Bringing together schools and colleges more closely was a central recommendation of the Wood report, which led to the government’s Developing the Young Workforce strategy, and it is seen as essential to the success of learners seeking a vocational education after school.
It is also seen as key to ensuring that young people make the right choices, on the basis that strong links between colleges and their local schools encourage a greater awareness of college provision.
But while the Westminster government recently introduced what is known as the Baker Clause, making it compulsory for schools to open their doors to FE institutions and make their contact information available to colleges, the Scottish system continues to rely on relationships built by schools and their local FE institutions.
The link between colleges, schools and universities is set to be a focus of the government’s upcoming Learner Journey Review.
And it has emerged that Scottish colleges have carried out over 300 visits to secondary schools in this academic year alone (there are 360 state secondaries in Scotland). In some cases, this was to address prospective students; in others, it was for careers or parents’ evenings or larger-scale fairs.
Almost all of the 11 colleges in a Tes Scotland survey said they proactively approach schools in their region – although many also said that schools seek them out.
Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, says colleges have fostered close relationships with schools in order to support young people into positive destinations. The Developing the Young Workforce agenda has helped to nurture these school-college partnerships, she believes. Colleges are also “heavily involved “in the delivery of foundation apprenticeships, she adds.
Struthers wants to see schools continuing to work with colleges, through careers fairs and by providing advice, to help students to pick the right courses for them. “Effective careers advice is a vital part of a young person’s journey and pivotal in ensuring that learners have access to all the available options to allow them to take the route that is right for them,” she says.
“Anything that helps to ensure that young people have access to comprehensive careers advice is a positive step forward.”
Joanna Murphy, chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, says that when the Wood report was launched, its recommendations were universally well-accepted.
And she agrees that the Developing the Young Workforce programme, which came out of the report, is helping to forge more partnerships between schools, colleges and employers. “While it may yet be patchy, I can see it is spreading out more through the country,” she adds.
“Absolutely it needs to be more inclusive and all pupils need to be aware of all the options open to them. Good, well-balanced, informed careers advice is vital for all pupils.”
Scotland should be proud of its education system for presenting a wide range of post-school opportunities for young people, according to NUS Scotland president Luke Humberstone. But he adds: “What we need to make sure of, though, is that all young people have access to the full information on the options available to them at key points throughout their education.”
He hopes the Learner Journey Review – the government’s long-awaited report on the paths available to learners – will provide young people with better, more consistent guidance and information on choices. “It’s vital that any future developments have the principles of our widening access agenda at their heart. Students should feel confident and supported to take the education route which is right for them as an individual,” he adds.
Dumfries and Galloway College says that it has approached all of its 16 local secondaries, half of which have, in turn, asked the college to be involved with their events. And a spokesman for Ayrshire College says that the college invites all of the region’s secondary schools to a range of events throughout the year, including careers events and events aimed at parents. “The college is invited to an increasing number of schools’ parent evening and options events,” he adds.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for West Lothian College says the college has been invited to and attended all 11 secondary school career events in the academic year 2017-18, but admits its own “capacity” to participate in these events can be an issue.
“We have proactively approached schools in relation to parents’ evenings. However, we have found that – given there are 11 secondary schools, some of whom offer a different event for each year group – capacity to cover all events can be challenging.”
A Scottish government spokesperson says: “Colleges and universities are key to our future economic prosperity and we are committed to improving the choices available to 15- to 24-year-olds within the education and skills system. Our Developing the Young Workforce programme is designed to increase collaboration between schools and colleges, and expand the learning and training pathways available.”
“We are working to deliver a system which will ensure all learners are on the right route to the right job, through the right course via the right information.”