Academy offers a better life for everyone

The young, unemployed people who enrolled in the 'Get Into Homebuilding' course were given five weeks of hands-on experience
The young, unemployed people who enrolled in the 'Get Into Homebuilding' course were given five weeks of hands-on experience
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Practical courses give pupils a chance to sample working conditions while they are still at secondary school, says Ray McCowan

AS THE country is still alive with debate and conversation following on from the referendum, this is a good time to consider the key role the college sector will play in offering equal and fair educational opportunities for all.

The discussion of what a fairer Scotland looks like – which was heavily drawn upon by both Better Together and the Yes campaign – was an interesting national conversation to have and has been incredibly valuable regardless of your thoughts on the final result.

With one in five families in Scotland living in poverty and more than 430,000 young people facing long-term unemployment, there is so much we can do to counteract inequality in Scotland.

As one of the largest further education providers in Scotland, one of Edinburgh College’s crucial roles is offering people from all backgrounds a route to a better life.

We bring together the private and public sectors to offer people opportunities they might not otherwise find. One of our recent projects, the South East Scotland Academies Partnership, in partnership with Queen Margaret University, East Lothian Council, Midlothian Council, Scottish Borders Council, City of Edinburgh Council, Borders College and a wide variety of industry partners, does just that.

The academy gives secondary school pupils the chance to study at college and university and get a taste of working life within their chosen industry, while still at school. The academy hits all the marks: it presents outstanding learning opportunities for young people, equips students for real jobs and develops a young workforce that will help raise standards in some of Scotland’s key economic priority areas.

Other projects we’ve launched at Edinburgh College help us to reach out to people on our own doorstep.

A number of our courses are aimed at those on the fringes of society – young people who feel disenchanted with education and face long-term unemployment.

A recent course, called Inner City Arts, is run by the BAFTA award-winning filmmaker Garry Fraser.

Garry works with a group of young and unemployed people from the most poverty-stricken areas of Edinburgh to teach them new skills in filmmaking while also broadening a student’s employability skills and increasing confidence.

Last year’s course engaged the youngsters in education and, following its completion, many of them signed up for creative and practical courses with us at the college.

This year’s course will engage a new group of youngsters in turning an Irvine Welsh short story into a film.

We have also teamed up with the youth charity, the Prince’s Trust, to offer support to those who are struggling to get a job. Our recent Get Into Homebuilding course offered young, unemployed people the chance to complete a five-week course across a variety of trade disciplines (including carpentry, plastering, brickwork and painting and decorating) and gaining hands-on experience with some of Scotland’s leading home builders. Homebuilding is a major employer with each home built estimated to directly support two jobs and every nine homes built support one apprenticeship. With this in mind, the course was all the more crucial to begin to build a young workforce with the right skills as the economy and housing market recover.

Our own students’ association is also committed to reaching some of the most under-represented and hardest-to-reach groups in the local community.

Their recent efforts in holding events for student groups including refugees and asylum seekers, and care leavers, have led to them being nominated for an Equality and Diversity Award at the College Development Network (CDN).

We work in close partnership with the students’ association to ensure that all students are treated fairly and with dignity, and that their rights are respected. We engage with several leading organisations – including Who Cares? Scotland, the Scottish Refugee Council, local councils and Police Scotland – to help to create a lasting legacy of equality, diversity and inclusion at the college.

The nomination for the equality award is a great testament to the students’ association’s own initiative, energy and dedication to representing all of our students effectively.

There is still so much more we can do collaboratively to make Scotland a fairer and better place for all. However, with the referendum now behind us, we can build on the crucial national conversations we have had and continue to make great strides towards providing the best opportunities possible for students learning with us.

• Ray McCowan is vice principal, Education Leadership, at Edinburgh College www.edinburghcollege.ac.uk

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