5 THE FUNDAMENTALS (2) THE RECOGNITION OF ACHIEVEMENT
5.1 We begin this section by giving a flavour of how the Collaborative Enquiry Projects had approached recognition of achievement. We then go on to present and discuss the model that the evaluation team developed which emerged from the team's literature review of theory and practice and which was used with projects in the research as a way of pulling together the key elements of the process of recognising achievement.
The projects' experience: practical examples of recognising achievement
5.2 All the projects had taken steps to recognise the achievements of their pupils. These ranged on a scale from formal to informal. In addition to academic certificates, examples of how achievement was recognised included:
- recording on plasma screens in the school entrance hall and on other visual displays such as achievement walls and boards;
- praising through positive referrals from staff leading to merit awards, praise postcards to learners, phone calls home;
- assemblies and award ceremonies (some schools had specialist achievement assemblies) and achievement ties/T-shirts;
- nomination for achievement award by other pupils;
- tea with the headteacher;
- a word of praise in the corridor;
- an added section on achievement in the school report to parents;
- certificates of achievement, commonly under Curriculum for Excellence four capacities. Three examples of certificates are attached in the Exemplification 5;
- SQA awards such as Intermediate 2 unit Working with Others; Youth Achievement Awards; Duke of Edinburgh award etc;
- public award ceremonies with certificates presented by the local authority.
The projects' experience: reflection as a key process, and related challenges
5.3 But for most of the projects, helping learners to go through a process of reflection leading to an understanding of the achievement was the essential issue rather than recognition in itself. Three projects felt they had focused most on ensuring that quality opportunities for achievement were available, but even then two emphasised the reflection which was part of the events. Several projects had 'started at the qualification end' but the process of discussion and thinking at early stages had the effect of changing the emphasis to a greater extent to reflection and recording and away from an 'end product' which recognised achievement.
5.4 Thus, most projects emphasised reflection and understanding of the learning as the following quotes illustrate:
' It's not the capturing of activities that's the key, it's so that the young person recognises what they've done and understands it's good.' (Teacher)
'Pupils need to think and talk about achievement to recognise it.' (Teacher)
' The main achievement was I spoke more, it's most important you realise it yourself, also good if others do!' (S5 student)
5.5 The task of reflection was perceived as difficult and many learners and staff in the Collaborative Enquiry Projects felt that students need help to reflect on and fully understand what they had achieved:
' Some children might switch off when asked to be reflective… this happens in PSE - 'what am I supposed to write?' - too much inspecting navels…' (Teacher)
' Sometimes you really need to tease it out, what skills did you show there, what was good about that, what did you learn - sometimes they just don't see it unless you point it out really clearly.' (Teacher)
5.6 Projects, especially those that had focused on young people needing More Choices, More Chances, considered that learners who lacked confidence and had low self-esteem were likely to need extra help in recognising the skills they had demonstrated and the value of their experiences and actions. Staff, especially those who knew pupils well, played a crucial role in helping learners to identify and reflect on achievements (particularly those undertaken in the school environment):
' You go 'I've not done anything' and she [pupil support teacher] says 'of course you have, I saw you in the school musical', and I hadn't thought I'd been able to learn things and she said I'd been good at remembering the dance and had looked really confident. So I thought 'maybe I was good.' (S1 pupil)
5.7 However, it was not just those who were least academic and engaged who found difficulty in reflecting on achievements. It was noticeable in the focus groups that even pupils who could list a range of activities and experiences still found it a challenge to reflect on what they had learned and to understand what the achievements said about them. They found it easy to say what they had done but not so easy to say how it had been done and what had been learned. One school manager noted that this was not confined to learners:
' It's difficult enough for some staff going for promotion to reflect on their achievements, even worse for pupils!' (Depute Headteacher)
5.8 Students, more than staff, were more likely to recognise the potential importance of friends and family in picking up on achievements and acknowledging them:
' Difficult to explain what you've done,, you don't want to show you're arrogant, talking about your achievements… but I explained to Mum each day, how I got on, it's OK explaining it to someone you know…' (S3 pupil)
'Even if teachers don't spot you, pupils can… when we were at [an outdoor centre] my friend did a real achievement because she was frightened of heights but she did it so I told her it was good and I put her forward and she got a certificate'. (P7 pupil)
The projects' experience: recording of achievements
5.9 In terms of the recording of achievements, the projects took different approaches. Several already had a method of recording merits for effort and behaviour, for example on management information systems. Records of achievement could also be kept in a homework diary or added to an extra section in the school report to parents.
