How to look at life beyond exams

26th February 2010 at 00:00
Projects report greater confidence and self-esteem among pupils as Government seeks to widen concept of `achievement'

One of the biggest challenges in the Curriculum for Excellence is how to recognise pupils' achievements beyond formal exam qualifications.

Today, a report commissioned by the Scottish Government offers some pointers on how to approach this complex task.

Edinburgh University's Centre for Educational Sociology found projects piloted across 12 authorities all delivered increased confidence, self- esteem and self-knowledge, and the development of core skills such as communication, team working and planning.

The evaluation report, by Cathy Howieson, Sheila Semple and Angela Jackson, found that fundamental to all approaches was helping learners go through a process of "reflection", leading to an "understanding of the achievement" rather than recognition in itself.

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, said the report.

Recognising achievement should include three elements - understanding, explaining and proving, it said. But the latter element - proving achievement - raised particular concerns in practice.

"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," said the report.

The concept of an electronic portfolio or store of a young person's record of achievement won greater support, however.

This was certainly the case in East Ayrshire, where Doon Academy and Kilmarnock College worked in partnership to develop a leadership academy for vulnerable S3 pupils.

Lorraine Facchini, Curriculum for Excellence co-ordinator for the council, said the original plan had been to gain SCQF (Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework) rating for the leadership academy, which sought to enhance the youngsters' "softer" skills over five days. But both employers and pupils said that formal recognition was not important to them, so they did not pursue that goal.

"As the project progressed, the children were not worried whether they got an SCQF rating - they were more concerned that the staff were involved and actually just gave them the regular feedback," she said.

East Ayrshire is developing an e-portfolio of pupils' achievements from P5 onwards, she added.

On the other side of the country, Perth Academy ran a project for S1-2 pupils to find ways of recording their wider achievements - anything from music and sport to one girl finding the courage to do a reading in church.

One of the most important elements was helping pupils to articulate to other people what their achievements meant, said the school.

Tom Ross, depute head of Perth Academy, said that secondary pupils, particularly younger ones, tended to be embarrassed to talk about personal achievements. Even at school assemblies celebrating success, pupils would plead not to be made to come out to the front to collect a certificate, he said.

This project, however, which is being extended to other years, was helping to give them that vocabulary.

"Employers are still keen on formal qualifications," said Mr Ross, "but they definitely said they preferred candidates who were able to talk with confidence about themselves."

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