9 END-USERS' RESPONSES TO RECOGNITION OF ACHIEVEMENT OF YOUNG PEOPLE
Aims of the field work with potential end-users
9.1 The first stages of the evaluation of the Collaborative Enquiry Projects found that around half of projects were, or were envisaging, developing certificates or statements of achievement for students intending to leave school. They were concerned, however, whether such documents would have credibility with possible end-users and if they would use them in their recruitment and selection of young people. The Scottish Government therefore commissioned an additional element as part of the national evaluation to investigate the value of some sort of record of achievement to potential end-users. This additional research involved employers, training providers, and colleges in three localities in Scotland, universities across Scotland, and careers advisers and Jobcentre Plus staff as intermediary users. A total of 48 individuals were interviewed; details of those consulted can be found in the methodology section of this report ( section 1.12 para 4). This research should not be considered as a large scale consultation: the findings reflect the responses of those who contributed to the research and while the data are likely to be indicative of current practice, they are not drawn from a representative sample.
9.2 We use the term 'end-users' to mean the training providers, employers, college and university staff interviewed; it does not include careers advisers and Jobcentre Plus staff whose views are reported separately.
9.3 Potential end-users were asked about:
- how they select school leavers, if they considered young people's achievements and how (and what) achievement information was gathered or received;
- their reaction to certificates or profiles of achievement, using as specific examples three approaches trialled as part of work of the Collaborative Enquiry Projects;
- their response to the model of the Recognising Achievement process;
- their reaction to the idea of an e-portfolio of young people's achievements;
- how they recognised the achievement of their young trainees/workers/ students and whether such approaches could build on the process of recognising achievement undertaken in schools.
9.4 Intermediate users (careers advisers and Jobcentre Plus staff) were asked to comment from their experience on:
- how training providers, employers, colleges and universities might respond to the questions above;
- the possible contribution of recognition of achievement, certificates of achievement and an e- portfolio of achievement to their own guidance and job-matching roles.
9.5 It quickly became apparent in the interviews that end-users did not use the term 'achievement' or 'recognising achievement' and it did not appear meaningful to them. They generally prefaced 'achievement' with another word such as 'wider', 'broader' or 'other' or talked about the need to 'recognise achievements more broadly'. In this section, therefore, we have adopted the convention to (wider) achievement to reflect more accurately how the end-users thought and talked about recognising achievement.
The current selection processes of end-users
9.6 There were both similarities and differences in how the different end-users (training providers, employers, colleges and universities) conducted their selection processes.
Paper based processes: application forms and CVs
9.7 All end-users involved in this research used some type of paper format, usually an application form; for some small employers, the 'application form' was expected to be a CV or letter. The forms asked for information on educational qualifications but applicants also had opportunities to include details of their (wider) achievements; These ranged from a section on achievements in the Individual Learning Plan completed by careers advisers (in discussion with young people),and provided to training providers running work preparation programmes (Life Skills and Get Ready for Work), through standard employer and college application forms including a section on 'hobbies and interests' and/or 'any other information in support of your application', to the personal statement section of the UCAS form for university undergraduate courses.
9.8 Interviewing was not part of the selection process of all end-users and where it was an element in selection, not all applicants would be offered an interview. The research focused particularly on the interviewing aspect of the selection process since this was the point where records of (wider) achievement were more likely to be used.
9.9 Training providers interviewed all applicants for Life Skills, Get Ready For Work and most applicants for training courses. For jobs at craft and technical level, employers' offer of an interview depended on applicants having the specified academic qualifications. Employers sometimes also required them to perform satisfactorily in a trade or aptitude test or a group assessment and/or delivering a presentation and/or having satisfactory references; these might be used as a filtering device to select applicants for interview or as additional to interviews. Employers recruiting outwith these levels generally interviewed unless very many more applications were received than there were posts available.
9.10 Practice in colleges varied, with some interviewing at all levels of courses while others conducted interviews at only the lower levels. In some cases applicants were invited to the college department and given an informal interview; this was not a compulsory part of the selection process but attendance at such an event was used as one measure of motivation. Depending on the subject, selection processes in colleges might involve some kind of group assessment and/or giving a presentation or performing a task relevant to the course.
9.11 The use of interviews by universities was limited. Generally, interviews or other face-to-face contact were used only in relation to vocational or professional courses (sometimes because this was a condition of the professional body) or courses in the creative industries or courses which have a strong performance element. Interviews might be also be used in exceptional cases where there was something unclear about an individual application.
9.12 Students' references from their school played a part in all undergraduate selection and for most college courses (although for some courses this was after interview rather than before), Colleges selecting for preparatory level courses might seek references, but this was not generally for selection but to identify potential support needs and issues. Employers and training providers recruiting at craft or technician level and above generally wanted references. Employers not seeking references - the smaller companies - did so either because they preferred to judge young people through a work trial or because they would not put a great deal of weight on a school reference, believing that performance and commitment in school did not greatly relate to what might be demonstrated in the workplace. For training providers selecting for work preparation courses such as Life Skills and Get Ready for Work programmes; the Individual Learning Plan provided useful background information on the barriers and challenges that applicants faced which they used to help them tailor training appropriately.
