Rewarding excellence - Together they make a glittering constellation
Getting different parts of the education sector to cooperate all too often seems to be an impossible task.
Time and again, the experts tell us that schools, colleges, universities and employers should work together more closely to ensure that students are prepared for transition. Yet for busy headteachers, principals and teachers, this is undoubtedly easier said than done.
However - and despite the pressures of implementing Curriculum for Excellence and new qualifications, dramatic restructuring in colleges and financial cutbacks - there is plenty of good news in this area if you know where to look.
This was the overriding message to emerge from last month's SQA Star Awards, organised by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, which illustrated that cooperation was alive and well and taking place across Scotland.
Mapping the future
Alexander Fyfe was joint winner of the School Candidate of the Year Award for his social studies baccalaureate project on inequality in Dundee.
Not only did this work prepare the former student of Madras College in St Andrews for a career at university (Alexander is now reading for a social policy degree at the London School of Economics) but the finished product is used by students at other schools in the area as a cross-curricular resource. Thus we see collaboration in action.
For his project, Alexander spent months mapping data on health and well- being indicators for the city. He collated and analysed data from Dundee City Council, the Office for National Statistics, the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, NHS Tayside and the Scottish government. He also carried out interviews with local people from all parts of the social spectrum.
For his final report, Alexander created a colour-coded map with information almost down to street level. This detailed a variety of indicators, from the number of people who went on to university to the prevalence of obesity, diabetes and crime, particularly antisocial behaviour.
According to Alexander, this is the first study of its kind of a Scottish city. His maps are now being used as resources in modern studies classes in schools in Fife, as well as by local planning authorities to inform policies such as the TAYPlan 2020.
Alexander stressed that he had great support from teachers at his school. The rector of Madras College, David McClure, agreed that the two awards won by Madras students reflected the "commitment, hard work and dedication of the boys and the staff at Madras College, who have worked closely together throughout their six years at the school".
Madras' other winner was Andrei Ruskuc, who picked up the Academic Excellence Award, after averaging 97.4 per cent in his Advanced Highers.
Meanwhile, former Arran High student Iona Flewitt was the other winner of School Candidate of the Year. Like Alexander, she had completed a baccalaureate qualification with huge success. "These awards do mean something. It is like saying that if you try and work hard, you get noticed for it," she said.
Power to the people
Colleges also showed that despite the pressures of government reform and funding cuts, they are still providing innovative opportunities for their students and establishing successful partnerships with other education institutions and employers.
Among this year's SQA winners were two of Scotland's newly merged regional colleges. One of them, Glasgow Clyde College, scooped not only Partnership of the Year but also the Pride o' Worth Award for its work with Scottish Power.
Since 2011, Glasgow Clyde and Scottish Power's Power Skills scheme has targeted hard-to-reach young people excluded from school who are living in deprivation or are in danger of falling into a life of crime.
The programme offers a route from pre-apprenticeship training to a Modern Apprenticeship and subsequent employment. Before Glasgow Clyde College was formed, the pre-entry level apprenticeship training was provided by Cardonald College, one of the three institutions involved in the merger.
The young people attend college three days a week to study for a qualification in electrical engineering. They also work on core skills such as numeracy, which are assessed both at the beginning and the end of the course.
During their time at college, the students have access to sport and fitness training opportunities, take part in an Outward Bound trip and make four visits to Scottish Power locations, such as its training centre and wind park. They also receive targeted support from a dedicated key worker.
After the initial course, Scottish Power interviews the young people to see whether they are ready for a pre-apprenticeship course that could lead to a Modern Apprenticeship. Those who aren't are offered further opportunities at the college.
With evident pride, Glasgow Clyde College's principal Susan Walsh described the scheme as an "excellent example of how colleges and commercial business can work together to produce positive, lasting results". She added: "Jointly, we have provided vocational training to more than 20 young men who in the past were excluded from mainstream education.
"The curriculum was tailored to meet the specific needs and challenges faced by these young people to ensure they were fully engaged and interested in learning. With an average attendance of 96 per cent, it certainly worked."
Sheila Duncan, human resources director for Scottish Power, said the company was looking to recruit thousands of engineers and technicians over the next decade.
"The Power Skills programme gives young people, who would not usually have the chance to be on such a programme owing to their background, current qualifications or social situation, the opportunity to develop a range of skills and the chance to apply for Scottish Power's pre-apprenticeship programme, which could eventually lead to a job with the company.
"Even if they don't end up working with Scottish Power, the foundation qualifications could open other doors for further training or employment," she said.
Sean De Pellette is currently doing a pre-apprenticeship course in electrical engineering, having completed the initial Power Skills course. He said that when he heard about the programme, "I felt (it) could really lead somewhere. The support on the course was great. They helped us with interview skills and getting our CV together."
The scheme is funded through the government's CashBack for Communities Personal Development Partnership. David Innes, director of the faculty of engineering and built environment at Glasgow Clyde College, said there were plans to extend the scheme and develop a thermal-isolation course.
The other newly merged institution to win at the awards was West College Scotland. Showing how work done at colleges can benefit the wider education sector, it received a trophy for innovation for its pioneering use of cutting-edge computing technology in learning and teaching.
Staff use Xbox games and Microsoft Kinect in their lessons, and help students to create applications for mobile devices with the Microsoft tool TouchDevelop.
Games can be created for any curriculum subject area and can also be used in primary and secondary schools to boost student engagement in areas such as maths and languages.
"We believe it's important for the future of the Scottish economy that more school and college students become engaged in computer science and computer programming, take computing qualifications and help to build Scotland's knowledge base," said Bill Gallacher, head of computing at the college.
The college has carried out a number of demonstrations for students and teachers in partner schools in Renfrewshire. The Mary Russell School in Paisley is already using the technology to teach its students the time.
Students have also designed educational games for Paisley's Lochfield Primary. Marie Renton, acting depute headteacher, said that P6 pupils had been working with the college for several years. "Using video-game technology immediately captures their attention and interest. We build on that interest to develop their enterprise skills. Each year, a group of West College Scotland students visit the school and get our pupils' suggestions for a video game that the students go away and develop. The pupils then vote to select their chosen game."
And so we come full circle: as the SQA awards demonstrate, collaboration between teachers, schools and colleges is thriving, and what can be achieved really makes a difference.
BEST AND BRIGHTEST: WINNERS OF THE SQA STAR AWARDS 2013
The Fellowship Christine Pollock, Professor John Simmons
Pride o' Worth Jamie Sweeney, Glasgow Clyde College and Scottish Power
School Candidate of the Year Iona Flewitt, Alexander Fyfe
College Candidate of the Year Jamie Sweeney
Training Organisation Candidate of the Year Ryan Finnegan
Lifelong Learning Candidate of the Year Heather Watson
Academic Excellence Andrei Ruskuc
Appointee of the Year Catriona Henderson
SQA Champion Annie MacLean
Innovation West College Scotland
Lifelong Learning for Centres Fife Council
Partnership of the Year Glasgow Clyde College and Scottish Power
International ASET International Oil and Gas Training Academy.