The profound changes in vocational education and training during the past 15 years are quite extraordinary. They have been achieved with little friction and by a gradual widening of consensus and ramification. The Scottish Vocational Education Council was given a flying start in 1985 by the merger of the Scottish Technical Education Council and the Scottish Business Education Council. It has been centre-stage ever since and Dick Louden's newly published Story of Scotvec 1985-1997 is a readable and impressive record.
However, (Scotvec colleagues will recognise my favourite word), it behoves me to mention the seminal role of the Inspectorate and the Scottish Office in weaning Scotvec and its immediate predecessors from the conventional curriculum-based final examination system towards open-ended, criterion-referenced, competence-based continuous assessment.
I apologise to the non-specialist reader for what may appear to be demented verbiage but this is the basis of Scotvec's remarkable advances in vocational education and training, the numbers of students, the support of industry, commerce and the professions and the results in individual and national economic progress.
At the outset I was rather dubious about the wisdom and practicality of the changes involved. My firm belief in this novel system came gradually. But I particularly warmed to the opportunities given to the late developer, the gifted or not so gifted amateur and the forced or voluntary career changer to start or resume their relevant studies at any congenial time or place.
It is a remarkable testimony to the hard-pressed staffs of colleges, schools and centres that they have implemented these radically new programmes so successfully. This encourages me to hope that any changes under the Scottish Qualification Authority will also be to the mutual advantage of all involved. Support by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities from the outset, and Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise more recently, has sharply accelerated Scotvec's progress.
One issue on which Dick Louden remains tactfully silent is the wish expressed in the late 1980s by certain London-based politicians and organisations for Scotvec to be absorbed into the National Council for Vocational Qualifications or some UK-wide successor. This proposal was diverted by the circumstance that Scotvec was responsible in Scotland for a whole range of functions and provision which elsewhere was based on 200 or more separate bodies.
The SQA will be served by a knowledgeable and experienced chairman and staff, and the support of local and national government and organisations, employers, schools, colleges and students, pupils and their families. The new authority is based on a bringing together of the two parts of an arbitrarily divided continuum. It is a development I warmly applaud.
Dr Peter Clarke was the first chairman of Scotvec.