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 structures. 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. Methods • 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 Scotland. 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 employees. • Increased parental interest in school work and involvement in the life of the school. • 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 activities. • 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 community. • 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 education • 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 education • 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 education • 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 education • 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 education • 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 forthcoming). • 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.