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Thinking local can help to break down barriers

Some ideas make so much sense it is difficult to imagine how no one thought of them before. Last year, for example, the three Glasgow colleges launched an initiative allowing students to use whichever library is closest to them, rather than restricting them to the college they are enrolled with.

At a time when bursary funding is tight, the Reciprocal Borrowing Scheme not only saves students time but also money they would otherwise spend on travel to another campus. Similar systems exist in universities, but as the mobility of college students is typically lower than university students - many of whom juggle jobs or other commitments - the initiative is one of the most tangible benefits of the process to regionalise further education in the city.

The Glasgow Clyde College vocational project to involve 15-year-old students in renovating Kelbourne Park School is another case in point (see pages 12-13). In the current financial climate, there are likely to be occasions when councils have to deny requests from schools for minor DIY jobs or paint touch-ups. Meanwhile, in colleges across the country, young people on construction, plumbing and carpentry courses are keen, or even required, to carry out practical work and work experience. So bringing a group of young people into a primary school in their local area to do all those jobs for which there is rarely time or money seems an obvious solution.

In the case of Kelbourne Park and Glasgow Clyde College, the idea is working exceptionally well. The school, its staff and its pupils are benefiting from the improvements; the students are gaining real-life work experience and developing areas of interest while supporting their community.

Their lecturer told TESS that the young men were so excited about the project that they were willing to work even when most professional building sites across the West of Scotland were closed because of bad weather. That enthusiasm is more difficult to generate in a classroom, and it is likely to stick with the students when they move on.

Inevitably, there will have been concerns about this project, particularly on the school side. The thought of a group of teenage boys equipped with tools, and let loose in a building full of small children, may send shivers down the spine of many a headteacher. But when Kelbourne Park's head took the plunge, she put her professional trust in her college colleagues, who in turn did everything possible to ensure the project was safe for all involved.

There are already plans to expand the scheme, and one can only hope it will inspire colleges across Scotland to have a conversation with their local authority to see where they too can help.

What it will require is something we all find difficult at times: trusting those we work with and breaking down barriers that have been reinforced for decades. If we manage to do that, though, we might find that we cannot remember why those barriers were put there in the first place.

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