Let's get personal

13th June 2014 at 01:00

One of the most intractable problems in education has been how to loosen the grip of academic qualifications on the curriculum. In particular, finding credible ways to recognise young people's wider achievements has remained elusive.

The nature of employment is shifting rapidly and employers and universities consistently complain that schools fail to develop personal attributes and applied skills. At the same time, however, they continue to rely on examination success as the prime basis for selection.

Can we reconcile this dichotomy? Standard grade social and vocational skills had many supporters but did not find universal acceptance. There are elements of what is required within the new Nationals, in Skills Development Scotland's Certificate of Work Readiness, and also in Asdan and Duke of Edinburgh's awards, but each is likely to have limited uptake.

Building the Curriculum 5 calls for a profile of a learner's best achievements to be produced at P7 and S3 based on an "ongoing process of dialogue and reflection for all learners". Schools and authorities are developing their own approaches within national criteria but recognition of that achievement remains a work in progress.

Meanwhile, there are interesting developments in Wales that are worth learning from. I have been struck by the extent to which the philosophy of the Welsh Baccalaureate mirrors much of Curriculum for Excellence.

The Welsh Bac was piloted in 2003 as a GCSE equivalent embodying wider achievement. Of its two parts, the first relates to passing a group of academic andor vocational qualifications, which must include language and maths. The second part, or "core", includes personal and social education, work experience, teamwork, community participation and an individual investigation.

The Welsh inspectorate has praised it for developing the research and analytical skills needed for higher education and employment. A recent review of qualifications for 14- to 19-year-olds recommended its further development, including more rigorous assessment, describing it as "strong, balanced and distinctive".

The intention is that a revised Welsh Bac should form an overarching framework for 14-19 qualifications. It should be relevant, respected and demanding; followed by all young people; and graded on the same basis as other qualifications. It should support progression and allow local interpretation and employer partnerships.

Experience suggests that achieving a credible qualification of this nature is no simple task. In Scotland, we are putting in place a number of important developments but we should not be complacent. A formal, universal approach to these skills might extend the reach of Curriculum for Excellence and provide focus and motivation for our young people, thus improving their life chances.

Graham Donaldson is a professor of education at the University of Glasgow and author of the review Teaching Scotland's Future

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