Minister meets academy members

The Scottish Minister for Youth and Women’s Employment found out more about Edinburgh College and partners’ South East Scotland Academies Partnership (SESAP) on a visit to an East Lothian high school.

Annabelle Ewing MSP visited Preston Lodge High School to find out more about the history of the award-winning Hospitality and Tourism Academy and its expansion into SESAP.

She met young people involved in the programme and the scheme’s partners. After a presentation, she took to opportunity to talk to people in more detail about youth employability and the impact of the academies programme.The Hospitality and Tourism Academy started in 2012 as a partnership between East Lothian Council, Edinburgh College and Queen Margaret University, with the aim of providing academic qualifications and experience to enable young people to benefit from a positive destination, as well as smoothing the transition between school, college, university and work and raising standards within the industry.

The initiative, which was conceived by three senior staff at East Lothian Council, Edinburgh College and Queen Margaret University, is hailed as delivering real results for Scotland’s young people. In just three years, the acclaimed academies project has grown from 34 young people in three East Lothian schools to 400 pupils from 50 schools across Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scottish Borders and, most recently, West Lothian. The partnership now involves QMU; Edinburgh College, Borders College and West Lothian College; four local authorities; and a wide range of industry partners.

The South East Scotland Academies Project now offers four academies for young people. The more recent additions are academies for the Creative Industries, Food Science and Nutrition, and Health and Social Care. The academies provide young people with a real insight into key growth industries and improve their employability by developing specialist skills and knowledge.

The East Lothian Hospitality and Tourism Academy won the COSLA Service Innovation and Improvement award in March 2015. It also won the Times Education Supplement FE Award for Widening Access and Participation to Higher Education in 2014.

Annabelle Ewing said: “Developing the Young Workforce is a seven-year national programme to reduce youth unemployment, by ensuring a greater focus on employability within Scottish education. We want all young people to be able to access the broadest range of opportunities for work-relevant education.

“I am very pleased to see the principles in practice in East Lothian, and in particular how the local authority is working with colleges, universities and employers, to provide increased opportunities for young people across a number of key sectors.”

Ray McCowan, vice principal curriculum and quality at Edinburgh College, said: “Three years after the launch of the first academy, the project is proving even better than the vision we originally had for it. The academies’ students are discovering great career opportunities in industries they might not have considered previously. They are getting to develop all the education and employability skills, as well as the confidence they will need when they go on to further studies and careers. Also, we are making sure that our partners in crucial national industries get the employees they need to thrive.

“The academies have shown their value. There is now a really strong model here to build on and increase the range of opportunities for young people.”

East Lothian Council education and children’s well-being spokesperson Councillor Shamin Akhtar said: “The academies programme is based on an ethos of strong partnership working to increase opportunities for young people in East Lothian. The academies allow school students to focus on specific vocational subjects as the first steps on a career path in areas where we know skills are at a premium nationwide.

“From relatively modest beginnings, this initiative has expanded tremendously over the past two years and we are currently working towards the creation of our next academy, in construction skills, and are encouraged by the strong positive feedback not only from the students themselves but also from our academic and business partners.”

Professor Alan Gilloran, deputy principal at Queen Margaret University, said: “The academies project is partnership working at its best and demonstrates what can be achieved when all parties unite to create outstanding education and career opportunities for our young people. As an academy student, young people are in the unique position of studying at school, college and university all at the same time. This experience, coupled with industry insight and an HNC on successful completion of the academy programme, ensures they are at a competitive advantage over their peer group when leaving school.”