Vocational education gaining popularity in Scottish schools, finds report

But progress is 'modest' and may be under threat from budget cuts

Henry Hepburn

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Vocational education is becoming more common in Scottish schools after a drive to improve young people’s employability, a new report has found.

However, school-based vocational courses remain relatively rare and, in some parts of the country, are under threat from budget cuts.

A Scottish government report, introduced by education secretary John Swinney and employability and training minister Jamie Hepburn, states: “We have seen good progress in the expansion of the curriculum offer for our young people through an increased number of college courses delivered within schools.”

The report highlights this progress in schools:

  • School leavers gaining vocational qualifications at Level 5 – equivalent to a National 5, which is broadly similar to a good GCSE in England – to 10.7 per cent in 2015-16, from 7.3 per cent in 2013-14.
  • Almost 2,000 young people enrolled in Foundation Apprenticeships – work-based learning for senior secondary pupils – in 2016-17, an increase from 480 in 2015-16 and 72 in 2014-15.
  • Some 354 out of 356 secondary schools reporting that they have a “senior staff resource” dedicated to Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) – the name given to Scotland’s seven-year programme to improve youth employment following Sir Ian’s report.


But the report adds that if all forecast DYW activity at Level 5 and above is delivered, this will still involve “a relatively modest percentage” of senior pupils by 2020.

Vocational education report

A landmark 2014 report by oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood, Education Working for All!, sought to improve youth employment, with vocational education playing a pivotal role amid concerns that Scottish education was too focused on the needs of “academic” pupils.

This Friday, analysis by Tes Scotland will highlight education cuts being considered by local authorities, with growing financial pressure making it increasingly likely that national priorities, such as vocational education, will be affected.

In Midlothian, for example, there is a proposal to “Reduce the vocational opportunities available to schools and young people, adults and families through reduction of the vocational learning budget and associated programmes”, as part of plans to save around £200,000 over two years, from lifelong learning and employability programmes.

Last month, Westminster apprenticeships and skills minister Anne Milton told Tes that she was passionate about vocational education.

In the same week, at an Institute of Education debate supported by Tes, leading education figures explore how to overcome the academic-vocational divide in education.

In 2016, a study by the Association of Accounting Technicians found that older people valued vocational education more than young adults did.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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