Obtaining information on young people's achievements
9.13 End-users obtained information on young people's (wider) achievements in a number of ways including application forms or CVs, presentations, Record of Achievement folders, school references and interviews. Some also gathered information on young people's achievements via the presentations or tasks which applicants to some jobs and to vocational or professional or creative or performance courses were asked to carry out.
9.14 Some college courses noted that schools in their locality were encouraging their pupils to come to interview with a folder of (wider) achievements:
' The vast majority come with some Record of Achievement, anything from a folder to the full Personal Learning Plan.'
' Most applicants to the sport course bring in a sort of record of achievement to the interview, it includes details of sports, voluntary work, work experience, and they could include photos of them in sports. It's useful if they can bring in an actual report from a [work experience] employer.'
9.15 A physical example of (wider) achievement was the request of one employer:
' We hope that young people bring in any certificates they've got with them to interview… we ask them to bring in information about a project they've done, preferably a craft or technology project, but science is also OK.' (Employer)
9.16 School references sometimes included details of pupils' (wider) achievements but end-users noted that this was very variable, depending on the school and on the extent to which the teacher completing the report knew the pupil.
9.17 Selection interviews were the most important way in which most end-users found out about young people's (wider) achievements. Sometimes a direct question was used:
' Tell me about something you're proud of, something you've achieved'
9.18 More commonly, information on (wider) achievement was sought through competence based questions:
' We ask things like 'tell me about a time when you had to deal with difficult people' or 'give me an example of when you had to organise or plan something' or 'tell me about how you react to working with people you don't know.'' (Employer)
' How do you think you would deal with an old person in a residential home who was sitting crying?'; 'What would you do if you thought someone had been treated unfairly?' That's the kind of things we ask, we hope they'll illustrate from their own experience when they answer.' (College)
Use made of young people's (wider) achievements in selection
9.19 For all end-users in this research, other than universities, (wider) achievement information in application forms or CVs was used to inform interview questions and to prompt young people to speak about their achievements and interests: it was not used as a filter to eliminate applicants. In terms of references, evidence of general motivation, commitment, work disciplines (such as attendance and timekeeping) and attitudes to learning or training were the key aspects looked for; in addition, any indication of experience or commitment that was particularly relevant for the job or course was seen as helpful.
9.20 In the case of universities, (wider) achievements reported in personal statements did play a part in selection but did so in different ways depending on the type of course and the profile of the university.
9.21 In a number of undergraduate professional/vocational courses, the personal statements were screened by central admissions staff and those not demonstrating relevant experience (according to criteria laid down by academic selectors) would be rejected at this stage.
9.22 The use of (wider) achievement and other information in the personal statement of applicants for academic courses varied across universities. At one end were some universities (commonly 'recruiting' universities) with centralised admissions systems where personal statements were read thoroughly against criteria such as ' writing ability, work experience, reasons for choosing the programme, enthusiasm for the course, do they look as if they've done any research, can the personal statement confirm a real interest?'. If the personal statement was found wanting, it was referred to academic selectors for further consideration; if it was acceptable then the applicant would be made an immediate offer if academic qualifications were in order. At the other end were 'selector' universities which largely made decisions based on academic qualifications:
' We're less and less looking at applications beyond checking required academic grades and only glance at personal statements, at least for academic courses. Basically, so long as something is written there that's all we're interested in.'
9.23 Overall, the end-users that gave a considerable amount of weight to young people's (wider) achievements were largely the vocational or professional or creative or performance courses at university; college courses at higher levels; larger employers with more structured selection and training mechanisms and training providers where they were recruiting to Modern Apprenticeships:
' Professional courses are interested in outside experience to get an indication of the applicant's motivation, realism and experience - we assess that from the personal statement and references.' (University)
' We like to consider youth organisation involvement, or anything that shows commitment from a young age or group activities with formal structures and some recognition.' (College)
' We take account of wider achievements at the interview stage, we're keen to choose those who are trying to improve their life experience, are volunteers, helping others, broadening their life, not playing computer games all night… though we wouldn't completely discount them, but it would go against them, be seen as a lack of motivation. They need to be seen to be proactive in developing themselves in anything. We're interested in how they approached their learning at school, in what they do in clubs, community projects. Mind you, need to take it with a pinch of salt, everybody can't be the captain of the football team!' (Employer)
9.24 However it must be emphasised that (wider) achievements were only considered by universities and by college courses and employers recruiting at a higher level, if the essential academic requirements had been met:
Wider achievement information is ' a good addition, but only an addition, it says what additional skills the applicant will bring but it is only after academic criteria are met, and probably only in borderline cases.' (University)
' We don't even consider other information, don't even get details of those who apply unless they pass the online screening for academic qualifications and the aptitude test… so wider achievement information is really important, but only after the other things have been met.' (Employer)
9.25 Where a university was a 'selector' (wider) achievements carried less weight:
' There's very little interest from academic subject areas in anything other than academic grades.' (University)
9.26 Another factor that made it difficult for university admissions staff giving much weight to (wider) achievements was the speed of turnaround required for application decisions. Most universities (particularly 'recruiters' which were under pressure to secure enough good applicants) were aiming for a decision on applications within a week. In such a situation, taking into account apparently more subjective information that is difficult to weigh up would make demands of staff time that were just not viable. This is not to say that the potential contribution of (wider) achievement information was not recognised by admissions staff but rather that the practical context in which they operated would not allow it.
