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Skills for Scotland: A Lifelong Skills Strategy

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chapter 1
a strong start: firm foundations for skills development in young people

To build a smarter Scotland we need successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors to society and the world of work.

Young people's education, from the early years of a child's life through their compulsory education, coincides with a period of rapid development and lays the foundations of skills for life and work. What they learn and how they learn have a major bearing on wider outcomes including employability and participation in society in later life.

This Scottish Government has emphasised the importance of science, modern languages, technology, enterprise skills and Scottish history, culture and heritage. Subject content of the curriculum is clearly important, but focus on skills and outcomes developed is a key emphasis of this strategy.

Early Years

Giving every child a strong start in life is a crucial aim of this Government. We want to set them off on a path that results in positive outcomes later in life.

Key elements in supporting positive development in the early years include:

  • helping parents and carers to provide a nurturing and stimulating home environment;
  • providing children with high quality pre-school and school education;
  • helping parents with literacy and numeracy to enhance their ability to support their children's learning;
  • achieving effective early interventions to improve outcomes for all children but particularly those who face particular disadvantage or a high risk of poor outcomes later in life; and
  • supporting effective transitions between the stages of learning, including the transition from nursery to primary school.

This is a big agenda and we need to make sure that these elements work together. That is why we will be developing a long term early years strategy which we aim to publish during 2008. By intervening early, we can support parents and carers in providing an environment that nurtures early development and addresses barriers to learning.

In recognising the crucial role played by the early years workforce in skills development, we are introducing requirements that will mean all leaders of early years services will be qualified to SCQF Level 9.

Furthermore, to encourage a professional workforce at all levels, staff will be supported by a new integrated qualification and professional development framework that will help them understand how they can develop their careers.

Play and the environment for children can also support skills formation and a range of wider outcomes. Our early years strategy will support play and promote active learning as a vehicle for skills development.

Compulsory Education

The early years is the time when we can lay a solid foundation for skills: in compulsory education, we have the chance to encourage and influence attitudes to the importance of skills and the world of work. This is crucial: influencing young people's thinking and behaviour is highly relevant to shaping their life chances. So we must focus on developing the essential skills, changing young people's views of how they communicate and interact with others and raise their aspirations. Equally, we must aim to reverse negative ways of thinking and behaviour. These skills and attitudes are, for many, a necessary first step on the road to education and, later on, sustained employment.

Schools must, of course, equip young people with high levels of literacy and numeracy and ICT because, without these, the development of other skills is compromised.But over and above this pupils should have the opportunity to build up a strong foundation of a wide variety of skills and be able to present and demonstrate their skills in a way that will be of high value to themselves, their parents and carers, employers, colleges and universities. Against this background, we are committed to developing Scotland's worldwide reputation for excellence in enterprise education. We need to continue to create an enterprising culture in our schools and make the link between the classroom and the workplace so young people see the relevance of their learning. We need to maintain our focus on developing young people's enterprise and entrepreneurial skills and attitudes so we create in them an appetite for innovation, ambition and wealth creation. And - as we make clear in this Strategy - we need to increase opportunities for and the esteem accorded to, vocational learning and training.

Scotland's employers play a crucial part in this effort and we will encourage them to continue to support schools and teachers in introducing young people to the practices and culture of work, to contextualise learning, to raise awareness of job opportunities and to help develop their thinking on future careers.

The range of enterprise experiences - more opportunities for vocational learning and achieving a parity of esteem with academic learning, enhanced employability skills, understanding the world of work and commerce - are building blocks to help achieve sustainable economic growth. The design of Curriculum for Excellence will increasingly enable schools and other providers to help young people develop, and see the relevance of, essential skills and other skills of value in developing the capacities that will underpin their personal, social and economic futures.

The new curriculum will encourage schools to provide pupils with increased opportunities to build work related knowledge, experience and skills through a range of routes, including an expansion in school-college partnerships. To deliver increased opportunities and achieve parity of esteem with academic learning and certification we must ensure that vocational and employability skills, learning about the world of work and learning about the skills needed in the world of work, are an integral part of the curriculum and not a separate experience.

Most importantly we should encourage young people to retain an enthusiasm for learning and support them in 'learning how to learn', identify gaps in their knowledge through reflection and self awareness and to learn new skills effectively throughout their life.

A Flexible System

We will build a flexible system, which is joined up and which builds on existing good practice, to focus increasingly on the individual and their needs, aspirations and potential.

Schools must see themselves as part of a wider lifelong learning system. We will do this through more engaging and personalised support and approaches to learning, coupled with a flexible curriculum to provide learning opportunities that will engage and motivate and engender a culture of enterprise and ambition in our schools.

A wider range of vocational learning opportunities will help embed enterprise education within the curriculum and we should also develop a qualifications system and other means of recognising achievement, that supports and develops a broader range of skills than at present.

Youth work and volunteering opportunities offer young people the chance to develop confidence, motivation and skills that stay with them for life. We are committed to the vision set out in Moving Forward: A Strategy for Improving Young People's Chances through Youth Work19 and are working to implement its proposals. These includethe appointment of a Youth Work co-ordinator based at Learning and Teaching Scotland to strengthen the links between youth work and schools.

We will maintain our focus on and priority of, improving outcomes for looked after children as we implement We Can And Must Do Better20.

We must focus particular attention on children in special circumstances - not just looked after children but also, for example, those with learning difficulties and those in the youth justice system.

