14-19 vocational education – good practice in

Vocational education for 14-19 years – good
practice in Scotland. Skills for Learning,
Skills for Life and Skills for Work
Kevin Lowden. School of Education
Edge Research Conference November 2012
The research context
The study was commissioned by The Scottish
Government (2007–08) to highlight good practice in
delivering vocational learning provision for all pupils.
• The findings informed policy on the delivery of skills for
learning, skills for life and skills for work as part of the
implementation of Scotland’s Curriculum; Curriculum for
Excellence (CfE).
• CfE aims to ensure that pupils develop as ‘confident
individuals, successful learners, effective contributors
and responsible citizens’.
The research context
• Over the past decade vocational education in Scotland at policy
level has been reconceptualised:
• vocational learning is being seen as part of a holistic spectrum of
skills required to function effectively in society. This reflects the
wider philosophy underpinning the current curriculum in Scotland;
Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) (Scottish Executive, 2004).
• pupils should ‘achieve on a broad front, not just in terms of
examinations’ This means supporting young people to acquire the
‘full range of skills and abilities relevant to growing, living and
working in the contemporary world’. (LTS 2008).
The research context
• Skills for Scotland, A Lifelong Skills Strategy (Scottish Government,
2007) highlights the importance of CfE in the development of
individuals’ vocational learning and employability skills needed for the
world of work, and providing a foundation for skills development
throughout life.
• These skills should be embedded across all curriculum areas including
more practical or applied learning and specific opportunities.
• The OECD review (OECD, 2007) was influential for vocational
education in Scotland; setting it firmly within the wider school
curriculum and promoting articulation with post compulsory education
The research context
• The concept underpinning this policy also reflects recent research
into effective teaching and learning that suggests that
‘differences between ways of promoting academic and vocational learning are
exaggerated and that the same good practice characteristics are to be found in
both’ (Faraday et al 2011).
• vocational learning in Scottish education has also been promoted
by a focus on employability and enterprise driven by the
Determined to Succeed policy initiative (DtS) (2003 -11).
• the DtS strategy stressed that vocational learning should be
available for all pupils over the age of 14 and should be linked to a
relevant qualification and provided funding to facilitate this.
Research objectives
• To identify a range of examples of good practice in vocational
learning using electronic/literature searches, desktop research and
exploratory interviews and discussions with key stakeholders.
• To conduct a limited number of detailed case studies of good
practice in vocational education that would provide a detailed
understanding of the activities and achievements of the
organisations, partnerships and programmes involved.
• To identify the factors and processes influencing success in each
case study and assess how challenges facing the delivery of
vocational learning had been addressed.
Definition of Vocational learning
• In defining vocational learning for the study reported here, the
research team took cognisance of definitions in the literature but
primarily reflected the concepts underpinning the policy for
Scotland’s developing curriculum. The definition of vocational
learning, therefore, comprised of:
The delivery of a range of skills which young people would need in their life and
work, including the development of pre-vocational, enterprise and employability
skills, personal skills, high level cognitive skills and the opportunity to put
learning into a practical context.
• Preparatory strand: Discussions and exploratory interviews with 23 key
stakeholders, including national policy makers and representatives of education
organisations to explore what was meant by ‘effective vocational learning’ and
to identify issues pertinent to the research objectives.
• Strand 1: Literature search/desk study to identify examples of good practice.
• Strand 2: Five in-depth case studies of good practice regarding vocational
learning. Within each case study methods included: interviews with key provider
and partner organisation staff, focus groups with young people involved in the
provision and participant observation of provision and video evidence from
parents of learners. Providers’ own monitoring and evaluation evidence was
also scrutinised.
• Strand 3: Thematic analysis of qualitative material, synthesis of key themes
concerning good practice and reporting/ validation events.
Case studies
Typologies of vocational learning provision identified from phase 1:
• Local authority-wide partnership between schools and college.
• Local authority-wide partnership between schools and local employers.
