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Education and Lifelong Learning Research Findings No.55/2010: National Evaluation of the Recognising Achievement Collaborative Enquiry Projects

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For at least 30 years, initiatives in Scotland and the UK have sought to encourage and recognise learning beyond the outcomes of the formal curriculum. This is now being taken forward through Curriculum for Excellence. In 2008 the Scottish Government initiated pilot projects to investigate different approaches to recognising young people's achievements beyond their formal qualifications, and commissioned a national evaluation of this work, conducted by the Centre for Educational Sociology. This Research Findings outlines the main findings of the evaluation and the issues raised by the experiences of the pilot projects.

Main Findings

  • There was strong support from all local authority and school staff, pupils, parents, other stakeholders and end-users, for the policy initiative to recognise pupils' achievements. All could see the importance of creating a more rounded picture of the young person.
  • Staff, pupils and parents identified a number of benefits for learners who had taken part in the projects including increased confidence and self-knowledge and the development of core skills.
  • Approaches to recognising achievement should be flexible and based on existing strengths and needs of schools in their locality and on a shared understanding across pupils, school staff and other stakeholders of the concepts and practice of recognising achievement.
  • Such flexibility needs clarity at national level on the principles underpinning the recognition of achievement. In particular, there is a tension in practice between the need to ensure pupil ownership of the process of recognising achievement and issues of equity.
  • Schools need to draw on and work with the wider community and with 'significant others' in the young person's life, both to make the process of recognising achievement manageable and to ensure inclusion of the full range of young people's achievements.
  • A model of the three elements of recognising achievement ( understanding, explaining, proving, set against a background of opportunities to achieve) was found useful. The learner's process of reflection leading to understanding of achievements, then preparing for explaining achievements to others was fundamental; the proving element was less important, including to end-users.
  • There was little support for a formal national or local certificate of achievement: there were concerns that any approach requiring standardised assessment might drive the whole process to the detriment of the learning and personal development of young people.
  • Both those involved in the pilot projects and the end-users were positive about the idea of an electronic portfolio or store of the achievement record. Some central policy and resource support was perceived as necessary. The research with end-users identified the potential for an e-portfolio to be used post-school.

Background

For at least 30 years, initiatives in Scotland and the UK have sought to encourage and recognise learning beyond the outcomes of the formal curriculum. It was a theme of other policies such as Assessment is for Learning, Determined to Succeed and More Choices, More Chances. It is now being taken forward through Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) and, as such, is relevant to learners at all ages and stages from 3-18.

In 2008, following a series of stakeholder events across Scotland on recognition of achievement, the Scottish Government ( SG), in partnership with 12 local authorities, established Collaborative Enquiry Projects ( CEPs) to investigate and pilot different approaches to recognising achievement. The Centre for Educational Sociology ( CES) at the University of Edinburgh was commissioned by SG to carry out the national evaluation of the projects. The aim of the evaluation was to investigate and report on the experience of the projects to inform the SG and the development of guidance on the recognition of achievement to be published in 2010.

The evaluation involved:

1. A literature review and model building (reported in a separate Research Findings http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/researchfindings54/2010).

2. Mapping of projects via review of documentation and interviews (16) with project managers in local authorities ( LAs).

3. Main fieldwork in the projects:

  • 34 groups totalling 179 pupils P3-S6 of whom 151 filled in questionnaires; interviews with 4 pupils;
  • interviews and group work with school staff (63 interviewed and 65 in groups);
  • a further 16 interviews with LA managers;
  • parents: 2 interviews; 24 questionnaires; 1 parents' event;
  • stakeholder interviews: 2 College staff; 3 Training Providers; 2 Youth Workers; 4 Mentors; 4 Employers; 2 Career Advisers;
  • review of further project documentation.

