BY GORDON JENKINS
Education should have little to do with politics.
Alas, I fear, the reverse is also true.
It might be a little late, and it might be too much to ask, but can I appeal to those currently engaged in their childish stone throwing to take a playtime break, and listen for just a moment.
The Scottish Government’s More Choices More Chances programme is undoubtedly the best opportunity this nation has ever had of reversing its erstwhile trend of manufacturing disengaged young people.
When Cabinet Secretary for Education Fiona Hyslop says that the problem of young people not in education, employment or training is the “biggest educational challenge facing Scotland” (Herald, March 18) she is neither wrong nor the first to say so.
The MCMC programme, albeit with a different name, was a strategy initiated by the Labour Executive and now wholeheartedly supported by the current SNP Government.
It is time to stop the stone throwing and look at successful examples of MCMC in action, of which there are many across the country.
Thanks to targeted funding from both the present and past Scottish Governments, we have achieved phenomenal results in a short space of time.
In the past three years, literally thousands of young people have been through the doors of Scottish Colleges. The vast majority of them came out a better person, better equipped to relate to society, better supported, and better prepared for a life of work. Quite often, we send them out straight into jobs.
Kilmarnock College is at the heart of one of Scotland’s seven NEET “hotspots” and has been engaged in developing MCMC at a number of locations within East and North Ayrshire since its introduction.
There is no single solution. There is no one size fits all. There is no such thing as a stereotypical NEET among the 20,000 young Scots who qualify for the dubious sobriquet. The secret, if anything, is that we have to treat each as an individual.
I agree wholeheartedly with the Cabinet Secretary that we need more early intervention to support the young people who are at risk of becoming not in education, employment or training or in other words who need more choices and more chances.
At Kilmarnock College we work closely with our local authorities and schools to offer programmes which have not only more choices and therefore more chances but better choices and better chances for our young people.
Each of these programmes aims to provide basic core skills, build student confidence, encourage a positive attitude to teamwork and creative problem solving and ultimately produce young people better equipped to take advantage of the progression routes that are on offer and to contribute to a smarter and wealthier Scotland.
Several of these programmes have been developed in conjunction with our partners, including East Ayrshire Council and North Ayrshire Council, and we are encouraged by their commitment to continue to work in partnership, both in the collaborative development and delivery, ensuring the best product, delivered by the most relevant staff, for maximum impact ,as well as best use of the public pound.
One particular success story is our Leadership Academy, designed for 14-16 year old pupils in East Ayrshire.
The programme aims to develop leadership qualities in young people through a combination of activities, while at the same time developing their core skills in communication, problem solving and working with others. The activities include team-building, outdoor education, performing arts and team challenges using Critical Skills techniques. Each day during the one-week course focuses on a different theme, building confidence, encouraging creativity or keeping focused as well as providing an enjoyable, challenging and active learning experience.
Hundreds of pupils from every secondary school in East Ayrshire have participated.
It is extremely rewarding to watch each young person grow in confidence as they discover talents, skills and attitudes they didn’t know they had. The outcomes and impact to date have been beyond expectation, with numerous young people gently acquiring the belief that perhaps continuing in education is in fact a viable option for them. With careful ‘cradling’ this will undoubtedly stand them in good stead to make a meaningful contribution to our local community and to Scotland’s economic future.
Under our Schools Programme, the college also offers a full range of vocational courses affording school pupils the opportunity to engage in subjects which are not offered in schools. This school /college partnership is essential as part of the More Choices More Chances strategy, allowing the young people to try a variety of different subject areas in a different environment and preparing them for the progression to further education or into employment.
Many of these programmes, but it has to be said not all, are designed to identify and help those young people who may not be model pupils but who most certainly do not deserve to be dumped on life’s junk pile just because they are viewed as a “problem”.
The sooner we engage them in subjects and activities that fire their imagination and ambition the better.
As a college, we are aware that the population is decreasing and by engaging with pupils at an early stage we can build a relationship that can eventually lead to them becoming our full-time students in the future, thus ensuring both their and our continued success.
In conclusion, it has to be said that even if we have helped just THREE young people into a lifetime of work, then, by the most quoted financial statistic, we have saved the taxpayer