There has long been debate about the distinction to be drawn between vocational and academic learning.
However, in Aberdeenshire Council the focus is on what is best for our learners; what will ensure our pupils can achieve their full potential.
That’s why we have embraced Foundation Apprenticeships.
Foundation Apprenticeships offer senior phase pupils the opportunity to mix work-based learning with their other subjects.
Throughout the pandemic, councils, schools, pupils and employers have faced challenges none of us could ever have predicted.
While we take careful steps towards recovery, many pupils are continuing on a journey of work-based learning which has been sustained throughout the past 18 months.
Since becoming a lead provider of Foundation Apprenticeships in 2019, provision has grown from around 30 students in 2018 to now over 440 Foundation Apprentices at SCQF Level 6.
Our approach ensures that Foundation Apprenticeships have parity of esteem with Highers.
This isn’t just in a theoretical or conceptual sense – it’s tangible.
Foundation Apprenticeships are a subject choice offer and are timetabled as a school would any other Higher or senior phase course.
And the impact has been transformational.
Pupils who complete Foundation Apprenticeships are more likely to go on to positive destinations after school, such as Modern or Graduate Apprenticeship jobs, college or university.
Last year, 94.7 per cent of school leavers in Aberdeenshire went on to a positive destination. For school leavers who had completed a Foundation Apprenticeship, this figure increased to 98.1 per cent.
Not only do pupils who complete a Foundation Apprenticeship get a head-start in their career, it also raises overall attainment and helps close the deprivation related attainment gap.
Across all Aberdeenshire school leavers, the average Insight Tariff Points is 940, whilst for pupils who completed a Foundation Apprenticeship, this figure increases by over 50 per cent.
Crucially, this increase is across all socio-economic groups, with school leavers from the most deprived backgrounds seeing the greatest increase in attainment.
Equity and equality of opportunity is vital.
We consider Foundation Apprenticeships to be a universal offer for all pupils, giving them the skills and experience they need to realise their potential.
By providing a more meaningful curriculum and learning pathway for young people, we’ve seen increased engagement from young people learning through Foundation Apprenticeships.
Pupils tell us that they enjoy the balance between the classroom theory and work-based learning which leads to more productive learning.
Schools report back that they are seeing increased re-engagement across other subjects.
The benefits for pupils in Aberdeenshire replicate national trends.
Research shows that pupils choosing Foundation Apprenticeships report improved skills that will not only help them in the future but are helping them now to achieve in their other subjects.
Nationally, of the pupils surveyed completing Foundation Apprenticeships at SCQF level 6, 95 per cent reported improved communication skills; 87 per cent reported improved problem-solving skills and 80 per cent reported increased level of creativity.
In Aberdeenshire, feedback from young people and their parents has been strong; 91 per cent of pupils who completed a Foundation Apprenticeship were satisfied with the experience whilst 92 per cent of parents said they would recommend a Foundation Apprenticeship to others.
The local economy will also see the benefits of work-based learning for senior phase pupils.
Foundation Apprenticeships are fostering stronger links between business and education, helping to ensure that local employers can play a more active role in developing the young workforce.
Across Aberdeenshire, businesses of all sectors and sizes support Foundation Apprenticeships, including food manufacturers Mackie’s of Scotland and construction firm Robertson Group.
They have seen the benefits first-hand and tell us that Foundation Apprenticeships give them the opportunity to inspire the next generation, securing the skills they need for the future.
Looking ahead, we are ambitious.
As a local authority, we see Foundation Apprenticeships and work-based learning at the core of our curriculum offer in Aberdeenshire.
The continued growth of Foundation Apprenticeships is due to the partnership between the council, schools, learning providers and employers.
Our success didn’t happen overnight; it’s a result of hard work and investment.
And it is worth it.
The ambition and commitment behind Foundation Apprenticeships means improved outcomes for young people, the community, and our local economy.
If you would like to find out more about Foundation Apprenticeships in Aberdeenshire, and how to get involved as an employer, email Andrew.Ritchie@aberdeenshire.gov.uk