6 RECOGNITION OF ACHIEVEMENT: WHO IS IT FOR AND WHO OWNS IT?
6.1 Two of the seven principles expected to underpin the recognition of achievement are that (para 1.5 of this report):
- learners must have ownership of their achievements and what they choose to include;
- any approach must support young people at risk of disengagement and in need of more choices, more chances and must not widen the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged.
6.2 How projects interpreted and applied these two principles in practice, and how the principles related to each other within the project objectives, showed a degree of variation, and created a challenge for projects.
6.3 All projects acknowledged that pupils needed to be centrally involved in the recognition of achievement but in practice there were a number of different approaches and interpretations of this. Many agreed the principle but felt that teachers needed to drive the process. Some school staff noted that pupil ownership of a single process such as recognition of achievement was difficult to apply in a school context in which, largely, pupils do not have control and where young people's ownership is not a guiding principle (compared with, for example, youth work). Others worried what would happen if teachers were not leading the process. These staff felt responsible for pupil outcomes (quite reasonably to some extent, since they and their institution are measured in this way); and to allow young people to fail to take part in recognition of achievement could have negative effects for young people themselves.
6.4 The extent to which teachers might drive the process could relate to a stage in the process (for example, teachers perceiving a need to keep the process moving while the work was in pilot stage or thinking that younger pupils needed more support until they were mature enough to make decisions about whether to record achievement and what to put in). But it could also be because of concerns that, if it was left to pupils to volunteer to take part or to decide what to include within the process put in, then the most disadvantaged groups in the school would be likely to opt out or to end up with a poor record of achievement:
' If you're already discouraged, and you think that you've got no achievements, then you're not going to get involved , you'll think, 'It's not for me'. So you have to intervene to make sure they understand they have achieved things, and if they really haven't then to make sure they do…' (Principal Teacher Pupil Support)
6.5 It can be seen that there could be some tension between ensuring disadvantage was not compounded and pupil ownership in projects' thinking. This dilemma was most stark where the project provided additional opportunities for achievement around which the recognition process was centred.
6.6 Some projects quite specifically said that unless pupils actively chose to opt into the process and were engaged in it (and therefore took responsibility and owned it), the key elements of Understanding and Explaining (para 5.19 of this report) would be ineffective: the process would instead be something imposed on pupils. In this case the task of teachers would be to encourage but not force reluctant pupils. Such projects expressed their views quite passionately and with commitment and were able to describe practical ways in which pupils could have ownership. The quote below illustrates what lies behind such an approach:
' Pupils will always find ways of opting out, they can be physically present in a guidance interview or in a PSE class, or indeed in a class training them to put achievements on record, but they can be actually disengaged. It's much better to be honest about this, at least you can see who isn't getting involved and you've got the chance to deal with real issues. Otherwise, you're just 'ticking the boxes' to say 'Oh, we involve all our pupils!'' (Principal Teacher Pupil Support)
6.7 Some such projects also further involved young people in consultation and design of the pilot work or of any certificate.
6.8 Another approach was where a school had traditionally given high priority to pupil support and to regular individual discussions in order to know pupils well as individuals (around five contacts per year per pupil); in this situation recognition of achievement was a natural topic for discussion and fitted well into a comprehensive programme already in place:
' If you're not recognising and encouraging achievement in these [guidance and pupil support] interviews, what are you doing?' (Principal Teacher Pupil Support))
6.9 Having raised briefly some of the issues around principles, we now consider how the projects dealt with these issues beginning with the question: ' who is recognition of achievement for?' and then considering how the projects approached the matter of pupil ownership.
Who is recognition of achievement for?
6.10 When the research team asked teachers and managers in the Collaborative Enquiry Projects ' who is recognition of achievement for?' they all agreed there was value in recognising achievement and that all pupils should do it.
6.11 However when asked ' who is recognition of achievement most useful for?' or ' who should be the priority for recognition of achievement?' there were different responses not only across the projects but also among staff and others within the same project. Their responses raise a number of difficult questions about the voluntary or compulsory nature of recognising achievement, the extent to which projects should adopt a compensatory approach and where it leaves the 'ordinary pupil'.
6.12 The responses from staff and other stakeholders, fell into four categories:
1. Recognition of Achievement is for all, and should be compulsory
6.13 In this perspective, recognising achievement is seen as valuable for all pupils and viewed as linking in with personal learning plans and with the work of Pupil Support staff with whole cohorts of pupils. The school ought to value the wider achievements of all pupils and to balance the value given to academic achievements by recognising the whole young person, not just one aspect of the individual. Staff who took this view therefore thought that involvement in recording and recognising achievement should not be voluntary, although they also emphasised that it would be up to the pupils to decide on the extent of their engagement and the personal achievements that they would want to disclose.
6.14 A corollary for these staff who thought that recognising achievement should be for all pupils seemed to be that projects had a responsibility to make sure that all young people had sufficient opportunities for achievement and should provide opportunities to those in need so that outcomes for all were as equal as possible. This would enrich education for all and would have the added benefit of ensuring that all pupils were known to staff and giving a mechanism to help pupil support staff to track pupils.