5.10 It was common for students to keep records of achievements in paper form in logs, loose-leaf folders and achievement books. These achievements could be in the form of personal reflections, perhaps with recording of achievement structured around the four capacities. Records might be completed at regular intervals perhaps during PSE or in enhanced registration time, or from time to time following involvement in events or opportunities to achieve. For younger children an achievement book might be a form of scrapbook where photos of events or copies of work of which the child was proud might be kept. Sometimes logs were electronic. Examples of materials used to help with reflecting and recording can be found at Exemplification 6.
5.11 Members of staff in the Collaborative Enquiry Projects were very aware of the issues concerning the frequency and immediacy of reflection and recording. On the one hand, it was important to reflect on the learning from the experience while it was still fresh in the young person's mind and when skill development could be remembered and understood; on the other hand too frequent reflection on experiences and achievements made the process mechanical for learners. Another issue, one which we discuss as a later theme, is that of pupil ownership and control. The most common approach to helping pupils with reflection was to use Personal and Social Education time or tutorial time and/or to encourage a degree of reflection within other subjects. This was most likely to happen where substantial numbers of young people were involved. Where there were small numbers, individual members of staff (from volunteer teachers to Depute Headteachers) or individuals external to the school were likely to act as mentors. Some projects gave an initial boost to reflection on achievement by developing a set of introductory lessons focused over one or two weeks. Some examples of such materials are attached at Exemplification 7.
The projects' experience: engaging young people in reflection and recording
5.12 Finding a way to engage young people in recording their own achievements was an important issue for the projects. Students who were less comfortable with writing might find the processes of recording and reflection difficult if it was too paper-focused:
' A lot of young people, particularly theMCMCgroup, don't like writing, so we use vox pop and post-it notes and put them into a log book to help them keep a record and reflect' (College Lecturer)
5.13 Staff and learners were keen to find ways of making the record attractive and interesting to young people and to harness different learning styles in creating a record; if recording became a routine form-filling/box-ticking exercise it would not keep pupils' interest and keep them engaged. Some projects were examining the possibility of a record of achievement being a virtual scrapbook with music, photos, vox pop and electronic text.
The projects' experiences: tracking achievement
5.14 A number of the projects looked for ways to track achievement. As noted earlier, there had been prior experience of using management information systems to record merits, often leading to recognition of the accumulated successes through some form of reward. However, comprehensive tracking of achievement across the whole year group was a more difficult task, particularly if the range of contexts in which achievement could be demonstrated was very broad. Drilling down to the level of the individual's achievement could be a real challenge:
' We've had too much celebration of achievement and not enough tracking of it in individuals.' (Depute Headteacher)
' Recording is a key issue, capturing the achievements at an individual level rather than celebrating at public events… it's key to link to PLPs and target-setting' (Depute Headteacher)
5.15 Some Collaborative Enquiry Projects were more closely linked to pupil support/guidance systems than others. One of the project schools, for example, had a commitment that each student would have five individual progress discussions each year; in this situation, tracking of achievement at an individual level would be more straightforward.
A model for recognising achievement
5.16 As part of the literature review carried out in the first phase of the
evaluation, we developed a model for recognising achievement http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/recognisingachievementliteraturereview . We then used this model as a basis for discussion with the projects, testing it with all of them to see if it matched their experience. All projects found that it reflected aspects of their approach and judged it to be a helpful way of thinking through what needs to be done to recognise achievement. In the rest of this section we use the model to pull together the key elements of the process of recognising achievement and the issues arising from the evaluation of the projects' practice. We begin by explaining the model, a fuller explanation of which is given in the document Literature Review and Model for Managing Recognition Processes (Hart with Howieson and Semple 2010).
