Continued rise in inactive school leavers causes SBC concern

Glenn Rodger.
Glenn Rodger.
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MORE school leavers will be jobless and not involved in further or higher education in coming years.

That is the fear of Glenn Rodger, director of education for Scottish Borders Council, who was reflecting on figures included in the council’s wide-ranging standards report into his department.

It showed 108 pupils from across the region in 2011/12 had not ended up in positive destinations – which includes higher and further education, training and employment – three months after leaving secondary school.

The number of inactive teenagers rose from 97 in 2010/11.

Selkirkshire councillor Vicky Davidson was concerned with the findings, discussed during Tuesday’s education committee meeting.

She said: “I do think SBC needs to concentrate more urgently on this group of kids.”

Mr Rodger replied: “The major challenge going forward is the reduction of funding in the further education sector and the reduction in the number of (student) places.

“This is going to lead to challenges around those figures from next year.

“We need to continue working with the colleges in a positive way and looking at modern apprenticeships moving forward.”

Mr Rodger said a new employability team will be in place at Newtown St Boswells from April 1 to provide work experience, placements and apprenticeship opportunities across council departments.

The school leaver findings follow comments from Borders College principal Liz McIntyre in the Scottish Parliament last year, who warned further education funding cuts for 2013/14 would have an impact on the number of student places.

Elsewhere in the standards report, there was concern that two schools had been rated as weak by inspectors for their curriculum, while none of the nine visited by an HMIe team in 2011/12 had achieved excellent marks in any category.

Mr Rodger said: “I think that is largely down to the pace of change in Curriculum for Excellence and how slowly or quickly schools have embraced that.

“Where we do identify a weakness we provide additional support. I can reassure you that these schools are given the time and resource to improve and when inspectors return they will no longer be weak.

“The lack of excellent marks is reflected nationally. With the system in transition, inspectors are reluctant to be putting any schools in the excellent category.

“However, that does not mean we don’t aspire to reach excellence among our schools.”

Exclusion rates increased in 2011/12 with a total of 309 primary and secondary school pupils suspended from 299 in 2010/11.

And there was disquiet around the number of primary school children receiving two hours per week of physical education, a target set by the Scottish Government.

Seven primaries were unable to meet the 120-minute threshold.

Galashiels councillor Bill Herd said: “I am disappointed PE targets were not being met in all Borders primary schools.

“It is something that we need to pursue vigourously in order to alleviate obesity.”

Mr Rodger responded: “We are above the Scottish average, but I think the issue among some primary schools is lack of physical resources.”

Efforts to adapt to the controversial Curriculum for Excellence – which will see the introduction of a new exams system this summer to replace Standard Grades and Intermediates – have increased pressure on schools.

Mr Rodger said: “Last year was again one of huge change in the system around education, including Curriculum for Excellence.

“Change is what happens in education and part of our role is to manage that.

“It is not going to go away and recent reviews in modern languages highlight that.

“Considering the amount of change we have gone through, our performance has held up very well.

“Most areas are continuing to improve, however, there are always areas in which we can do better.”