4. Fieldwork with end-users. Towards the end of the national evaluation, the research team was asked to carry out additional research with potential end-users on the process of recognising achievement and any tangible record that might be produced. 37 interviews were carried out with 48 individuals:

  • 7 employers in a number of sectors;
  • 13 Training Providers offering Life Skills; Get Ready for Work; Skillseekers; and Modern Apprenticeships programmes over a broad range of sectors;
  • 10 college staff across sport and health, social care; engineering and hairdressing;
  • senior admissions staff in 7 Scottish Universities and 1 member of staff from Skills Development Scotland ( SDS) involved in UCAS Clearing;
  • 8 members of SDS staff (Careers) and two Jobcentre Plus staff.

Different approaches

The Collaborative Enquiry Projects ( CEPs) differed considerably including in:

  • the emphasis given to providing additional experiences for pupils vs using pupils' existing activities;
  • the extent to which they focused on developing a record/end certificate compared with concentrating on the process of recognition;
  • using only pupils' achievements in school compared with including achievements in their personal social and community life;
  • the extent to which they used electronic or audio/visual facilities;
  • whether formal recognition of experiences was being sought;
  • the age/stage of pupils (P3 to S6);
  • whether whole year groups or smaller groups (either volunteer or selected on certain criteria) took part.

Support for recognition of achievement

There was strong support from all local authority and school staff, pupils, parents, other stakeholders and end-users for the policy initiative to recognise pupils' achievements. It was thought that this would provide a more rounded picture of young people's achievements, help them to develop their understanding of their own achievements and their ability to articulate them, and help them to understand the transferability of their skills to new contexts. All of this could bring important personal benefits such as improved confidence, self-esteem and a commitment to their ongoing learning and development.

In the pilot projects, staff, pupils and parents identified a number of benefits for learners who had taken part including increased confidence, self-esteem and self-knowledge and the development of a range of core skills such as communication, team working and
planning, all of which sometimes crossed over into other school work as well to social situations. Some pupils felt that they now had a greater commitment to learning. School staff pointed to a positive impact on their relationships with pupils.

Approaching recognition

A lesson from the pilot projects is that it takes time to develop approaches to recognising achievement. It is crucial to work through basic issues such as concepts of achievement and recognition, what counts as an achievement, and the focus of the work in order to arrive at a shared understanding across pupils, school staff and other stakeholders.

Responses from pupils, staff and stakeholders show the complexity of the task of defining 'achievement': there was no single definition of achievement in practice although there might be a single written definition in existence. Definitions varied depending on which pupil or groups of pupils were being discussed.

All the projects had taken steps (ranging on a scale from formal to informal) to recognise the achievements of their pupils. Fundamental to all approaches, however, was helping learners go through a process of reflection leading to an understanding of the achievement rather than recognition in itself. This task of reflection was difficult for all learners, not only the less academic or engaged. Pupils were more likely than staff to recognise the potential importance of friends and family in identifying and acknowledging their achievements.

Projects took different approaches to recording achievement. The projects noted challenges relating to how best to engage learners in the processes of reflection and recording and how these should be organised eg frequency and timing. It became apparent that individual discussion needed to be part of the process - a time intensive activity.

The wider context

The experience of the projects suggests that schools need to draw on and work with the wider community both to make the process manageable and to ensure inclusion of the full range of young people's achievements. Pupils' activities and achievements outwith the school need to be captured; this can be a particular challenge if they occur in the individual's personal or family context rather than in the more formal structure of youth work or a community based award. Equally, teachers were inclined to take full responsibility for the process of recognising achievement although most pupils would welcome support from others eg peers, buddies, girl/boyfriends, and parents. Youth workers are another resource for schools (and were central to the work of one of the projects). Schools could share responsibility for the process of recognising achievement more broadly.

A flexible framework

The unanimous view of the CEPs was that there should not be a single method of how recognising achievement should operate in practice. The CEPs had each developed their own particular approach building on the existing strengths and needs of schools in their locality. If a flexible system is to be the way forward, this means that clarity at national level is needed on the principles underpinning the recognition of achievement.

