‘Let’s break barriers to offer seamless routes into work’

8th April 2016 at 01:00
Schools, colleges and universities should pull together to show clear pathways for learners, says SCQF chair

The education system should offer “seamless” routes from school to employment, and different parts should stop “operating in a vacuum”, the chair of the body that maps the value of Scottish qualifications has said.

Breaking down barriers between schools, colleges, universities, and other providers is crucial to avoid failing learners, Rob Wallen, the new chair of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) partnership board, said in an exclusive TESS interview.

This was vital to ensure that students could get the qualifications they need in the fastest time possible and at the lowest cost, he added.

Work also needs to be done to ensure “parity of esteem” between qualifications that are of equal value on the framework but do not always command the same status among students, their families and employees, he said.

The SCQF Framework maps out Scottish qualifications by assigning them a level, from Level 1 – equal to a National 1 qualification – to a Level 12 – equal to a doctoral degree or professional apprenticeship.

Mr Wallen said: “It is about the system getting its act together. There has always been a risk of different parts of the system operating in a vacuum, but actually that is not how it should be for the benefit of the young person.

“You don’t want unnecessary duplication. You certainly don’t want young people failing and having to start again. What you want is a pathway that enables the young person to fulfil their potential in the fastest time, both for their benefit and for the benefit of the organisations funding that journey.”

This target was not “an abstract or a theory”, he said, and required more work to be done for people to understand a range of different qualifications, and that courses delivered, for example, by colleges and universities could be of equal value to learners. “Because for the young people, it doesn’t matter who delivers, what matters is what is delivered,” he said.

Choosing the right path

Mr Wallen, principal of North East Scotland College, explained that his own institution was developing a series of “curriculum pathway maps”, based on the SCQF framework, which trace possible routes from school to college and university and work for each subject area.

The purpose, he said, was “that people understand that there may be a difference between a Higher in science or a national progression award in food manufacture…but actually, they are helping young people to develop similar skill sets and prepare them for progression on to the next stage.”

Mr Wallen took over as chair of the SCQF partnership board last week – a post previously held by Sir Andrew Cubie.

“I think the SCQF framework is very simple and intuitive, but a very powerful tool for clarifying and promoting progression routes in the education system,” said Mr Wallen.

“I think it is much clearer and more logical than other similar systems in other countries and it promotes a better understanding of how you can help people, particularly young people in school, to plan a pathway into work.”

Although he has spent over 30 years working in the further education sector, Mr Wallen stressed that he would not solely be representing colleges as SCQF partnership chair.

“I have worked in universities, colleges and schools. This is about whole-system approaches, about understanding that each part of the system has something to contribute, has value, and for the young person, our responsibility is to help them link together to create seamless and efficient progression pathways to qualifications and into work.”

Vonnie Sandlan, president of NUS Scotland, said that no student should be penalised for taking a non-traditional route through education: “We still hear of students with college higher education qualifications being forced to repeat and duplicate years of study at university, or qualifications not being recognised.

“Each part of the post-16 education should be respected for the educational, employment and life opportunities it provides.”

Closer cooperation between schools, colleges and universities was one of the central recommendations of the Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce in 2014.

The commission said that it was crucial to find “ways to enhance the parity of esteem between academic and vocational education” and to “establish much clearer pathways starting in the senior phase for those young people not aspiring to go to university”.


Rob Wallen: CV

Born: 1953

Education: William Ellis School, London;

University of York; University of London

Career: Secondary English teacher, London;

English lecturer, Assiut University, Egypt;

English lecturer, Xiangtan University, China;

head of quality and associate principal (curriculum), Aberdeen College; principal, Aberdeen College and North East Scotland College; chair of SCQF partnership board from 1 April 2016

Mapping careers

To illustrate the large number of progression routes that take learners from school to employment, North East Scotland College is developing a range of curriculum pathway “maps”. Six maps have already been completed for subject areas from engineering to science and care.

In addition to a range of well-known routes from school into college and then higher education for subjects like engineering, the maps will also aim to highlight progression routes for subjects which less obviously link to a university programme.

This will ensure further options for the colleges’ students once they leave their course. Eventually, the college hopes to have a map for each subject area.

To see an example of a curriculum pathway map, go to: bit.ly/ComputingPath

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