4 THE FUNDAMENTALS (1) DEFINING ACHIEVEMENT
4.1 A fundamental issue for the projects - students, staff and stakeholders - was to consider what they meant by 'achievement' and how widely they defined it. This was a live issue: gaining a shared definition and understanding of these terms was vital to projects' subsequent decisions, for example, in relation to what 'recognition' might mean, and how achievement might be recorded. This was a key management challenge and in the next section we outline the Collaborative Enquiry Projects developing understanding of the meaning of achievement as they engaged with the task of definition.
4.2 All of the projects engaged in discussions around how they might define achievement. Most adopted a relatively low key approach to this but, as noted above, two projects had begun by engaging in structured consultation exercises on the meaning of achievement, for example working with pupil councils, pupils, teachers, parents, and/or employers.
4.3 Consultation approaches used include: a DVD of pupils interviewing other pupils
and teachers on what 'achievement means; the youth worker consulting pupils in
primary and secondary schools on what achievement meant, with this approach taken
to be more likely to encourage and wider, non-school based definition; focus
group discussions with different stakeholders; and consultation questionnaires to
those involved. Examples of such questionnaires and focus groups, and of
the results of consultations, are attached at Exemplification 4.
4.4 As projects thought about and tried to define 'achievement', this led to various insights as the following quotes illustrate:
- achievement could differ at an individual level: ' Different things have personal meaning to individuals, almost anything that matters is an achievement when you get it done.' (S6 pupil) ' Where an individual makes progress at their own level in a number of areas' (Teacher)
- it could also be different at a group level, for example, if you are in the 'More Choices More Chances group': ' If you're one of this very challenged group, just getting to school every day is an achievement… or staying in the class to the end of the period… or getting on with people from different areas of the city.' (Teacher)
- achievement requires effort: ' Has to be something with effort, won't mean as much to them if it's easy even though others recognise it'. (S6 pupil) ' Something you've put a lot of work into and have had to work your own way out of problems' (S4 pupil)
- achievement can be realised when it results in positive feelings: ' Something that makes you feel good, that you are proud of.' (S4 pupils)
- it could be demonstrated in the classroom: ' Understanding a maths problem and being able to help your friend understand it' (S1 pupil)
- achievement could also be broader: ' Achievement needs to be not just in classes but sport, outdoor physical challenges, art, music, singing and dancing. But it should also be moral achievement - integrity, honesty and service.' (Teacher)
4.5 Analysis of the responses from the students, staff and stakeholders shows the complexity and nuanced nature of the task of definition. All the project staff interviewed were asked the same question: ' What do you think 'achievement' means?' but what was striking is that staff and students varied in their terminology when they responded: the terms 'Achieving', 'Achievement', 'An Achievement' and 'A Real Achievement' were all used. None of the projects employed a single definition in practice although there might be a single written definition in existence. Definitions tended to vary depending on which student or groups of students were being discussed.
4.6 The word ' achieving' or 'achieved' had a sense of meeting a target, of the completion of something (anything) intended. Where the staff used this phrase they tended to link 'achieving' to personal learning planning and to the negotiation and meeting of subject or academic targets or of behavioural targets. The context of 'achieving' was likely to be the school and the classroom; it was often used in relation to passing or completing a unit or project satisfactorily; and in practice it could lead to 'ticking boxes' as a form of recording. 'Achieving' had a lot to do with the process of planning and had little sense of effort, challenge or quality. Thus 'achieving' or 'achieved' was related to a relatively narrow and possibly unchallenging school focused view.
4.7 ' Achievement' was similar to this: both staff and students linked it to academic targets, but it also could incorporate a sense of satisfaction. 'Achievement' was likely to be used in a normative rather than an ipsative way, in other words to be measured externally in a relatively structured way according to set criteria: 'achievement' meant something which met certain standards of performance.
4.8 ' An achievement' was often linked by staff and students to an experience or activity, or a particular event or example of demonstrated behaviour. It was likely to have a degree of challenge or effort in it and often had a clearly measured end product, for example, ' got an award'; ' got a medal'; ' scored a goal'. 'An achievement' might well have a degree of competition associated with it and its contexts could be very broad including school, community, family and personal experiences.
4.9 Many students and staff spoke of a ' real achievement', which was seen as a personal challenge which had really stretched the individual, regardless of how it compared with the achievements of others or of how easily the individual found success in other fields. ' It was nothing if you weren't scared of heights, but for her it was a real achievement' and ' I can get good marks in maths easily, don't need to try, but improving my English was a real achievement'. A 'real achievement' was likely to have a powerful effect on the individual's self-esteem and to be valued by those who were close to the achiever eg ' I never thought I could do it, I'm really proud of myself!' 'A real achievement' could also be demonstrated in the fullest range of contexts.
4.10 These different emphases influenced projects' decisions about what to record and affected the value that students placed on the process. Some staff and students thought that everything 'achieved' should be recorded and recognised; others thought the emphasis should be much more towards recognising 'achievements' or 'real achievements'. Different views on what constituted achievement or an achievement could impact on how useful recognition was thought to be: in some cases learners could not see the value of ' recording everything, even wee silly things' and were dismissive and bored by the work involved. However, in other cases learners realised that ' when you put all the stuff down you realise it IS an achievement, that you've done something and stuff you thought was just ordinary was good.' The key point is that an open discussion of what 'achieving' and 'achievement' means to learners, staff and stakeholders is an important part of developing recognition of achievement. Such discussion can lead to a change of focus: this was the case for one of the projects:
' In consultations with pupils, parents and teachers, we moved from being first in a test or playing for the first team to all kinds of success, for example through being effective in the hairdressing salon in the school.' (Depute Headteacher)
4.11 Most projects had little difficulty subsuming attainment under the over-arching heading of achievement, acknowledging the importance within Curriculum for Excellence of the breadth of achievement and the development of the four capacities. However, this relationship between achievement and attainment was not unproblematic: in a situation where great strides had recently been made to raise attainment, there was concern amongst some staff that focusing too much on achievement might undermine the hard-won improvement in attainment standards. On the other hand a focus on achievement was viewed by staff as a productive way to offset the danger of a narrowing of students' school experience to successful examination performance.
4.12 There were different definitions of what a 'wider' context for achievement might mean. 'Wider' achievement was described in various ways by school staff and pupils (there was no pattern to responses):
- the four capacities;
- the core skills demonstrated in the classroom and supported by cooperative or enterprising teaching and learning;
- positive results arising from rich tasks in the school or from activities which were school-generated 'extra-curricular' experiences;
- those achievements generated in structured youth settings;
- those achievements demonstrated in the individual's personal use of their time;
- stories of personal success in meeting personal or family challenges known to the school, for example having a care role within the family, recovering from cancer;
- stories of personal success in meeting personal or family challenges not known to the school, for example managing to attend a funeral, earning enough money to buy Christmas presents for the family.