9.27 Small employers and those without an elaborate selection mechanism did value a broader picture of young people's achievements but tended to rely more on their judgment and 'gut feeling' in interview. Like the larger ones, they were most keen to get young people with the right attitudes and work discipline, and valued (wider) achievements particularly as evidence of motivation and commitment. Also given a small workforce, it was critical that a new entrant had the social and personal skills to fit in, so considerable time might be taken to get to know the young person more fully.
' I'd look at all certificates or sources of evidence. I'd ask what interested the youngster, what turned them on, you've got to find a connection, a way into how the youngster's thinking, a link to them, a shared interest, if they're going to fit in. It's a big investment for a small company, so we need to invest wisely. I'd take time to check out a new piece of equipment and recruiting is a huge commitment so invest in that, too….' (Employer)
9.28 Academic qualifications were less important than (wider) achievements for these employers, and so, too, were school references. Instead, an interview with a young person who demonstrated the right attitudes and work discipline could well be followed by a work trial during which the young person could really be assessed. Jobcentre Plus staff also noted the importance of job trials for small employers.
Relevance and use of (wider) achievement in selection
9.29 End-users were asked about the relevance and value of (wider) achievement in their recruitment and selection of young people and about a tangible record of the achievement process.
9.30 There was strong support from end-users for the development of approaches in schools to the recognition of (wider) achievement:
' Wider achievement could make a difference to young people, it suggests opening up of the boundaries, more challenging, lifts everything up a level.' (Training provider)
' Anything that helps school pupils reflect on their achievements, feel good about themselves and get ready for success in the next stage of their lives has to be good.' (College)
9.31 They were supportive of processes that would help young people to reflect on and record their (wider) achievements and that would support them in the three elements of the recognising achievement process (ie understanding, explaining and proving, (para 5.19 in this report). Virtually all end-users considered that helping young people to develop their capacity to understand and explain their (wider) achievements were the most important and valuable aspects of the recognising achievement process; the proving element was generally considered a less critical part of the process. Nevertheless they did think that a tangible record that summarised or pulled together the outcomes of a process that young people had gone through would be useful both for young people and themselves.
9.32 Some of the issues that arose under these headings are now described.
9.33 End-users generally thought that many young people seemed to be unsure what constituted (wider) achievement, to lack understanding of how widely that could be defined and therefore to fail to recognise their achievements and/or to lack sufficient confidence to believe they could achieve:
' It's particularly important they recognise other achievements beyond the classroom. But they also need to understand the value of less visible things like babysitting, walking the dog, not just the tangible outcomes like the Duke of Edinburgh award.' (Training provider)
' 95% of young people don't see any of the non-formal things as achievements - maybe that's a particularly Scottish thing. On the one hand you don't get loud mouths, so maybe that's good… but they don't put themselves forward because they don't use or value their ability.' (Employer)
9.34 Nevertheless, three respondents - university admissions, an employer and a Training Provider (Skillseekers and Modern Apprenticeships) - did note the need to ensure that encouraging students to recognise their (wider) achievements should include developing the ability to be realistic and balanced in their estimation of their (wider) achievements and aspirations.
9.35 A related perspective was the view expressed by some employers and most college staff in this research that school references should include information about students' weaknesses as well as their strengths. Similarly, Training Providers and college staff recruiting to work preparation programmes wanted information on young people's potential barriers to learning or gaining employment as well as on their (wider) achievements so that they could design appropriate provision.
