It's been a great week touring around and listening to domain experts from across Scotland with an international delegation, looking at our technical and professional learning system.
It was a wee while in the planning, but good things take time. Great too to reflect on why they are interested in the Scottish technical and professional vocational system.
1. It makes sense, ( not always the case when you are too close to it and it is sometimes too easily dismissed by some around and within our own system) the work of SCQF , SQA , Education Scotland and SDS in making sure that there are clearly funded progression pathways through different vocations into work or onto further study. The Colleges make sure it is a collaborative effort to get this right.
2. The links between qualifications and national occupational standards and in the main the transparent way that these relate to each other. The strong links to industry that all the Colleges work to maintain. We saw learners working with the latest equipment from tractors to TV studios with equipment often supplied by employers.
3. The unit based , competency based qualification structures - based on notional 40 hours of study or in some cases short 10 hour SCQF credit and leveled courses that can lead to both academic and vocational progression make sense. The logic and structure of this appealed to our visitors as well as the flexible and varied assessment methodologies that are in place. The evidence that it makes sense exemplified by the many deep international relationships in place across and beyond Europe between College and international partners. These competencies are embedded in the Scottish system and travel around the world. I'd make one rule though , if it is not an exportable qualification, let's not make it - we seem to be crowding our system with different types and titles of award.
4. Core skills - that we try to give learners a set of transferable skills - both in the workplace and through their College courses. That we are working hard to build in entrepreneurship into all of our programmes and giving learners as much direct business experience as we can. The philosophy of a Curriculum for Excellence along with Developing Scotland's Young Workforce and the efforts made in reaching into schools to show that progression to higher education is not the only path to professional and fulfilling careers struck a chord with our guests. The work of Young Enterprise Scotland in supporting creative thinking and of Business Gateway Scotland in supporting those who want to start their own ventures -opened the eyes of our visitors.
5. Our College governance arrangements , funding arrangements and quality checks from Education Scotland , SQA , SFC, SDS , national and regional plans and monitoring - the externals thought it was a lot of auditing. I think some in system think the same.
6. The dedication of all the teaching staff to the success of their learners . I know on these outings we sometimes meet the handpicked rather than those having a tough week. But all the Colleges we visited had inspired learners and inspiring and supportive teaching staff who welcomed us into their classrooms and we just popped into classrooms along our tour.
7. That through the Princes Trust and others we reach out to the hard to reach and work hard to get young learners to take a full and active part in our society and our economy.
8. That private training providers , charities and employers all play a part in delivering the system as a whole. .
Thanks to all the Colleges and agencies that opened their doors and made significant inputs. I am sure a range of opportunities will open up in this region. I've now got a lot of data and documents to gather together and sometimes the tougher job of explaining some parts of our system that still don't make sense. Why for instance all HND learners cannot progress into 3rd year of any relevant degree programme and equally why there is not a seamless progression from an apprenticeship into HND or HNC with advanced standing and why schools are still not embedding a lot more vocational options.
Perhaps, too why learners persist in taking up places on University courses that often have no clear routes to employment. ( I can hear the poet in me rebelling - but we still don't have the mix right).
They are thinking about redirecting greater resources to Colleges as they understand the economic impact this will have on their learners and their society as a whole. 'The next generation of technicians and entrepreneurs will spring from the workplace and from the College sector' It is a good vision.
On reflection perhaps we do not always value the contribution that this eminently exportable system makes to the Scottish economy as a whole.
And as a final footnote - three Colleges said they were the biggest at something - this does not always impress better to explain the quality of the learning and teaching and present evidence of the positive destinations of the learners and then perhaps add how big you are. Our guests were amused by this as they have a population of over 30 million and some gigantic institutions.