Vocational Education - Business alliances get the thumbs-up

Government backs proposal for schools and industry to team up

Scotland's education secretary Michael Russell has urged schools and colleges to form partnerships to significantly improve the quality of vocational education for students who do not want to go to university.

Mr Russell backed the key finding of a commission led by the businessman Sir Ian Wood, which recommended that work-related courses offered by colleges be made available in secondary schools from S4 onwards.

Speaking to an audience of college, business and government representatives at the FE Strategic Forum in Dunfermline last week, the education secretary said that although the Commission for Developing Scotland's Young Workforce had published its interim report only a matter of weeks ago, schools and colleges should not "hang back".

The commission's suggestions were "an important set of recommendations", Mr Russell said, adding that educators should "think about how (they) can be implemented". He told the audience to look to the Scottish Funding Council, the government and the regional board for support.

Sir Ian's commission proposed that students be able to continue their studies in school, while also spending time at their local college working towards a National Qualification or Higher National Certificate.

Sir Ian told the FE Strategic Forum that these partnerships were already working successfully in some parts of Scotland and could be implemented immediately at very little cost.

He added that they would increase the number of young people completing worthwhile vocational qualifications at the same time as providing an alternative route for students who did not aspire to university.

The recommendations also received a positive reception from the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland and from school leaders when they were published earlier this month. However, Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, warned that they would only work if accompanied by adequate funding.

A spokesman for the EIS teaching union said this week: "The development of school-college partnerships is important and is generally well supported by teachers and lecturers. However, at a time when the number of teaching staff is falling and budgets continue to be cut, there are significant workload and resource issues to be overcome to allow school-college partnerships to develop as intended."

Speaking to TESS, Sir Ian said that as colleges already faced significant financial pressures, he could not see funding coming from anywhere other than government.

His commission is now beginning the second stage of its work, which will look at how businesses can become more involved. Sir Ian said he expected arrangements for this to be regional, rather than national.

Speaking to a business audience in Glasgow last week, Sir Ian urged industry leaders to establish long-term partnerships with their local education institutions. "Business and industry need to sit down with their local schools and colleges and try to work out a three-year or a five-year plan," he said.

The businesses community should not complain about young people's skill levels if they were not willing to support schools and colleges in training them, he added.

"There is only one group that benefits from the young person having a good education other than the young person, and that is you. Don't complain about the applicability, don't complain about the lack of work experience, unless you are willing to do something about it," he said.

'Focus on learners'

Scotland's college sector has to ensure the learning it provides to students is useful and helps them succeed, education secretary Michael Russell has said.

Mr Russell made the comments at the first meeting of the FE Strategic Forum in Dunfermline - a forum set up after Professor Russel Griggs suggested it in his review of college governance.

As its first priority, the forum should "turn first of all to the issue of learner success", Mr Russell said. "Learners are what you do. That is what drives you. And improving outcomes through education is also what drives me, too."

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