9.36 End-users across the different sectors thought that a key benefit of the recognising (wider) achievement process would be if it improved young people's ability to explain their achievements, both in person and on paper:
' Young people straight from school find it very difficult to explain their achievements.' (Employer)
' They're useless at explaining, ill prepared, haven't thought about questions or that they might have to pick up on what they've put in an application form… but on the other hand, for a lot of kids this is their first interview and some of them are third generation unemployed…' (College)
9.37 The use of competency based questions in interviews, a common approach across all sectors, seemed to be particularly challenging for young people. The ability to answer these seemed to depend on both understanding and explaining: young people had to understand their own (wider) achievements, what skills these demonstrated and how they could be transferred to another context; and then to be able to articulate this in ways that related to the specific context of the job, course or training programme:
' Young people struggle to answer these questions, like 'tell me about something you're motivated to do… how do you or would you work with someone with a different point of view… what changes might you have to make in yourself to be successful'.' (Training provider)
' It's really hard, they've got to trawl through their own achievements and really think under the surface… they don't seem to have had much practice at looking beyond the things they've done to the skills and approaches these demonstrate, or to be able to say what they learned from it and link it to the questions. A question that starts 'tell me about a time when…' has to be quite specific for youngsters and you often have to give examples because they get stuck.' (Employer)
9.38 But end-users also identified the need for 'authenticity' in any explanation. Any support provided by schools should be done in a way that retained the individual's 'personal voice':
' The section in the application form where wider achievements could be added is often done poorly. And even if schools do help to suggest interesting things to put in, it can be counter-productive if the youngster can't explain or speak to them; because they didn't fill it in themselves, they can't tell you about it. And teachers tend to encourage the use of buzz words - you know the kid didn't write that!' (Employer)
9.39 It seems that this is an area where schools are likely to find themselves in a difficult position. On the one hand there was criticism from end-users that schools were not doing enough:
' Schools need to give more or better teaching about applying for jobs - applicants from Get Ready for Work programmes are better prepared. If schools are already doing this then they need to review how they are teaching it since it's obviously not going in.' (Employer)
' Schools don't teach CVs enough… and teachers don't know what questions to ask young people about their lives to find out what they've achieved.' (Employer)
' A large number of applicants are not prepared for interview.' (College)
9.40 But on the other hand, schools were also criticised in respect of losing 'authenticity':
' What I hate is, loads of pupils send in standard letters for jobs, CVs with all the same phrases, schools are doing too good a job, doing too much for them. Doesn't catch my interest. I always reply, but I don't really consider any of them.' (Employer)
' There's a real issue about them making stock statements or 'parroting' answers about achievement' (Training provider)
9.41 We return to this issue of how schools might support young people in explaining and presenting their (wider) achievements to potential recruiters in the final chapter of this report.
9.42 The proving aspect of the model of recognising achievement was the one element where the Collaborative Enquiry Projects differed in the importance they attached to it. It also raised concerns for them about the strength of evidence that would be required, how this might be assessed and validated and the possible negative impact on the young person's experience (para 3.35 of this report). But as we have noted, end-users placed less importance on this aspect of recognising (wider) achievement than on the other aspects of understanding and explaining. Equally they were not overly concerned about the assessment of evidence, which is explicable in terms of the main uses they saw for recognition of achievement. For most end-users, the best form of proof would be that young people could explain their (wider) achievements in a way that demonstrated real understanding of what had been involved, the skills and capacities they had gained and how they could apply them in different contexts:
'I'd want them to be able to talk about any certificates they have, I'm not interested in a collection or set of certificates but what has it actually done for them. They need to be able to reflect on it.' (University)
9.43 End-users did want schools to confirm applicants' academic qualifications (not simply in terms of proof but because young people sometimes could not remember what awards they had) and also welcomed the inclusion of awards such as Duke of Edinburgh, Prince's Trust and ASDAN as part of a record of achievement. But when asked specifically about the importance of any record of achievement being officially attested to or 'signed off' their main response was that it should be done by someone who knew the young person well and not, for example, the headteacher of their school or someone at the local authority level. Knowing who had signed it and the school it came from, and being able to trust their judgement, was important in deciding how much credibility to give to it. End-users were also likely to give weight to their own ability in interview to establish the truthfulness of the content of a record of achievement:
' Teacher endorsement is important to a certain extent, but I'd be inclined to take a young person's word for it and would know through the answers to the questions I asked whether they were exaggerating.' (Employer)
9.44 With few exceptions, formal processes of assessment of those (wider) achievements listed in any certificate were not an issue.
9.45 A specific point which was raised by training providers was how evidence of young people's (wider) achievements in soft skills might be provided; this reflected dissatisfaction with the core skills profile:
' The certification of core skills as part of Standard Grades and Highers… they're very over-estimated in formal certification, especially communication skills. Standard Grades don't give a good picture of the level of the young person in the subject area and in the core skills.' (Training provider)
Relevance and use of (wider) achievement in career guidance and job-matching
9.46 This section considers the views of careers advisers from Skills Development Scotland and staff from Jobcentre Plus on the relevance and use of (wider) achievement information in career guidance and job-matching. Given that careers advisers no longer have a direct role in matching young people to jobs with employers, the careers advisers interviewed focused on how recognition of achievement might contribute to their guidance role. In the case of Jobcentre Plus who only give targeted help to 16-19 year olds in receipt of hardship payments, their views generally related to over 18s.
9.47 Careers advisers saw it as their role and part of their skills as guidance professionals, to draw out from young people positive information about (wider) achievements and to highlight skills and abilities. Recognising (wider) achievement could be seen, therefore, as having a very close link to careers advisers' aims and practice. They saw the recognition of achievement as important for a range of young people:
' Wider achievements are a particularly important part of our job with young people who need More Choices More Chances.'
' Schools should give more attention to the ones who 'toe the line' and would particularly benefit from a greater focus on recognising their achievements, they can be overlooked in school.'
' In my experience, young people with lower academic qualifications but with a lot going on in their lives like hobbies, interests, voluntary work, are easier to help find an opportunity than those who have much more going for them academically, but have not much else. Recognition of achievement might encourage able young people like this to get a better balance, get more involved, become more employable, and help them to realise they need to build up their achievements throughout university, it's not just about getting a good degree.'
