - to achieve the course award which will appear on the Scottish Qualifications Certificate in the same way as other national courses.
The aim is to give young people, who will be expected to attend a local college for some of the time, an understanding of the workplace, including their own responsibilities such as time-keeping, appearance and customer care; how to evaluate their progress, strengths and weaknesses; how to analyse and solve problems; and how to be adaptable and have a positive attitude to change.
The launch of the new courses was one of a series of events at the SQA's national customer care conference in Glasgow - a departure from the authority's usual style of conferences.
Neil MacGowan, business manager in customer relations, said the idea of providing a range of sessions that would suit delegates from the three main client bases - schools, further education colleges and private training providers - had come to him last year during an all-day conference for teachers in Glasgow.
Mr MacGowan recalls: "I thought: 'This is boring.' We had determined what they would hear and they had no choice in that. That was why I thought we should try to break out of that model."
The result of thinking outside the box was one big conference catering for around 700 people, offering a total of 40 rolling seminars covering the needs and interests of the three sectors.
"We thought it would be a good idea if we put quite a varied programme together and allowed other sectors experience of each other," Mr MacGowan said.
One of the most popular seminars dealt with the operational role of the SQA, including the new SQA-RED system (registration and entries database) and SQA-REX (registration express - for some centres with only around 10 candidates).
The SQA-RED system, currently being piloted in around 50 schools and colleges and due to be spread out to all centres, is the SQA's new candidate registrations and entries database system. It will replace the existing SCOTie system and allows two-way electronic data exchange between centres and the SQA's main database, completely removing the need for paper reporting.
The conference also saw the launch of E-qualifications - a new suite of qualifications designed to update the skills of teachers, lecturers and trainers in e-learning.
The SQA acknowledges, however, that e-progress has to take people with it.
"Teachers have been complaining that they can't find anything on our website," Mr MacGowan admitted candidly. The authority has now included a search engine.