Vocational courses for high school pupils proposed

Sir Ian Wood. Picture: Jane Barlow
Sir Ian Wood. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Proposals to allow high school pupils to sit vocational college certificates while still at school will be debated by MSPs today.

Sir Ian Wood, an oil industrialist from Aberdeen, was commissioned by ministers to find ways to help young people into work and responded with a call for older school pupils to have the option to take National Certificates (NC).

Fifth and sixth-year pupils would be given the opportunity to sit more advanced college certificates, such as an HND, alongside academic subjects.

Sir Ian’s independent Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce advised that the shift could come with additional as-yet unspecified costs in the first few years, but that it would save money in the long term.

Sir Ian’s report stated: “It’s probable with the vocational pathway beginning in fourth-year school, there will be significantly more NC and HNC qualifications as well as more demand from young people for HND, all of which would enrich Scotland’s young workforce.

“If the increase in vocational qualifications and educational attainment results in better outcomes for students, these costs will be fully justified in terms of increased productivity and reduced costs relating to unemployment and its consequences.”

The Scottish Parliament will address the commission’s proposals in a debate led by the Scottish Government this afternoon.

Youth employment minister Angela Constance will highlight a recent endorsement by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) of Scotland’s focus on HNCs and HNDs, urging England to learn from Scotland’s example.

Speaking ahead of the debate, Ms Constance said: “The report has already been given a broad cross-party welcome and I want to ensure this consensus remains as we consider how to take them forward.

“The OECD’s report backs up how important vocational education is to Scotland, compared to England, and I am hopeful that this report will lead to real improvements to the Scottish system that will help even more young people into jobs.”

Speaking ahead of the debate, Conservative young people spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “We believe that, to make Sir Ian’s proposal work properly, there has to be a radical overhaul of the school system and a reversal of the severe cuts to college budgets.

“For far too long, too many young people in Scotland have been trapped in a comprehensive system of schooling which has afforded them no choice and has not been able to raise the bar of ambition.

“If we are to provide all young people with the opportunity they deserve, it is no good tinkering around the edges of the current system in Scotland.

“We need to make radical changes to the structure of education - not just to the type of courses on offer but to the type of schools - so that we can provide a much more diverse range of educational experiences.

“At the same time, we need to reverse the very damaging cuts the SNP has made to college education.”

The Scottish Government said the report was clear in its praise for Scotland’s schools, crediting Curriculum for Excellence with “helping pupils to develop many of the skills and attributes they will need to be successful in their working lives”.

A spokesman said: “We believe that our schools system is very well placed to consider how the report’s recommendations could be taken forward.

“Furthermore, the Scottish Government’s commitment to Scotland’s college sector has been demonstrated by putting in place a resource budget floor of £522 million in 2013/14 and maintaining that in 2014/15 through the allocation of an additional £51 million on top of previously planned spend.

“Our colleges are focused on creating employment opportunities for our young people and are fully aware of the role they have to play in delivering vocational education.”