Serious question marks hang this week over the five-year-old National Record of Achievement, seen as the essential tool for tracking students' learning progress during school and throughout life.
The Government is already committed to relaunching the NRA but a new study shows that schools find preparing records for their pupils time-consuming, while employers and universities make little use of them, thus posing a threat to the credibility of the whole exercise.
The study was commissioned by the Scottish Office from the Scottish Council for Research in Education whose experts carried out a detailed survey last year involving 369 schools, 45 employers and training organisations, 34 further education colleges and 18 higher education institutions.
The researchers, who were led by Bridget Somekh, SCRE's depute director, concluded: "Many schools have a high level of commitment, both to the process of pupils' developing their records and to the final product. However, the lack of interest in and awareness of the NRA amongst users outside schools may affect this commitment and undermine the value young people place in the document.
"It is very time-consuming to produce. If schools do not perceive that they have support from policy-makers, including adequate resources, there is a danger that their present commitment to the NRA may decline."
Three-quarters of the schools said they used the NRA or an equivalent. But over half the 97 employers and training providers approached by the researchers said they had never used the NRA, never heard of it or rejected it. Only 14 employers used the record in selection, as did 24 of the 34 FE colleges and four of the 18 HE institutions.
Even this limited picture, however, overstates the value placed in the record. The researchers found that "very few employers, training providers or FEHE institutions were asking young people for their NRAs in the process of selection. Those that said they were using the NRA in selection were mostly using it only when it was presented at interview or sent with applications. "
The SCRE report recommends that the Government must give the NRA a higher national profile if it is to be effective. The demise of the technical and vocational education initiative, which funded the development of NRA in schools, may mean additional resources are required, the report states.
The particular value of the NRA is seen to be the involvement of learners themselves in building up a dossier of their own achievements. The majority of schools said it was this process of developing pupils' skills that was the most important part of the NRA not the document itself.
But the researchers uncovered a fundamental challenge to the NRA from "pupils (who) have difficulty writing positively about themselves and their achievements". Teachers told the researchers that pupils need a lot of help, while pupils say identifying their strengths "is embarrassing and might be seen as boastful".
The report says pupils "will continue to need considerable support in this area at least until the NRA process is sufficiently embedded in teaching and learning practice to bring about something of a culture change".
The National Record of Achievement in Scotland: An Evaluation is available from SCRE at Pounds 13.