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Time to make the rubber hit the road

Let's hang on to the warmth of Hogmanay in these chilly days. Let's go for the glow, and feel good about the achievements of Scottish education over the past 15 years.

The Advisory Scottish Council on Education and Training Targets (ASCETT) says we should, "for many of the necessary elements of a strong education and training system are already in place in Scotland". In its first annual report, the council enjoins educators to rejoice in progress to date; ever-improving staying-on and attainment rates; high levels of first degrees.

Naturally at the launch of the refined targets, complacency - that peculiarly Scottish characteristic - was deprecated. After all, Singapore has 80 percent of 19-year-olds at SVQ Level III3 Highers equivalent - compared with just 35 per cent in Scotland.

A council member told a disturbing story of some Scots parents who would prefer to envisage their daughter or son an unemployed doctor or lawyer - rather than advise them to go into engineering - or business. Could this really be true?

The updated learning targets, resulting from ASCETT's year-long consultation, give cause for quiet satisfaction, even celebration.

The original targets focused narrowly on young people and their qualifications; and on the training and development attainments of the workforce. By contrast, the new targets have something for everyone: first, for employers; second, for "all individuals"; and third - for educators and trainers - an important message about shared goals.

The second target, the result of strong lobbying, is definitely innovative. Absolutely in the spirit of the 1996 European Year of Lifelong Learning, it is worth quoting in full: "All individuals to have access to education and training opportunities, leading to recognised qualifications which meet their needs and aspirations".

This is an exciting concept. For the first time we are each and all implicitly included - the unemployed; the low paid employed; the woman returner; the midlife career changer. Gone is the suggestion that opportunities - and guidance - are only appropriate for certain narrowly defined life stages.

Admittedly, the target does not yet quite mention education and training opportunities for the early retired or third-ager, but neither does it exclude them. Nor should it. Learning for life enrichment pays inherent social dividends in terms of health and well-being, and besides, older people are potentially educational givers and sharers as well as consumers.

The third ASCETT target is also interesting and worthy of reflection by the profession; "All education and training to develop self reliance, flexibility and breadth, in particular through encouraging citizenship and fostering competence in core skills, creativity and enterprise".

The ASCETT report underlines throughout the symbiotic relationship of school education with industry, colleges and other learning providers.

Local enterprise companies, employers, schools are part of an evolving, responsive and focussed network - serving the progression needs of the individual.

So how far does the teaching profession feel itself at ease with the widely-acclaimed ASCETT vision, "to make Scotland more competitive through creating and maintaining a world class skills base".

And how far does the world of school identify with ASCETT: "moving towards this vision . . . will enhance the capability and contribution of all the people . . . to improve their living standards and quality of life"?

Tom Farmer, successful businessman and, ASCETT council member, added his voice to the call for early concerted action to focus on the updated targets. As he fittingly remarked: "It's time to make the rubber hit the road". School education is considered a valued and essential partner. But does it identify with the targets? Is it aboard with other colleagues and ready for take off?

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