9.48 The careers advisers interviewed typically had little information on young people's achievements prior to interview: pre-interview questionnaires were not used, and school reports or access to guidance information were only available in exceptional cases. The extent to which careers advisers were able to identify and incorporate information on (wider) achievements into their career guidance role was, therefore, heavily dependent on the time they had available, on the extent to which the young person understood and could explain their achievements and on the skills of the individual adviser in drawing the information out.
9.49 Careers advisers thought their effectiveness would be improved if young people were more able to recognise their own (wider) achievements and if careers advisers had some form of information or access to (wider) achievement information on individual clients. If this happened, achievement information could be used to help them get a better understanding of the young person, leading to better guidance and helping them to develop their young clients' confidence:
' It would help to build up a relationship, you could start by talking about something positive like their achievements and you could use it to help with the contracting element of the Career Planning Journey [ie the point at which the client and adviser agree the purpose and aim of the interview and assess where the client is in career planning].'
' If you could see a portfolio of achievements, you could look for building blocks to match into appropriate jobs and to check if they've got the right things for the jobs and courses they are aiming for… it would be useful to put the client into perspective, recording life history, maybe the client is just having a bad year and you could point to what they had achieved earlier and give them encouragement for their future plans.'
9.50 Three current developments in Skills Development Scotland clearly relate to developments in recognising achievement:
- policy in the organisation is moving toward a 'strengths based' approach to skill development and this will apply also to approaches to career guidance and employability development;
- careers advisers have recently completed the pilot of a Recognition of Prior Informal Learning ( RPL) profiling tool and an SCQF Mapping Guide. Careers advisers have trialled this tool by working with a small number of school pupils (generally those in the More Choices More Chances group) to identify their wider achievements and to make a notional benchmark against SCQF level 4 core skills;
- development work is at an early stage in SDS on an e-portfolio, My Learning Space, designed for post-school young people and adults.
Jobcentre Plus staff
9.51 Personal advisers in Jobcentre Plus, like careers advisers, needed to know more about their clients - not only formal qualifications but also soft skills and job aspirations. This information helped with appropriate job-matching. While new advisers could use a customer assessment tool developed to support them which includes guidance on how to access information about skills and achievements demonstrated in a non-formal setting, it would be useful if young clients had been through a process of recognising their (wider) achievements and so to be more able to articulate them; a tangible record of achievement would also be welcomed.
9.52 Jobcentre Plus staff thought that the perspective of employers would be highly variable, dependent on size, sector and the views of the individual selector. Some would ask for relevant formal qualifications, most for evidence of softer skills and experience that showed applicants had an interest in the job area.
9.53 Information on applicants' (wider) achievements would be most helpful to employers if it combined academic or vocational qualifications with information on the applicant's social and personal achievements.
Recognition of achievement in post-school training, work and learning
9.54 End-users were asked whether and how they recognised the (wider) achievements of their young trainees, workers and learners and whether recognition of achievement in school might link into their practices. There were a number of similarities between how Collaborative Enquiry Projects recognised achievement and how end-users did so, and some of the issues they had to consider were common.
Most end-users had some system of review and development:
- training providers held regular reviews of a young person's Training Plan against agreed objectives; in the case of Life Skills and Get Ready for Work programmes this was linked to the four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence;
- colleges used Personal Development Plans or Personal Learning Plans based on a personal profile and aims and objectives; they were also moving towards a link to the four CfE capacities;
- larger employers with training departments had 12-weekly reviews;
- smaller employers kept a regular paper record of tasks and skills achieved;
- universities were working with Personal Development Plans in different ways, depending on the department, (one university was recording and recognising achievement using IT, with students adding information on achievements in work placements as they were undertaken).
9.55 The majority of end-users who took part in this research were actively considering recording (wider) achievements and progress towards outcomes electronically - we discuss this further below.
9.56 There was very little evidence that (wider) achievements arising from a young person's personal or social life were drawn into these reviews and records of achievement, in this respect end-users practice differed from that of some CEPs. Instead, reflection and review was based around the learning, training and work being undertaken within the organisation.
