Pilot course endangered by cuts

14th March 2008 at 00:00
Schools are resorting to raids on ring-fenced budgets to ensure successful vocational scheme keeps going

Pupils taking a Skills for Work course should drop a Standard grade to make room for it, according to new research.

An evaluation of the Skills for Work pilot, published today, finds the first two years of the scheme were broadly successful in raising the status of vocational learning and improving school-college partnerships. Courses also improved students' attitudes and employability prospects.

But, just as the programme is winning praise for motivating young people to prepare for the world of work, secondary heads have expressed fears that school budget cuts could jeopardise its future.

Bill MacGregor, general secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, warned that many successful Skills for Work courses might not be continued next year, because some schools cannot afford to pay for buses to transport S3-4 pupils to college.

Jeremy Purvis, Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, has raised similar concerns, particularly for schools in rural areas. He told The TESS of one school which planned to raid its Determined to Succeed budget - one of the few areas of funding which has remained ring-fenced under the new concordat between local and central government - in order to pay for buses to take pupils to college. "This is an indication of how heads are having to use different funds to pay for these courses," he said.

The courses, which range from Access to Intermediate 2 level, but do not include an external assessment, cover construction, sport and recreation, early education and childcare, financial services, hairdressing and rural skills. New courses will appear next year, including practical skills about the emergency services and armed forces.

The main strengths of delivering the courses in colleges or at a training provider's premises were the motivating and maturing effect on students. But, the researchers found, this can sometimes lead to a more detached experience for them if their teachers are not aware of the content of courses.

Running courses in schools could get round some of these problems, the report added, but it would mean students missing out on the benefits of attending college. It would also depend on funding being available for purpose-built facilities in schools.

Joint delivery appears to be the best option, as it allows the courses to be more integrated into school timetables and increases teachers' awareness of the content.

Timetabling was one of the biggest problems. Although the report recommends replacing a Standard grade with a Skills for Work course, it warns that this may deter some higher-ability students from doing a vocational course.

"However, the alternative approach of expecting students to complete a Skills for Work course on top of their eight Standard grades further strengthened the perception that they are not equivalent in value to a Standard grade and are just of additional, rather than equal, value," said the report.

"Even though there was virtually no evidence that schools were using Skills for Work courses just for disengaged or problem students, especially in the second year of the pilot, some colleges felt that higher-ability students were often dissuaded from participating in courses," it added.

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