• Local authority-wide Vocational Learning Strategy, including specific unit
provide strategic guidance and broker school/ college partnerships and
university links.
• School cluster model involving bespoke vocational learning centres to facilitate
and sustain provision of vocational learning.
• College–school model with outreach provision for schools via skill centre and
significant support for councils and vocational providers in rural/remote areas of
Main findings
Across the case studies, a wide range of reported outcomes were attributed to
vocational learning in the case studies:
• Improved performance in modules and units of work.
• Gaining broader skills, particularly team working, communication skills and self
confidence, thus increased employability and generic life skills.
• Increased vocational skills relevant to local economy.
• Increased aspirations and awareness of employment opportunities.
• Improved behaviour in and out of school, improved attitudes to school and
motivation to learn and marked improvement in school attendance.
Main findings
• Increase in positive destinations, including employers creating jobs for suitable
young people following a placement.
• Improved employer attitudes towards young people, greater employer
awareness of school provision and stronger links between employers and
schools and their communities.
• For employers, an opportunity to promote their business to prospective
• Increased parental interest in school work and involvement in the life of the
• Where pupils from different schools and communities learn together in a
college, vocational centre or host school, this has helped to reduce ‘territorial
rivalries’ and promote tolerance.
Main findings
• Positive outcomes for pupils were evident where school–college partnerships had
been established for some time, and staff, pupils and parents had become
familiar with what vocational learning could offer and how schools and other
providers could best work together.
Features of good practice
• Colleges and their partners drew on their links with relevant Skill Sector
Councils, the SQA, HMIE Skills Development Scotland, and other key
organisations to ensure provision reflected recognised standards, articulated
with the curriculum and local and national policies.
• Included partnership work between schools colleges, training providers,
employers, local careers services etc.
• Offered creditable accreditation with nationally recognised qualifications.
Features of good practice
• Provided practical skills and experiential opportunities with work– related
• Offered progression routes to other courses, learning and employment.
• Involved staff who have the appropriate skills to deliver vocational content and
are motivated to work with young people.
• Courses were engaging, relevant and credible to young people.
• Courses were flexible, holistic, integrated and designed to meet the needs of
young people, their communities and employers.
• Appropriate guidance, rigorous selection criteria and interviewing of pupils.
• Opportunities were inclusive and accessible.
• Provision was quality assured, including using integral monitoring and
evaluation that informed planning and delivery.
Providers conducted routine monitoring and evaluation, gathering information from
staff, pupils and often parents. This allowed progression and outcome data to be
collected and inform planning of vocational courses.
This data collected and shared by local and national skills and careers agencies ie:
SDS working with local authorities to inform strategy and maintain LMI.
Schools promoting sustainability of vocational learning and integration within their
curriculum by ensuring capacity of teachers to deliver vocational learning and
developing greater levels of joint delivery and partnership working between
teachers and lecturers.
Improvements in the learning environment and resources improved learners’
motivation, aspirations and learning, for example creative use of IT across the
curriculum to promote access by all pupils. Including accessing information on
employment possibilities.
Importance of seeing the school as a community resource, a ‘hub’ that can work
with parents and partner services and organisations to address the needs of the
vocational learning was enhanced by use of appropriate venues that permitted a
conducive context for the development of practical, experiential learning. This was
often workshops and similar facilities that provided a simulation of work place
environment and relationships.
There was debate over whether vocational learning for this age group should be
delivered primarily in school or college. Colleges had facilities and expertise but
some teachers were concerned about ensuring adequate pastoral guidance and
promoting wider ethos.
Where partnership working was effective schools and colleges worked to explore
support systems for pupils and teachers collaborated with lecturers to share
experiences and pedagogical techniques suited to school-aged learners.
The importance of partnership working for effective vocational
• A consistent theme arising from the case was the crucial importance of
partnership working for enhancing vocational learning and destinations.