5.17 The model is represented in figure 1 and is a simplified version of that in the literature review. While originally adapted for ease of use with young people it proved to capture the key principles clearly for adults also and has been used with all those participating in the field work. It identifies three processes or elements by which achievement can be recognised: 'understanding, 'explaining' and 'proving'. These three elements to recognising achievement are located within a background context of 'opportunities for achievement': clearly there can be no recognition of achievement without the opportunity to achieve through some experience or activity, this is the essential pre-condition. The model can be used with students at all the stages of Curriculum for Excellence. The three elements are related to different purposes but they are not mutually exclusive: they are meant to be iterative and linked through the personal portfolio.
Figure 1: Model for Recognising Achievement
5.18 The model is centred on a personal portfolio or 'personal store' of materials associated with activities of all kinds and their outcomes: this can be thought of as the recording aspect of recognising achievement. The idea is that a student gathers materials associated with all kinds of achievement and learning in a personal portfolio and can use this material in different ways depending on their age and circumstances. While it appears similar in some respects to systems such as the National Record of Achievement ( NRA) it is different: in particular, unlike the NRA it is not in itself the record of the achievement but rather the store from which young people selectively draw material as appropriate for a particular purpose. Equally it is different from the creation of a portfolio which is structured to match to specific criteria for an award (as is the portfolio currently being developed for the Duke of Edinburgh award) rather it is the creation of a portfolio from which evidence may be drawn to match to specific criteria for a range of possible awards if the learner decides this is appropriate and desirable.
5.19 We now describe each element in turn.
5.20 In the Understanding element learners are supported to review their activities and experiences and to identify and understand the learning which has resulted from these, and to consider whether and how learning could transfer to a different context. The process brings out the intrinsic value of the learning, ie the direct value to the learner. The approach involves using a learning portfolio in which individuals manage, reflect on and develop records of their achievements. The outcomes of this approach should be improved self-esteem and motivation, personal development and enhanced further learning through personal learning planning.
5.21 In the Explaining element learners are supported to understand the value that their achievements may have to others and to be able to communicate their skills and achievements effectively taking account of the other person's requirements and concerns. It thus relates to the utility value of the achievement. The ability to understand, select and explain achievements will be useful not only in making applications and in selection processes with gatekeepers in education, employment and the voluntary sector but also within the school, for example in interviews with pastoral care staff or careers advisers.
5.22 In the Proving element the emphasis is on gathering evidence to enable the achievement to be accredited. The process brings out the exchange value of the learning and achievement ie the value that the outcomes of learning from one context can have in another. In this approach learners are supported to understand the value which their achievements may have to bodies which can accredit the learning. Accreditation may take the form of an award of credit, or the award of a qualification or part of a qualification (most likely a unit). The approach involves the development of an assessment portfolio for which learners select or generate information which can serve as evidence for the assessment of prior learning against specified standards.
5.23 We now go on to discuss the model in the light of the practice and views of the projects.
Opportunities for achievement
5.24 The essential pre-condition for recognising achievement is what we have termed 'opportunities for achievement' in the model. This was at the forefront of many of the projects' thinking and one of the most important elements for a number of projects was to ensure that young people had the chance of rich and challenging opportunities to develop skills and qualities which might contribute to achievement, for example:
' If you get the experience right, you've got the achievement and the recognition.' (Depute Headteacher)
5.25 This quote shows an awareness that without a quality experience there is a limited basis for achievement and recognition. On the other hand, projects could be in danger of over-emphasising the experience to the detriment of the reflection and learning. Related to this was the tendency among many projects to view it as their responsibility to ensure that participants had good opportunities for achievement rather than - where appropriate - drawing on students' own experiences out of school. The managers of two projects, however, were quite clear that it was not their role to provide new or additional experiences for pupils, rather their role was to support pupils in undertaking a process that would help them get the most value out of the experiences and activities in which they were already engaged. Arguably the first task in recognising achievement is an assessment of whether each individual learner has the pre-conditions in place in terms of opportunities for achievement while remembering that the activity is not the ultimate purpose of the exercise and that the project itself may not need to provide it.
