Their futures are on course

7th December 2007 at 00:00
Thirty Glasgow schools participate in the Skills for Work courses to give pupils a taste of vocational training.Every tuesday afternoon, 35 S3 pupils leave the long grey building that is Bannerman High, in Glasgow's east end, to go to college. On Thursday afternoons, 20 fourth years do the same.

These youngsters are following Skills for Work courses that are part of the national agenda to give pupils the option of pursuing vocational training in addition to their academic studies. It is not a soft option. The S4 pupils are taking this course in addition to eight Standard grades. They miss out on physical, religious or social education.

In most schools which offer such courses, they replace a Standard grade subject, so pupils take seven Standard grades plus a Skills for Work course which will give them an Intermediate 1 or 2. Bannerman felt that offering it as an extra would mean pupils could still come away with eight Standard grades, parents would be happier and any youngsters who decided it wasn't for them could still carry on as normal.

Pupils can do a taster programme for a week at the end of S2. Subjects include construction, sport and recreation, early education and childcare, hairdressing, financial services, hospitality, rural skills, engineering and health and social care.

"They have to apply for it," says May Winton, depute head, who is moving to take over as head of Drumchapel High in January. "We treat it like a real job application. I've always got more kids than places. We look for commitment from the pupils, and ask them why they want to be on the course and what they think it's going to do for their future. Because we offer pre-voc in addition to eight Standard grades, it shows determination and great commitment. They don't get back until after 5pm."

Mrs Winton feels Skills for Work offers a "superb opportunity" that works "exceptionally well" for Bannerman pupils. "It's recognising that not everybody's academic," she says. "Some have responded to working with adults and learning to take responsibility. It's brought on their self-confidence. They're in a completely different environment in college. In schools we spoonfeed them."

Glasgow City Council has offered Skills for Work courses since the start of this academic session, following a two-year pilot. All Glasgow secondaries are offered it as a strand of Determined to Succeed, to give every pupil aged 14-16 an opportunity to try a vocational training course. Thirty schools participate, including Jordanhill and some additional support for learning establishments.

"We have nearly 900 young people doing Skills for Work in some shape or form across the city," says Maureen Baird, vocational training manager for schools in the council's education services department.

"It has made vocational training much more streamlined and mainstream. It has educational parity of esteem, which is very important. Now it's on the national agenda, it's seen as equivalent to a Standard grade - a Skills for Work Intermediate 1 is equivalent to a General level Standard grade. Employers will start to recognise these qualifications and all such courses have employability built into them. They have been designed in conjunction with industry."

Vocational training, she says, used to be seen by some people as an "inferior education strand". That, she stresses, has changed and, because it's part of the national agenda, parents can see it is an equivalent. "The majority of parents will say it's a good choice for their child," says Mrs Baird. "A lot of pupils respond to being in a more adult world. Where possible, we put them into the real work environment, not simulated."

A Higher Skills for Work course was launched this academic year in social care, and there is an Access course in Practical Experiences: Construction and Engineering. But the majority are Intermediate 1 or 2.

"The spread of Skills for Work courses from Access up to Higher level means pupils come for a variety of reasons," says Mrs Baird.

"Some want a job but some want to try it and not make the mistake of going into something that's not for them. The SQA is very keen to promote this as a wide-spectrum option, from Access through Intermediate to Higher."

Case studies

Emma Brown, S4, Early education and childcare, Langside College

I've wanted to become a primary teacher from a very young age, so when the opportunity came up, I thought this might help me. I started in August 2006. There are 10 of us.

There are four units: playing with children; working with children; caring for children and child development. In child development, we do physical and emotional development; how kids act around people and how they will be feeling at different stages of development.

In playing with children, we look at different play experiences. We also do tasks like bathing a baby, preparing a bottle, changing a nappy.

We get to experience college life. You're walking about in a different environment, among adults.

Grant Broadfoot, S4, Construction crafts, John Wheatley College

There are seven of us (including pupils from Rosshall Academy). They teach you how to work with tools, read drawings and look at different views. You also get assessed.

I wanted to be a joiner but I found it boring. I liked roofing a lot and electricianing. I'm still deciding between those. You can make good money.

You're working next to all the apprentices. There's always something to do. It's fun, it's exciting. You learn a lot.

It's like going to work. You put on your overalls and boots. For painting and decorating, you put your mask on. It's better than being in class.

It's a big help on your CV. If you're too young to leave school, they can put you on a course. You also get work experience.

Karen Chow, S4, Hairdressing, Central College of Commerce

There are 10 of us. We do health and safety and employability skills, which is things like how you dress to look professional in front of clients.

It's not learning how to cut hair; it's about what it's like working in hairdressing. We also do a taster of beauty treatments: massages, nails, facials and make-up. I wanted to do it because I thought I wanted to go into hairdressing, but I'm more interested in the beauty side.

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