• Most partnerships had developed via school-level networks. However, in some
areas where there the local authority had a central co-ordinating role,
partnerships were more likely to be promoted strategically, reflect local policy
objectives and draw on Labour Market intelligence data.
• Key partners involved included local authorities, sector skills councils,
employers, Careers Scotland (now Skills Development Scotland), Scottish
Business in the Community and local regeneration agencies
• These often promoted networking, including services that further promoted
young people’s employability skills, and helped to articulate compulsory
education strategies with those for post-16 year olds.
The importance of partnership working for effective vocational
• Particularly effective partnerships that enhanced vocational learning and
positive destinations were characterised by having a designated coordinator,
often from careers services, who had good local links and facilitated vocational
opportunities for young people, including workplace learning opportunities,
employer links and routes to employment.
• In rural areas, the contribution of employers to supporting vocational learning
opportunities key, particularly when there was limited availability of colleges and
other education providers.
• Employer engagement has become more than an add-on and is increasingly
being integrated into the curriculum, however, that effective employer
partnerships required on-going attention to nurture and sustain.
• .
The importance of partnership working for effective vocational
• Much of the expansion in vocational learning and courses involved partnerships
with colleges to provide teaching input; often for Skills for Work courses.
• Across the case studies, networking improved and facilitated positive
destinations and opportunities for examples of joint teaching, CPD and planning
• The benefits of partnership working for promoting positive outcomes for learners
and building the capacity of providers and organisations involved have been
repeatedly demonstrated in other SCRE Centre (Lowden et al 2010, Menter et
al 2010 and Lowden and Hall 2010).
The importance of partnership working for effective vocational
• A key development in partnership working relevant to vocational learning has
been the increasing level of strategic coordination of education planning and
provision in many authorities and the sharing of relevant data and information
across various partner agencies.
• These strategic approaches have continued to develop in sophistication and are
usually sensitive to local situations and draw on Labour Market Intelligence
(LMI) and other data.
• The extent to which LMI permeates learning and teaching and informs policies
does vary but in some cases, relatively sophisticated tools and procedures have
been developed to inform practice.
The importance of partnership working for effective vocational
• Multi-agency partnerships have helped schools with significant proportions of
pupils with high levels of deprivation to secure positive destinations other than
HE, but in FE courses, employment and training courses (McKinney et al
• Rigorous tracking and follow-up support has also proven crucial to sustaining
such positive destinations.
• However, our latest research has also shown partnership networks are
vulnerable due to the severe public spending cuts.
• However, our research has also highlighted how embedded partnership working
can help schools and their partners to resist some of the effects of reduced
funding by sharing personnel, expertise and resources.
Conclusions and related issues
• Our findings suggest features or a model to promote effective vocational
learning that addresses national economic goals but also one that plays a key
role in developing more capable and citizens who can adapt in a rapidly
changing global context.
• In particular, there is evidence that vocational education that is embedded in the
curriculum and is supported by integrated services can promote successful
progression into the labour market, higher and further education and training.
• Above all, the findings stress the importance of effective partnership working
across providers, employers, careers and skills development agencies and
other organisations in promoting the impact of vocational learning to prepare
learners for the world of work and improve school-leaver destinations.
Conclusions and related issues
• To provide effective vocational learning at a time when the
economic and funding landscape presents severe challenges local
authorities, providers and their partner organisations have had to
increasingly look to a more coordinated infrastructure, provision
and services to effectively deploy expertise and resources.
• In some cases, this has helped providers resist the harshest
effects of the current financial context on their services that make
a difference to young peoples learning and opportunities.
Conclusions and related issues
• It is possible that the impact of current austerity measures has not
yet reached its zenith and local authorities are likely to make
further cuts that will have a detrimental impact on staffing and,
therefore, partnership networks.
• We would argue that this would be a false economy given that
such networking is actually providing a mechanism to ameliorate
the effects of the financial cuts for education providers and, most
importantly, is promoting skills for learning, skills for life and skills
for work that will be crucial for economic and social recovery.

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