5.26 Thinking about the extent and quality of students' experiences raised issues for projects: some young people have richer life experiences both in and outside school than do others. The question arose for the projects as to whether they should intervene and provide quality opportunities perhaps targeted at particular groups such as young people needing More Choices, More Chances:
' Wider achievement is what the pupil does in their home life (ie rich tasks and experiences are personal and social) and the task of the school is to identify those who don't have these rich experiences and make up the deficit' (Headteacher)
' Need to enrich the whole curriculum for all and provide wider experiences organised by the school or through the school and that will help everybody' (Depute Headteacher)
' These children never get recognised for anything - other than bad behaviour - and we gave them this chance and here they were, getting the chance to achieve… and able to wear an achievement tie!' (Depute Headteacher)
5.27 We consider the issue of whether or not participation should be voluntary and the extent to which recognition of achievement should have a compensatory function further in chapter 6.
5.28 All of the projects thought that the understanding element is central to the process of recognising achievement': learners need to understand their achievement, the skills involved and how these skills can be used and transferred to other contexts:
' It's not the capturing of activities that is the key, it's so that the young person recognises themselves that they can do this and that they have all the bits under the four capacities.' (Teacher)
5.29 The understanding element was viewed by all of the projects as relevant at all stages of pupils' school career no matter their age. From what we learned in the projects and especially in discussions with the students, it became apparent to us that from understanding came the potential for a virtuous circle whereby reflection leads to understanding the value of the achievement, and feeling good about it is likely to lead to further achievement; this is represented in Figure 2. Reflection and the resulting understanding were seen by staff as key to contributing to young people becoming 'successful learners':
' It's the reflection that puts the progression in the achievement' (Local authority representative)
Figure 2: Understanding achievement - the virtuous circle
5.30 It became evident from discussions with project staff and students that where there was a personal development and learning purpose, achievement needed to be understood and recognised by the achiever and also by those individuals whose opinion was valued by the achiever (eg friends, family, a respected teacher, others undertaking the same activity). Recognition by individuals or organisations not respected or valued by the young person could mean there was little or no impact on personal development. This also applied if the student did not rate what had happened as 'an achievement' perhaps because it had not stretched him/her or because it was devalued since everyone achieved the standard, for example:
' I didn't want to put that Food Hygiene certificate in the [Achievement] folder, everyone in the class got it, you just had to tick some boxes, anyone could do it, it was easy, not much of an achievement, that!' (S3 student)
5.31 In terms of the understanding element, recognition could be simple and need not be tangible or public. It could be: praise from a teacher in the classroom or from the Depute Headteacher in the corridor; a card saying ' well done!' from a family member; or ' Mum saying ' I'm really proud of you!'' Tangible forms of recognition could be at a group level - ' here's a DVD that shows us on our leadership challenge'.
5.32 The explaining element of the model was seen by the projects as the second most important aspect of recognising achievement for young people.
5.33 Many members of project staff spoke of the challenges young people face in explaining their skills and achievements to others, whether within the school or outwith the school to employers, colleges and universities. Young people in the focus groups acknowledged that they found it difficult to make the link between their own achievements and what others expected of them and project staff and careers advisers expressed similar views. This was compounded by a 'Scottish reluctance' to be boastful and tell others about success. Once young people had come to understand their own achievements, the next great challenge was to get them to explain them to others, whether in writing, speaking or presenting:
' Explaining is the hardest bit.' (S5 pupil)
5.34 The projects perceived the 'explaining' element of the model - helping the learner to make their achievement explicit to others - as relevant throughout learners' schooling but especially at transition points. A number of the projects focused on the P7/S1 transition and pupils moving from the primary to the secondary school worked on descriptions of themselves and their achievements, whether on a DVD or in some paper format. They used this to compile their achievements in the primary school into a form that would enable them to introduce themselves in some way to their new school and its teachers and pupils. Our observation, based on the evidence of the projects, is that a utility purpose seems to be most associated with transition points, for example in moving through different stages of schooling (from one teacher to another; from P7 to S1; or by end-users such as employers, colleges and universities). In this situation it seemed that more tangible and more formally structured and patterned forms of recognition are valuable and that it is more useful to provide this at the level of the individual rather than the group - ' here's a DVD of me leading a challenge'. For recognition of achievement to be most effective in utility terms it needs to be considered in the light of pupil career and academic development and progression and the perceptions and requirements of these end users. Section 9 of this report confirms that end-users considered this element of the process of recognising achievement to be most important for their purposes, but to be most in need of improvement.
