Young people in Falkirk are getting in-depth, first-hand experience of studying at college in the first scheme of its kind, which aims to help them make better-informed career choices.
About 120 S4 students from all eight secondary schools in the area are taking part in School-College Opportunities to Succeed (Scots), an initiative that allows them to participate in a year of taster courses delivered once a week at Forth Valley College.
The scheme embodies one of the central recommendations of the Commission for Developing Scotland's Young Workforce, whose interim report was published in September. It calls for effective school-college partnerships to allow young people to receive vocational training while still in school and to ease the transition between the sectors.
The students were chosen by their schools for the Scots initiative because they might not have considered going to college. They have since been working on projects introducing them to eight different college courses, including tourism, construction, care, laboratory science, and hair and beauty.
Each student takes part in all the taster sessions, so the experiences they are exposed to range from taking fingerprints and blood samples to constructing roof structures and creating information material on local tourist attractions.
"I was a bit worried about construction but I ended up really enjoying it," 15-year-old Leigh Bloomfield said. The Bo'ness Academy student told TESS that she had not previously considered going to college and had had little awareness of the kinds of courses on offer. She was now hoping to apply for a care course once she left school, she said.
Her classmate Murray Stuart, also 15, said that he was considering pursuing an engineering course, having enjoyed the taster sessions. "I wanted to be in the fire brigade, but I am colour-blind so I wanted to see what options were open to me. I wasn't really thinking of going to college but now I would quite like to go," he said.
Back in school, the participants work on Scottish Qualifications Authority-accredited employability units with their teachers. These units are part of the Falkirk Employability Award, which has been designed to show employers the level of skills a young person can offer.
Kevin Rea, principal teacher of post-16 transitions at Bo'ness Academy, told TESS that the scheme gave young people the opportunity to discover areas of interest they might not have been aware of. He said he regularly communicated with staff at the college and discussed the taster sessions in class the next day, making this part of a wider discussion on career choice.
The schools also receive weekly attendance records from the college plus a report on every student at the end of each of the eight taster modules, allowing them to track progress.
Fiona Brown, head of curriculum, quality and learning services at Forth Valley College, said the project had increased the understanding of both school teachers and college staff.
Students who successfully take part in this first year can choose to take part in a skills-based, one-year course as part of their senior phase, delivered in college two afternoons a week. They can also work towards a guaranteed interview for a full-time college course when they leave school.
Keith Webster, headteacher of Falkirk High School, said: "This is a fantastic opportunity for our young people to get a clearer understanding of what college life is like and the range of subjects available, but also to work on the skills that will enable them to make the transition to a positive destination."