Under-16s are thriving in further education colleges, studying non-traditional school subjects and fitting in with older teenagers on campus, reports Raymond Ross.
Increasing numbers of school pupils attend further education colleges these days, as the Scottish Executive encourages more partnerships between colleges and schools. And while the benefits are great, concerns that the young teenagers may have difficulty fitting in with the older students are unwarranted.
Over the past four years, some 300 under-16 pupils a year have been attending Anniesland College in Glasgow on a part-time basis. "There are challenges because of their young age," says the college principal, Linda McTavish. "At their break, for example, they see it as playtime and we don't have room for a playground space as such."
But she does not see the pupils as a problem. While their growing number raises questions of teaching styles, colleges have little to fear over pupil behaviour management and the student mix in social areas, Mrs McTavish says, and much to welcome.
The under-16s are taught together in discrete classes and only senior pupils doing Highers enter classes with older students.
"The school pupils do mix well with older students out of class and I think that's an important part of the college experience for them, but we do need to get them more space of their own," says Mrs McTavish.
"If and when we get our new campus, we'd hope to design special social areas for the 14 to 16-year-olds, perhaps with a common room for them, and a new campus would mean we would be able to cater for more of them.
"Bringing young people in and bringing young people on is what we do. With expansion we could do a lot more."
The Scottish Further Education Unit now runs professional development courses on behaviour management for under-16s, but the senior management at Anniesland say they see no marked negative behaviour patterns which single them out from other students.
"There's no question of gangs of under-16s roaming the campus. They go around in groups, as do all adolescents. Like-minded students, students doing the same courses and students of a similar age will always hang around together," says Mrs McTavish.
"In behaviour terms, our apprentices can be as challenging as pupils and if vandalism occurs, it can't necessarily be laid at the pupils' door. Good behaviour is, in fact, the norm with them."
Mrs McTavish likens the under-16s to an S1 or P1 intake in a large school.
They know they are the youngest and this has an effect on them, an effect which is more likely to regulate their behaviour than cause disruption.
They are only in college, on average, half-a-day a week and generally respond well to the more mature atmosphere. Some wear school uniform but many dress more casually in keeping with the relaxed dress code and they like the fact that lecturers are not school teachers per se. Mrs McTavish is not - and does not present herself as - a headteacher.
The fact that they also mix with and know some of the senior pupils who come to college part-time to do academic courses which they might not be able to access at school, such as psychology, also has a good influence on the younger ones, providing them with positive role models.
Anniesland's part-time programme for secondary schools includes classes in subjects as diverse as call centre skills, ceramics and digital art, computing, travel and tourism, construction, motor vehicle engineering, hospitalityprofessional cookery, early education and childcare, exploring financial services, and sport and recreation. For senior pupils, the college also runs an Intermediate 2Highers programme as well as Easter revision Higher classes and Standard grade maths.
The college is pro-active in links with schools and parents and this helps its constructive ethos.
Last session, as part of Glasgow's vocational programme, S2 pupils were invited into college for a taster day at the end of the last term. The initiative was deemed a success by pupils and lecturers.
Those coming in S3 and S4 for their part-time half-day classes arrive on supervised transport and are well-supported by mentors in college. Some groups are accompanied by a classroom assistant.
The role of Anniesland's schools liaison officer is crucial to integrating the pupils and managing their behaviour. As well as liaising with up to 10 neighbouring secondaries in Glasgow and nearby West and East Dunbartonshire, Robert Lumsden remains the pupils' first and main point of contact in the college. He also attends S2 parents' evenings in advance of pupils coming to the college.
"We've been doing vocational classes for under-16s for four years and we introduce them as part of the options pupils face at the end of S2," says Mrs McTavish.
"The classes came about as part of the city's vocational programme because Glasgow was concerned about the number of pupils not having a positive experience at school, particularly those finding it too academic.
"So it's important for us to liaise with parents from the start, so that parents know their children will be doing something they value and that they will be well supported."
There are, though, issues which have to be faced as more pupils opt for vocational courses.
"At present we don't select the pupils. They are chosen by the schools and are sent to us," says Robert Cranston, Anniesland's assistant principal for student services. "In the future, we would like to select and induct more, choosing those we think would get the most out of our courses."
This is not because of any perception that schools use colleges as dumping grounds for difficult or failing pupils, but simply because of the competition for places on such courses.
"Vocational courses help young people achieve work and are very popular," he says. "For example, we have had over 60 applicants for a pre-vocational construction class with 15 or, at most, 16 places.
"These courses offer the chance for young people to go on to do an apprenticeship, but they can only do an apprenticeship if it's offered by an employer, and employers look for the best."
Bringing out the best in pupils, as with students in general, is a major plank in Anniesland's strategy of celebrating success. To this end, through a charitable trust, the college is able to offer financial prizes to its 15 and 16-year-old vocational pupils, many of whom can receive a cheque for pound;40 in recognition of their success, with the five best each receiving a cheque for pound;100.
"Maybe some of these pupils have never won a prize before," says Mr Cranston. "It's good for their self-esteem and it's important to mark achievement, so the cheques are often presented at the school prize-giving, so that the school shares in the success.
"Part of our job in positive behaviour management is to reinforce a drive for ambition. They see the money as real recognition."
There are also learning and teaching issues for the FE staff and school pupils to face. Younger pupils have different energy levels and learning styles which classroom dynamics have to cater for. A lecture style class will not suit the average 14-year-old.
Some staff feel in need of professional development to help them adapt."If all your time has been spent teaching adult returners, it can be difficult to teach younger students with different learning needs and styles," explains Kate Lonergan, the assistant principal for curriculum.
"However, we have a wide experience of teaching young people in different ways and that includes a group of asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East, 16- and 17-year-olds who are without parents living in Scotland.
"On average there are 12 to 15 in this class, who are taught together. They are a group we prioritised because of their vulnerability. We use team teaching, working very closely with them, in all subjects, including numeracy and literacy. They are a specialist group and, as with our under-16 pupils, our priority is to have a programme to suit their needs," says Ms Lonergan.
It's all about being inclusive, says Mrs McTavish. "Social inclusion is well within our delivery strategy, from the 14- to the 84-year-old. We also run classes in welding, first aid, IT and literacy for the show people who winter in Glasgow. We have 102 nationalities being taught in this college, so why should we exclude or have particular difficulties in catering for 14- to 16-year-olds from local schools?
"Everyone is being fitted in to society here. We add value to their lives.
That's what we believe in and that's what we do."