The authoritative interim report from The Commission for Developing Scotland's Workforce has highlighted an age-old problem that exists not only in Scotland but across the UK too.
Vocational education has long been considered a poor relation to academic education despite the fact that, according to Scottish Government figures, 47% of young people leave school with qualifications below the level of a Higher.
The education system has traditionally been focused on academic attainment and the report offers a number of key recommendations, not only to improve provision of vocational education but also to ensure that all young people have the opportunity to develop vocational and transferable skills to benefit them at school and in later life.
But how do we overcome the stigma that still exists and bridge the divide between vocational and academic education in the eyes of schools, parents and employers? Scotland has had the answer to this question since 2001 in the form of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF).
It is a framework of qualifications, or "qualifications sorter". All qualifications are allocated a level from one to 12 that allows learners and those they deal with to understand the level of difficulty of their learning and to compare their qualifications to one another, regardless of whether they are vocational or academic.
The framework contains not only all the standard academic and vocational qualifications but also a wealth of other programmes that recognise all types of learning, including vocational learning undertaken by young people, learning undertaken in the workplace and learning in the community and voluntary sectors.
Each programme has been placed on the framework using the same set of descriptors that sets out the skills that should be demonstrated by every learner regardless of the learning they are undertaking. These descriptors allow objective comparison of vocational and academic learning. While they are different types of learning using different skills, they can be compared in terms of level of challenge.
This offers huge benefits to all learners in Scotland, but particularly to those young people in danger of leaving school with little or no academic qualifications.
Research shows that those with an understanding of where their learning fits on the framework can understand the value of their skills and experiences, and can have more confidence in applying them in different situations.
The framework offers employers greater recruitment opportunities as they can be sure that applicants with different qualifications have the right level of knowledge and skills for the job.
It is highly regarded worldwide. More than 140 countries are developing or have developed frameworks and many have looked to the SCQF as a model for truly supporting lifelong learning, particularly in the area of recognition of vocational and work-based learning. The SCQF Partnership, which I chair, is the custodian for Scotland of the framework. We have a range of agreements with other countries around the world. Our links to Hong Kong (which has followed our model) and other framework developers, from the EU to Asia, are strong.
Perhaps we in Scotland need to value the framework more as a tool for doing this within our own country.
We do genuinely have an opportunity to support the future development of Scotland's workforce and ultimately its economy.
If we can develop a culture in which all young people's learning is valued, not just that which is gained through a formal academic route, we will develop individuals who are more confident, ready for work and not afraid to pursue a particular career path.
Surely this is exactly what our learners and our employers are asking for?
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