5.35 Staff and learners in the projects had no difficulty in agreeing the importance of understanding and explaining elements of recognising achievement but the proving element was more problematic. While some staff felt it was a lower priority perhaps because the young people involved in the particular Collaborative Enquiry Projects were not of an age and stage where getting evidence of achievement was particularly important, a more serious concern was that proving raised issues about the strength of evidence, how it would be assessed and validated and how the formal processes of certification would impact on the young person's experience:
' Has to be monitored by staff in some way otherwise you would question its integrity - not that I'm saying we don't trust young people, but trying to build it in as part of their learning experience. But when young people use this information to apply for jobs, college, university, this leads to questions about ensuring it is robust and that they can accept the information on it. People obviously want to ensure they can rely on it. Unfortunately it's the popular press response - if it's not moderated by anyone they'll say it's not got any value - unfair, but needs to be considered' - (Local authority representative)
' Recognition has to start from the viewpoint of trusting and believing what young people say, not validating the record of achievement.' (Local authority representative)
' Some people are very opposed to the SQA getting involved because it would make a move towards a certificate inevitable… would take away from the child and move achievement to attainment, it would have to be done very carefully. But if it was a national certificate and had the SQA stamp as well, in some circles it would be seen as having more credibility.' (Local authority representative)
5.36 It is probably no coincidence that it is local authority representatives who were most concerned about this issue as a number of local authorities have been considering the possibility of issuing their own record of achievement for school leavers.
5.37 There were also concerns that focusing on an end-product which provides proof of achievement would lead to the same problems as those which caused the National Record of Achievement ( NRA) to fall into disuse:
' There's a big danger of this disappearing like the NRA if they kill the experience/achievement by over-loading with paper work, a big danger destroying what the kids are learning and losing the value of the exercise. In a lot of cases the experience itself is valuable.' (Teacher)
'The problem is, would anyone value it? I remember the NRA where they took it to employers and nobody looked at it, what was the point?' (Teacher)
5.38 In the context of these concerns we refer back to the earlier description of the personal store (para 5.45) and the way in which it differs from the NRA.
5.39 As can be seen in section 9 of this report, end-users did strongly support the process of understanding and explaining involved in recognising the achievements of young people but their views on the nature and value of a certificate of achievement as evidence of achievement (proving) were more negative.
5.40 However, for others the proving element was the main value of the whole process:
' This is what it's all about, letting leavers show all the things they've achieved, so that it's not just academic certificates, everything they do is valuable, they've got evidence they've got the four capacities and it's not just in the academic subjects, it's the full rounded young person.' (Depute Headteacher)
5.41 But it was also clear from some of the projects that proving did not have to mean a certificate, nor were employers or colleges necessarily the main focus. For young people, particularly those in need of More Choices, More Chances, having evidence to show family, friends and peers could be equally important to providing proof of achievement to employers:
' You'd tell someone about it, they'd say 'Aye, so ye did! [in a sceptical tone] and you can point to your certificate, or your tee-shirt and they'd have to believe you.' (S3 pupil)
5.42 A number of projects had considered different ways of certificating achievement, and some staff involved in the projects were involved in new developments, such as a Certificate of Achievement within religious and moral education linked to the Catholic Education Commission or SQA Employability Award or the ASDAN Cope award. There was considerable interest in using the Youth Achievement Awards ( YAA) as a vehicle for capturing achievement, particularly wider achievements in personal or community contexts:
' YAA should be one of the national vehicles for a national award for achievement because it uses what young people are already doing, is peer assessed, open to all pupils, not standardised, pupils can opt in and out with no time limit and finance is needed only at the point of submission.' (Headteacher)
' These awards [Dynamic Youth Award and Youth Achievement Award] are particularly good for those who are not sporty or don't have the lifestyle to commit to big achievements. The YAA can be interrupted if there are problems and then re-started - other awards are tied to the school year and will disrupt the timetable if they spill over to the next session… and youth workers are around in evenings and weekends and summers to keep the momentum going.' (Youth worker)
5.43 The range of possible awards that might provide evidence of achievement is very wide, but these two lengthy quotes about one award are included because they demonstrate some of the criteria that might need to be in place for achievement to be evidenced in this way.