9.57 Most end-users were developing a variety of approaches to providing certificates or rewards for (wider) achievement:
' We're developing our own tools with Skills Development Scotland to measure soft outcomes and we'll issue our own certificate.' (Training provider)
' Trainees' achievements are measure by the creation of a portfolio of evidence for a City and Guilds Employability Award.' (Training provider)
' Apprentices run the monthly forum, edit the newsletter which includes the activities they've been doing like sports, voluntary work, charity events. It's to help apprentices develop the ability to recognise their own successes and relate them to, and communicate them to, the business.' (Employer)
' At the end [of the programme] they'll have: a portfolio of evidence from the professional area; a PLP with met aims and objectives; and any additional college certificates, for example, for employability or citizenship. And once they've reached level 3 they tend to use photographic evidence within the portfolio. For SVQ3 and above we have an awards ceremony, in-house competitions, prizes, they get certificates and rewards.' (College)
Challenges in recognising achievement
9.58 End-users shared the concerns of the CEPs about the value and credibility of recognition of (wider) achievement:
' We do a lot to develop them, and we give them a certificate for absolutely everything, one for each of the modules they do on the programme, for example, on anger management. We want to give them as much evidence of achievement as possible. But it's a big challenge, they achieve on Life Skills, but that needs to be recognised by society and marketed to employers and colleges.' (Training provider, Life Skills programme)
9.59 One college was doing a lot to encourage (wider) achievement but realised a need to capture the learning and recognise it:
' The Duke of Edinburgh Award is strongly promoted to students here in order to develop wider achievements and core skills. But we have no way of harnessing wider achievements at present… we know that the Personal Learning Plan is too focused on core skills in the college environment.' (College)
9.60 Another training provider echoed the concerns of CEPs and of other end-users regarding the challenge of helping young people to tackle successfully the process of identifying and recognising (wider) achievement:
' We try to get them in the mindset to recognise the value of 'ordinary' achievements right from the beginning in the organisation, recognising achievement is about broadening horizons… we do a lot of team-building on course, but it is very, very difficult to get youngsters to go beyond saying they've done teamwork, to be able to explain what was involved, what they gained from it, the skills it helped develop or the attributes that it demonstrates. It's a constant battle to get youngsters to go below the basic description of the activity.' (Training provider)
9.61 It can be seen that many end-users are struggling with similar issues to those facing CEPs in trying to recognise the (wider) achievements of young people in their organisations.
Examples of statements or records of young people's (wider) achievement
9.62 End-users noted that some form of tangible statement would be useful although, as we have previously discussed, they were most interested in young people being able to explain their (wider) achievements. This next section considers what sort of statements would be of value to end-users. Three examples that the Collaborative Enquiry Projects had used or had been considering were shown to end-users for comment. These examples were:
- Achievement Profile - a summary single A4 sheet listing achievements in each of four boxes to match with the four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence. This Achievement Profile listed academic, school, social and personal information. It was printed against the background of the school crest and signed as accurate by a Principal Teacher of Support for Pupils. Contexts in which achievements were listed were class work, home and family, part-time employment, work experience, youth organisations, voluntary and community work, being with friends and taking part in extra-curricular school activities. Examples of achievements listed included:
- I passed my driving test first time (Successful Learner);
- I received a merit award for my enthusiasm in chemistry (Successful Learner);
- I have demonstrated self-awareness by completing my self-evaluation at the end of my report and by completing this record (Confident Individual);
- I help out at home and at my gran's with the cleaning and with the cooking (Responsible Citizen);
- I have led a group discussion in English and I also lead other, younger pupils as a Peer Supporter (Effective Contributor);
- I have passed 7 Standard Grades (Successful Learners).
- Certificate of Completion - a single sheet with the pupil name, the school crest and the logo of the employer sponsoring a one-off school-based event. This noted satisfactory completion of the tasks involved;
- a compilation of three sheets listing achievements with dates with a fourth sheet containing a personal statement. The achievements pages covered: results within the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework; other national accredited and locally recognised awards, for example Duke of Edinburgh Awards or First Aid Certificate; and personal achievements such as music, swimming and school responsibilities.
9.63 At this point it is necessary to separate the responses of university selectors from those of other end-users as their responses differed because undergraduate selection is tightly tied to UCAS procedures. A tangible record of (wider) achievement would be difficult to link into the UCAS system: paper attachments would need to go directly to universities and might not easily be matched with application forms; attempts to link these would be resource intensive and delay selection decisions. If tangible records were to be made directly available to universities, admissions staff thought this would have to have to be integrated into the UCAS application, for example, a box on the application form that applicants could tick to indicate they had additional information (held within their UCAS record) that that the university could access via a web-link. Clearly such approach involving the embedding of records of (wider) achievements into the UCAS procedures would need full negotiation with UCAS. Overall, universities thought that the main use of tangible records of achievement was to help the young person with the process of producing a good quality personal statement and with preparing, if needed, for interview.
9.64 The comments of the other end-users (training providers, employers and colleges) on the three examples noted above provide indications of the key features that would make any tangible record or statement of (wider) achievement acceptable:
- quality not quantity of experience is what needs to be illustrated in such statements;
- A Certificate of Completion without any further information on the nature of the activity, the quality of the performance, the skills and qualities demonstrated and the learning achieved would carry no weight with end-users;
- end-users would need clarity on the status of any such statement. Are achievements confirmed by the school? Were the statements produced by young people themselves, with the help of someone, or by the teacher about the pupil? End-users were sceptical of any certificate which purported to be by the pupil (ie, in the first person), that did not, however, speak with the authentic voice of the young person but instead in 'teacher-speak'. Some also raised the question about school staff signing off on personal and social achievements which the school could not possible authenticate;
- such certificates should be specific and personal to the individual: an end-user receiving a number of records of achievement which used the same standard phrases would find these of limited value;
- the examples of records of (wider) achievement on which end-users commented were generic, not focused on the information needed by a selector for a particular opportunity. While most end-users valued the broader picture they got of young people, they also wanted such statements to be flexible enough to be adaptable to include information specific to the particular needs as a selector and focused on the selection criteria which they were applying;
- such a tangible record of (wider) achievement would need to be succinct and easy to read - a maximum of two pages. Of the examples viewed by end-users, a combined document with one page of SQA and national certificates plus one page of broad achievements would be most useful;
- in practical terms, the record of (wider) achievement would need to be ready in the January of the year of leaving due to the timing of selection processes for college and work;
- a number of end-users would like any record of (wider) achievement to include those aspects which might be included in a school reference such as an honest statement of attendance, timekeeping, motivation and attitude to learning.
