Challenging the University mantra

Written by on 11 March 2015

People are still putting university education on a pedestal, apparently.

Yesterday the Education and Culture committee discussed what the recommendations from Sir Ian Wood’s Commission for Developing Scotland's Young Workforce could mean for schools. Those giving evidence seemed to agree culture change was needed to recognise broader achievements.

Professor Alan Gilloran, Deputy Principal, Queen Margaret University, said: “We just have to be a bit careful about separating out vocational and academic. It makes me nervous, to create two-tier systems. I think it’s very important we look at, in any kind of education, both of those; that we’re looking to develop in young people skills for vocational outputs but also some academic theoretical and conceptual stuff. I think we can do both.”

Terry Lanagan, Executive Director of Educational Services, West Dunbartonshire Council, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said the challenge was persuading society, “particularly parents”, to value different routes to lifetime achievement.

“It’s about the perception of vocational qualification,” he said, “when you think about it the most high- tariff courses in Scottish universities - medicine, dentistry, vetinary medicine -  are the most vocational qualifications you can get.”

Lanagan pointed to pilot schemes where Primary School pupils had done work experience in the school kitchen, which provided skills for life.

I spoke to QMU principal Petra Wend for the next issue of Holyrood and she agreed work in primary school and earlier is essential to tackle the attainment gap. “By the age of five there is a ten to thirteen month gap in literacy and numeracy levels from Scotland’s least advantaged backgrounds compared to a child from the most advantaged background. And that gets worse and worse the more they go through school. Unless everyone is involved in trying to lower the attainment gap it’s not going to work,” she says.

Educationalist Keir Bloomer says although schools have traditionally been less well-versed in vocational pathways, the Wood agenda is gaining traction. “Secondary schools are showing greater flexibility towards the upper end. There is much more collaboration between schools and colleges. Bodies like Skills Development Scotland are playing a bigger role in opening up alternative pathways through the last few years of schooling and on into other things. So there is movement there, and it’s important that’s maintained,” he told me.

More in Monday's Holyrood magazine

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