A conceptual and practical model of recognising achievement was produced as part of the research and trialled with stakeholders in the CEPs and with end-users. This seems to provide a way forward towards a common understanding of purpose and process that would allow for a range of approaches and accommodate local needs.

diagram

Everyone could relate to the three key elements by which achievement can be recognised: understanding, explaining and proving against a background context of 'opportunities for achievement'. The model centres on a personal portfolio or store, owned by learners, in which they store different types of materials, chosen by them, relating to activities of all kinds and from which they can draw for different purposes, from personal reflection to college/job applications. It also fits well with other developments on the national scene. It appears to offer a policy framework for development of recognition of achievement.

Certificates of Achievement

The third element of the model - proving - raised concerns among staff in some CEPs and some end-users. While formal Certificates of Achievement were being trialled in a number of projects at authority and school level there was concern about whether the strength of evidence needed and the associated assessment might drive the whole process to the detriment of the learning and personal development of young people. This concern echoes the findings of the Literature Review about the possible detrimental impact of assessment and quality assurance procedures to accredit achievement. There was little support in the CEPs for the creation of a Scottish Certificate of Achievement which, it was thought, would be likely to require standardised assessment.

The end-users consulted as part of the research showed little appetite for a formal certificate of achievement, national or local. Rather they focused on the value of recognition of achievement as a way to enable young people to understand, explain and market their skills and achievements in a selection setting. While they appreciated a record of applicants' wider interests and skills/personality, they were unlikely to give weight to it as a formal confirmation of a young person's abilities and skills.

E-portfolios

Pupils and staff in CEPs and end-users were positive about the concept of an electronic portfolio or store of the achievement record from which the young person and others might draw for different purposes. School staff thought that local flexibility to develop an e-portfolio within a national host (eg the Glow intranet) was ideal. Some central policy and resource support was perceived as necessary.

The research with end-users identified the potential for an e-portfolio to be used post-school in education, training and employment.

Who is it for and who owns it?

One of the principles set out for recognising achievement is that any approach must support potentially disengaged pupils, those in need of more choices, more chances and not widen the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged. A second key principle is that the learner should own the process. How the CEPs interpreted these principles in practice varied and raised challenging issues for them:

  • is recognition of achievement really for all pupils or primarily a compensatory activity for those unlikely to achieve academic qualifications?
  • is it for everyone but schools provide compensatory experiences to the less advantaged to 'level the playing field'?
  • if young people have the right to 'opt out' does this ensure pupil ownership? What about the principle of not 'widening the gap' if disadvantaged pupils opt out?
  • pupils, staff and some end-users raised the question of equity if priority is given to disadvantaged pupils - what about the 'ordinary' pupil, often overlooked, who would also benefit?

These issues need further consideration at a national level and in national guidelines.

Development needs

The process of recognising pupils' achievement demands new or enhanced skills on the part of pupils, teachers and other staff such as careers advisers and youth workers. The success of the policy requires these development and support needs to be addressed. While this will require resources, such provision should also contribute more generally to Curriculum for Excellence.

(Wider) Achievements

Initially the term used in policy was 'wider achievement', the word 'wider' was later removed to develop a more inclusive concept which would include 'attainment' within 'achievements' to avoid the risk that 'wider achievements' would be afforded a lower status. However there were some signs that this change was confusing; the result might be to limit recognition of achievements to those within the ambit of the school. Certainly end-users did not use or relate to the term 'achievement' on its own.

If you require further information of this research finding or have any enquires about social research please contact:

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Online Copies

This research finding is available online and
can be downloaded from the publications section
of the Scottish Government website: http://www.scotland.gov.uk

This document, along with full research report of the project, and further information about social and policy research commissioned and published on behalf of the Scottish Government, can be viewed on the Internet at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/socialresearch. If you have any further queries about social research, please contact us at socialresearch@scotland.gsi.gov.uk or on 0131-244 7560.