The personal store and e-portfolios
End-users' attitudes to electronic recording
9.65 Tangible statements of achievement would, in the model of the process of recognising achievement used in this research, be drawn at relevant points from the personal store, the repository of achievement information. When we consulted young people who took part in the Collaborative Enquiry Projects about the use of such a personal store, an IT rather than a paper approach seemed the absolutely obvious way ahead from their perspective. Given the key principle of young people's ownership of the process of recognising achievement we, therefore, followed their lead and have consulted end-users on the value and possible uses of an e-portfolio rather than any paper version. Many end-users volunteered comments on whether a portfolio should be electronic or paper. The vast majority were very clear that the best approach was electronic:
' We would use it, employers would use it, this is the way forward, the culture for young people, technology. Young people would probably put more into an e-portfolio than into paper form' (Training provider)
' Prefer an e-portfolio to certificates, it's something to go in and look at rather than a fixed thing like a hard copy profile.' (College)
' Employers must have the ability to use and make sense of the information young people give them in the form they give them it. You have to recognise changing ways of communication, whether you agree or not, it's how modern young people communicate, and if we want to get the best out of them we have to take steps towards them, it's a youngster's social life, adults have to understand their responsibility to open and maintain communication.' (Employer)
9.66 Some end-users expressed concerns about an electronic portfolio: these were usually a result of their lack of confidence in their own IT skills. This applied to both employers and college staff. Even here, though, there was acknowledgement that change was inevitable:
' I'm nervous about my capacity to use IT as I'd need to in order to work well on this with young people. But my lack of confidence shouldn't hinder this being developed, the more you move along with new developments, the easier it gets.' (Employer)
9.67 Some were worried that young people's IT skills, also, were not as sophisticated as both adults and young people themselves assumed. This is an issue identified in other research (Howieson et al 2009). But again, end-users saw it as something to be overcome rather than to hold back developments:
' I can see from how some youngsters really struggle with on-line tests that some school leavers are just not computer literate.' (College)
' A possible disadvantage is the extent of young people's IT skills, and also the extent of tutor and employer IT skills, but that should not stop the development because of this, we just need to improve IT skills.' (College)
9.68 End-users' reflections on issues that schools and others would need to consider in the development of an e-portfolio produced the following:
- the need for young people to be supported in reflection;
- the importance of portfolio management skills, otherwise it could end up with a clutter of disparate items and become unmanageable, and, therefore, not used;
- the expense;
- differential use, for example, young males might make less use than young females, and the implications for equity;
- the need for some central government support for a development such as this.
9.69 Again, it is important to emphasise that end-users considered these were issues to be overcome rather than factors which should block development.
End-users' current or potential use of e-portfolios
9.70 There were examples of end-users, across all sectors, using e-portfolios and/or websites as part of their standard selection, development and management practice; and most of those not doing so were actively considering such use:
' We're just about to develop a policy on social networking with trainees… we use BEBO to keep in touch with young people since they always seem to get the use of a computer whether at a friend's house or not. And we use it to track destinations.' (Training provider)
' Duke of Edinburgh Award recording is now all online' (Training provider)
' E-portfolios fit with the VQ style of learning.' (College)
' We're very keen on the system [ie portfolio being developed by a Scottish college] , just technical problems delaying the start. Students will create an e-portfolio where they build up evidence of competencies, fitting in with Curriculum for Excellence. Guidance staff are involved, and all students. It's currently a paper model.' (College)
' Staff can use a [commercially produced ] e-portfolio to record all their personal development stuff - academic qualifications, the training they've been on, their hobbies and interests and how these relate to their work. There's a bit about soft skills, they can assess the level they feel they're at.' (Employer)
' We're moving to e-portfolio systems across our courses.' (University)
9.71 The extent of end-users' current or potential usage of e-portfolios at least partly explains their general enthusiasm for school pupils' use of e-portfolios: if young people came to them with experience of reflecting and recording online, and with portfolio design and management skills, they would be well equipped to use such approaches to continuous professional development in their organisations.