We will ensure that we maintain the enthusiasm for learning that most children have when they enter the education system, through the various transition phases.

It is critical to ensure that the options young people want and the support they need, are available to them, so that all young people remain engaged in learning as the best way of ensuring their long-term employability and contribution to society. It is important that young people develop their career planning skills and are aware of the full range of options available to best help them recognise and develop their skills. We will work with schools, colleges and Higher Education Institutions to investigate how effectively qualifications such as Advanced Highers and HNCs/ HNDs are being used in providing learners with good transition routes - including advanced standing as appropriate - on to first level degrees.

We will make a clear commitment to young people about the routes to education, employment and training which are on offer and the support they can expect.

The transition for young people moving from school to adulthood and the world of work is particularly important. We will therefore ensure that there are clear pathways and support that provide opportunities for all young people to engage (or re-engage) in learning and to progress. We will also build new and more engaging models of work experience and learning and teaching about enterprise and ensure that young people are aware of the full range of options available to help them recognise and develop their skills. It will be important to explore how we maximise employer engagement through Curriculum for Excellence and ensure that robust labour market information is utilised within the curriculum.

We will put in place effective processes for identifying early those young people least likely to secure and sustain training and employment, together with focussed work with individuals to identify suitable progression options based on their motivations, aspirations and needs.

We will deliver our commitment of ensuring that vocational skills and qualifications have parity of esteem with academic skills and qualifications.

We will address the issue of capacity which acts as a barrier preventing young people from accessing vocational learning opportunities. In particular:

  • we will provide increased opportunities by expanding school college partnerships; and
  • we will ensure that the guidance on Curriculum for Excellence will provide for vocational learning, learning about the world of work and learning about the skills needed in the world of work as part of the curriculum, valued alongside other learning and not a separate experience perceived to be of lower value.

We will encourage partnership working:

  • we know that there are many good examples of partnership working but we will challenge all colleges and schools to build partnerships which reflect the importance of strong communication and joint working and we will work with them to achieve this;
  • we will have a broader level of engagement with employers to explore new opportunities for schools to work with them, including improving substantially the work experience that all pupils currently undertake;
  • we recognise in some rural areas proximity to colleges is a real problem and in delivery of skills for work courses, school/business or school/training provider partnerships are being explored as alternatives. We will continue to encourage the exploration of alternative routes where circumstances dictate; and
  • we will work with colleges, universities, Community Learning and Development providers, employers, SQA and other relevant awarding bodies and the SCQF Partnership to explore means of promoting and recognising achievements of young people additional to qualifications.

We will engender changes in attitude:

  • we will undertake research on changing attitudes to vocational learning;
  • we will challenge those providing advice to young people: Careers Scotland, teachers and parents and carers to consider the whole range of options available to young people in guiding their choices; and
  • we will challenge awarding bodies and providers to ensure their qualifications are placed in the SCQF, allowing better comparison, in terms of demonstrating value, with mainstream qualifications.

case study 1:
West Dunbartonshire Council
Early Intervention Initiative

"We have seen dramatic results. Kids in primary 7 who couldn't read at all now can, and it opens the world to them."
Lynn Townsend, West Dunbartonshire Council

Ten years ago West Dunbartonshire Council committed itself to eradicating pupil illiteracy in its schools within a decade. Ten years on, it is on track to reach its target, becoming what is thought to be the first local authority in the world to do so.

Scotland's second most disadvantaged local authority had one of the poorest literacy rates in the UK when the Early Intervention Initiative was launched. Today, it is being held up as a model for education authorities around the world.

Acting on research which confirmed that early achievement provides a positive experience of school and a firm base for lifelong learning, the authority paid particular attention to providing a firm foundation for learning. Support from specially trained teachers for every, individual child across all Early Education and Childcare Centres, primary and secondary schools, ensures no-one is left behind.

Another key element to the Initiative's success has been parental involvement, with support for parents and carers and a fostering of a "literacy environment" in the community. The research between literacy and other factors leads the council to be confident that this project will ultimately lead not just to higher educational achievement but higher self-esteem, lower disruption in schools, better staff morale and a stronger economy.

case study 2:
Trinity Academy

"The opportunity for young people to experience and develop understanding of the world of work in all its diversity, including entrepreneurial activity and self-employment."

The importance of skills in the curriculum cannot be underestimated if we are serious about truly preparing all our young people, regardless of ability level, for the next stage in their lifelong learning.

In 2004, faced with some pupils not achieving their fullest potential in an academic, vocational or social front, Edinburgh's Trinity Academy introduced wider choice and flexibility in the S3-S4 curriculum. This incorporated a greater balance between the Standard Grade and Intermediate courses traditionally offered, with vocational courses offered in partnership with Edinburgh Telford College and involving Careers Scotland and Scottish Enterprise Edinburgh and Lothians. Courses were offered in, for example, business education, hospitality, hairdressing and craft skills. These then led onto the piloted Skills for Work courses the following years. Wider achievement was also recognised through the Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network and Skill Force.

This has resulted in more focussed and committed young people - not just in the alternative curriculum offered - but also in the mainstream curriculum. Pupils are better prepared at the personal and social level and are demonstrating increased life and transferable skills. Based on positive leaver destination results, the school plans to develop and offer more Skills for Work courses through their school/college partnership to further meet the needs of pupils - many more of whom are opting to stay on at school for a fifth year.