5.44 In considering the balance or focus in respect of the three elements of recognising achievement - understanding, explaining, and proving - this is likely to be determined by the purpose behind the recognition of achievement and this will vary. Each young person will have different needs at different stages in their school career with respect to recognising achievement. Key questions to consider are ' What is the purpose of recognition? What should be recognised? Who should recognise it?' The answers are likely to differ depending on whether the questions relate to a P4, P7, S3 or S5 learner. Further questions then arise about the effectiveness of the process: ' How do we know if the learner recognises/values the achievement? And how do we know if anyone else does so? How can we ensure that understanding occurs so that the impact of recognising achievement can be maximised?'
The personal store
5.45 The idea of the personal store in the model developed and evolved in the course of the evaluation team's discussions with staff and students and with a very small number of parents in the projects. The personal store could be a physical repository but it is more likely to be an 'electronic shoebox' or portfolio (AlphaPlus Consultancy, 2007).
5.46 An essential aspect of the thinking about the electronic personal store was that it should be 'owned' by the young person. It would be accessible from home as well as school and include written reflections, scanned copies of work and certificates, photographs, art work, DVDs, music etc. It might have four different sections to it:
1. An archive section where achievements of the past are placed rather than being deleted. This possibility emerged from discussions with primary age pupils in the projects who felt that the achievements of childhood would not necessarily be something they would want to have prominent in an adolescent portfolio, but might not want to delete either. This made sense to staff and parents also. Some staff thought of the personal store as a memory box for young people, and it was clear that parents (especially mothers) were already keeping 'archives' of their children's past achievements, sometimes literally in shoeboxes.
2. A private section where the young person might wish to keep personal achievements or records. This would not be accessible by anyone else.
3. A live interactive section to which the young person gave 'read only' access to teachers, mentors, family members, significant others. This would be the most fluid and most frequently accessed section of the store into which achievements and experiences might be entered.
4. A public section where the young person could display achievements for others to see, for example, in addition to completing the 'any other information' section in an application form for a job or course, it might say ' click on this weblink to see me talking about my achievements.'
5.47 Pupil support staff or other staff with a tutor role might view the live interactive section in tutorials or PSE classes, help the pupil develop understanding of the skills and qualities demonstrated, use it as a basis for developing the pupil's capacity to explain their achievements (perhaps in PSE role play) and assess the content to see if there was sufficient evidence to get proof of achievement if the young person wished it. An example of this latter activity might be 'you're working with the public in a part-time job and you're helping out at a day-care centre. And you've had work experience in a restaurant and you look after your Gran at weekends. You could maybe get SCQF Level 4 Working with Others with all that'. To assist the learner in this way requires considerable expertise from staff and an issue we raise here and return to in the final section is the extent to which members of staff currently have the expertise and/or confidence to choose which accreditation vehicle to use depending on the strength of the evidence.
5.48 Discussions with peers could also help to aid understanding and explaining. Thus help with understanding and explaining does not have to be solely the job of the teacher but as pupils noted, is a shared responsibility, with friends, family and youth workers all involved. Among other benefits this approach reduces the workload on teachers many of whom, while endorsing the model, wondered how they would find the necessary time to engage with pupils for maximum effectiveness.
5.49 This is the most developed picture of the personal store. Most projects assumed that GLOW might be the host for any such electronic portfolio but this network is still developing and such a model did not appear to be available to CEP staff at the time of the research. Project staff and learners saw the potential of such an approach, but realised that there were a number of practical issues to be sorted out with respect to the technology; their view was that to make full and effective use of such a system would require a considerable amount of support to learners, training for staff and system development.