"THE best attended parents' meeting I have ever seen," a senior official said after the launch of Glasgow's schools vocational training programme.
Richard Barron, acting depute director of education, was speaking in the city's Kelvin Hall where hundreds of pupils and their parents packed the main arena in an atmosphere more akin to a pop concert or a political rally.
The ambitious programme, billed as "the UK's biggest", epitomises the curricular flexibility being promoted by Cathy Jamieson, Education Minister. It is the first of its kind in Scotland. Sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland, it allows pupils to start working in the job of their choice from as early as second year.
Although Charles Gordon, the city's council leader, said that Glasgow is "leading the way" in giving young people an early start, unions have expressed fears of a "twin-track" approach for academic and non-academic pupils.
But the council points out that the 750 youngsters who have signed up for next session will drop only one Standard grade. They will have two years of accredited training leading to a Scottish Vocational Qualification at level 2 in one of seven employment sectors - construction, hospitality, horticulture, administration, care, health and fitness, and sport and recreation.
The Kelvin Hall launch is an extension of an ongoing pilot programme in which 350 pupils from 15 secondaries are taking courses in construction and hospitality. The bulk of the learning and assessment takes place in class time at local colleges or at summer schools.
Last week's HMI report on Glasgow's education service commended the initiative and noted: "The courses had been well received, and there was evidence of a positive impact on the attendance, motivation and achievement of those involved."
Successful graduates of the construction component are guaranteed access to an apprenticeship and a job. Mr Gordon said he was confident this arrangement would be extended to the other areas.
Mr Barron told The TES Scotland that this link with potential employment "does it" for young people and their parents. David Cummins, headteacher of Smithycroft Secondary, said the courses produced "eminently employable" young people who could start as second-year apprentices, with big savings for employers.
Robert Glasgow, a second-year pupil at Lochend Community High in Easterhouse, chose the hospitality course because home economics is one of his favourite subjects and he wants to be a chef. His mother Janet is happy he will still pursue his Standard grades.
Leeanne Watson from St Paul's High wants to be a midwife and chose administration as a possible second option.
Mr Gordon told his audience: "The value of this programme is recognised by all parties - schools, colleges and businesses - in offering real opportunities to Glasgow's young people."