Potential use of e-portfolios/websites in end-users' selection practice
9.72 Accessing a full e-portfolio as part of the selection process was unlikely to be appropriate for several reasons. Firstly, it is the young person's personal store, for their own use, and for them to control access. Secondly, it would be likely to be extensive and contain a mixture of content - some relevant, some not - and the experience of the National Records of Achievement ( NRA) was that end-users had no time to access such a detailed document and so NRAs largely disappeared. Therefore we focused in our discussions with end-users on an approach which is being increasingly used within graduate recruitment, that is, preparing a section of the e-portfolio (specifically designed for that purpose) for an external viewer such as a selector for courses, programmes and jobs.
9.73 This public section might be a short collage (perhaps two minutes) consisting, for example, of relevant evidence of the young person: speaking to camera about his/her skills; leading a group challenge as seen in a DVD excerpt; designing, producing and marketing a piece of art work in stages recorded in photos; scanned certificates etc. The content would be entirely flexible, drawn from the full e-portfolio and geared to the specific course, programme or job applied for. It would be accessed by clicking on a URL. Young people would add the URL to a letter, CV, or applications form - ' if you want to know more about me, click on this link'. Our question to end-users was, 'Is this useful? Would you use it?'
9.74 Most end-users spoke positively about such a URL link. Their responses suggest that this extra information about young people would be an additional tool in selection rather than any replacement. End-users could variously see it being used in their organisations:
- by training providers and colleges when selecting young people who had few educational qualifications and/or found difficulty in describing their achievements;
- in universities by some professional or vocational or creative or performing courses and by 'recruiting' universities where applicants for standard undergraduate courses were borderline or where mitigating circumstances were being considered;
- by those with high numbers of applicants (employers, training providers and colleges) when preparing a short leet for interview, before or after interview and/or when considering decisions on borderline candidates;
- advantages of its use were that: young people might be able to present themselves better in a more relaxed atmosphere than at interview; it enabled young people to use different media to present themselves rather than just in written form that some might be less good at; it would give credible information on young people's achievements (ie selectors would actually see the young person performing); it would balance the view that a selector might get at interview. Some were concerned whether they would be able to access the IT and whether all young people would have the skills to do this. The main criteria for it being useful were that it was: informative; kept up to date; and easy to access.
9.75 Data protection issues might be addressed by ensuring that the weblink access was password controlled and time-limited.
9.76 One respondent suggested that, from a university perspective, a good time to pilot the use of such a weblink would be when the UCAS clearing system was operating. At this point universities were using clearing as a way for individuals to sell themselves and an e-portfolio link would make admissions staff's job easier since it is difficult for applicants to convey non-tangible elements to selectors. Practically, an advantage of a pilot at this time would be that it would give a relatively small cohort and a tight timescale.
9.77 School leavers might not, of course, seek to use their e-portfolio in selection prior to leaving or immediately after they left school. Most end-users assumed that young people would have continued access to their school e-portfolio after school, either on-line or by storing it on a memory stick.
9.78 While the discussions with end-users centred on the use of a public sub-section of the portfolio, a small number took the opportunity to comment on the possible value of a full e-portfolio during selection if the young person was willing to allow this access. For careers advisers, training providers and colleges selecting young people for preparatory training/courses it would be useful to have an overall view of the young person's life that might put a 'bad year' into perspective. Practically, given the chaotic life styles of some of the young people, their paper certificates or other examples of (wider) achievements might be lost and having other access to this information via an e-portfolio would be helpful. Access to the full e-portfolio might also be valuable for young people applying for creative and performance courses of higher education if earlier evidence was marginal.
End-users' potential use of an e-portfolio for young people's subsequent development in the organisation
9.79 If continued access to the e-portfolio which the young person had produced at school was available post-school, most end-users could see a use for it in the continuing development of young people in their organisation.
9.80 Training providers suggested:
'I could see them updating it while they were on the scheme in the same way that we help them to update their CVs.'
'It could be used as an access point to trainees' earlier achievements, could link the units we offer into other assessed work in the e-portfolio and evidence a lot more by linking to another certificate eg our anger management unit linked to evidence in the e-portfolio and maybe get SCQF4 in problem-solving.'
' We get young people to complete daily task sheets, at the end of the month could update the achievement portfolio.'
' We would take it further, we could use an e-portfolio to link to the City and Guilds Employability Award to provide evidence through Recognition of Prior Learning of part time work and work experience they had while at school. And our trainers could support young people in creating a public face or a CV from the personal store to use when sending information to employers when we're looking to place candidates for work experience as part of Get Ready for Work.'
9.81 Employers could see their young employees' e-portfolios being built on:
' If something is in the historical personal store that's not been already assessed it could be mapped against one of the core skills we are trying to evidence like 'working with others.'
' There are many advantages, it does away with paper, assessments could be done by video and downloaded and the external verifier can actually see activity taking place and assess remotely.'
9.82 Colleges, too, could see that a pre-existing e-portfolio might be valuable during a student's course:
' We would use it if it was easily accessed. We've created a new part of the lower preparatory courses - employability and citizenship - and will be looking at achievement to build confidence. But there's no record of this or of what they've learned, and they'll probably have done something at school we could build on.'
'We could use the practice units in the care setting to add to and update the personal store for the NC level courses.'