For young and old

15th June 2007 at 01:00
Scottish approaches to Scottish issues is how Fiona Hyslop sees the development of a skills strategy

A DRAFT skills strategy for Scotland is to be unveiled by the SNP administration within the next three months.

The "100 days" pledge was made by Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, during a Labour-initiated debate in parliament last Thursday on skills and vocational education. She said it would build on the consultation begun by the previous Scottish Executive on lifelong learning.

The strategy will also be Scotland's response to the UK Leitch review on skills which re-ported to the Treasury at the end of last year. It has received a lukewarm response in Scotland because of its insistence that training should be "demand-led", giving priority to the needs of employers.

But Ms Hyslop, speaking before last week's debate, made it clear that while the strategy would have to ensure that the skills of the workforce matched the changing needs of businesses, it would also place an emphasis on what individuals valued and required.

She said she favoured an approach to skills development "encompassing everything from nursery and school to further or higher education and all forms of adult learning".

In the parliamentary debate, Ms Hyslop appeared to distance herself from the proposals by Lord Leitch which would elevate employer-led sector skills councils at the expense of further education colleges and other training providers. She noted that Scotland has distinct institutions, qualifications and experience: "how we achieve our vision for skills will necessarily reflect that."

With the exception of London, she added, Scotland had fewer lower skilled people and more highly skilled people than anywhere else in the UK. "We will focus on Scottish approaches to Scottish issues, and this is what will drive our strategy," she said.

Ms Hyslop signalled she would not depart from the previous executive in its strong support for colleges, a message she is expected to take today to the annual conference of the Association of Scotland's Colleges in Dunblane.

Colleges, she told MSPs, had a particular role to play in improving the performance of the lowest attaining young people, both in making their own contribution and in the partnerships they build with schools. There should be no attempt to "under-rate the ability of colleges or sideline them in the skills agenda", she warned.

The education secretary made it clear the SNP would ditch part of Labour's plans for vocational education, if it could garner sufficient parliamentary votes. Expressing the new executive's opposition to skills academies and centres of excellence for science, Ms Hyslop said she aimed to "challenge the perception that vocational qualifications are for the less able, or a focus on science that should be simply post-16."

She added: "I do not want to see a two-tier education system. I believe in vocational opportunities and active choices for all, based on individual aspirations and abilities. Everyone needs vocational skills, regardless of the industry or occupation in which they work - parity of esteem for all qualifications."

A Labour motion calling for the establishment of skills academies was defeated by 64 votes to 63 following the debate.

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