6.15 Where projects were planning a school or authority level certificate of achievement for school leavers then they took a similar stance: if this is 'in the gift' of the authority or school, then fairness demands that all pupils receive a certificate. But there were issues about this, too: some certificates might, it was suggested, 'damn with faint praise' if the school didn't know the pupil or if the pupil did not want to disclose personal or other achievements to the school.
6.16 Some pupils agreed that every pupil should be involved in recognising achievement and that it should be compulsory:
' Everyone should do it in the future to help them achieve more stuff, they shouldn't be allowed not to' (S1 pupil)
2. Recognition of Achievement should be available for all, but voluntary whether pupils take part
6.17 Analysis of pupil questionnaires and responses in group discussions indicate that this is the most commonly held view by the pupils with whom we were in contact, for example:
' You need to ask children if they want to do this, and why' (S4)
' It should be up to you to decide if it's any use to you.' (S1)
6.18 It is important not to over-emphasise these responses as the majority of pupils were responding from a perspective that they had not had a real choice about whether or not they should be involved and may have been reacting accordingly. The project staff who took this view felt that in order to genuinely develop young people's understanding of their achievements and to help them explain their achievements to others it was necessary that young people were open and engaged, otherwise there would be no real ownership of the process or any certificate by young people: this, therefore, required pupils to be volunteers. Alongside this, however, went a determination to do everything possible to encourage the reluctant pupil, especially those most vulnerable, to take part.
3. Recognition of Achievement should be available for all, should be compulsory for younger pupils but voluntary for older ones
6.19 Some Collaborative Enquiry Project staff were beginning to think that the age and stage of pupils was a critical factor in deciding who should be involved and whether this should be on a voluntary basis or not. If both the reflection on achievement and the recording started from Primary 1 (or earlier), then the process would be automatic and an older pupil would be able to judge the value of continuing to reflect and record achievements, based on their own practical experience. Evidence of a record of achievement being valued by end-users might make older pupils take responsibility for continuing with recording achievement. The views of end-users on such a certificate are recorded in section 9 of this report.
4. Recognition of Achievement should be available for all but certain groups need it more
6.20 Where staff took this view the main reason was that recognising achievement could be a compensatory mechanism for those who might not gain much in the way of academic qualifications. A related issue was therefore that where pupils lacked opportunities the projects should ensure that they had sufficient experiences on which to draw. Among the groups of young people identified were:
- Those who came into the More Choices More Chances target group, the most disadvantaged group:
- Young people with Additional Support Needs. It was seen as particularly important to ensure young people in this situation had rich experiences, and to support recognition of achievement in imaginative ways:
- Young people in localities where academic achievement was normally limited and young people underachieved. This would give balance to the lack of academic success and provide a certificate or other compensatory evidence for end-users. Pupils themselves realised the potential:: ' I won't get any good exam results so I can adleist [sic] have something to show'. (S3 pupil):
- To encourage improvement of behaviour, self-esteem and well-being amongst difficult teenagers:
- To help pupils who are too quiet and shy to come out of their comfort zone:
- With certain S6 pupils at the beginning of the session, to encourage them to make effective use of the year:
- To bring into focus the 'grey' group of ordinary young people, the mass of youngsters in the middle.
6.21 It is worth spending some time considering this last category of young people - the 'ordinary' pupil. This group emerged as a priority as our research progressed. While a number of projects started out thinking about more obviously disadvantaged young people, there was a growing realisation that it could be very important for young people who were in the middle of the spread of achievement. The more they reflected on the situation of such young people, the more they came to view recognition of achievement as a key priority for the ' kids who just get missed'. This response came from teachers, managers, parents and pupils.
' It's the grey mass, like my son, that's the ones that would benefit from someone looking at what they've done and praising them…. And recognising that they have achievements, too! Too much time is spent on the ones who are difficult, but the ones that keep their heads down and their noses clean but don't shine, they're not really known, they don't surface and they often can't explain their qualities and don't value them… THAT'S where it's most important!' (Parent of S3 pupil)
' If you are REALLY trying to be inclusive, then it's the middle group that need focus, the ones that with a wee bit help could really achieve something and contribute to the school and make a better life for themselves.' (Teacher)
' It would bring the pupil alive to the school - that sounds a terrible thing to say, but in a big secondary school there's a lot of pupils you just don't know.' (Teacher)
6.22 This issue also surfaced with pupils, although it was expressed most clearly with respect to the type of pupil who generally got the chance of interesting and valued experiences and opportunities:
' You [ie the research team] should tell teachers how good people aren't getting recognised!' (S4 pupil)
' There should be more rewards for people who behave…' (S4 pupil)
' Make sure good people are recognised and bad people isn't going on trips not learning them anything…' (S4 pupil)
6.23 The pupils from whom these quotes come could be considered to be in the category of 'ordinary' pupil, part of the 'grey masses'.
Pupil ownership in the projects
6.24 Projects were asked how each had dealt with issues of pupil ownership. As noted earlier in this report, a minority of pupils in the Collaborative Enquiry Projects had been involved in development work and in deciding the format of recognition of achievement from an early stage through, for example, being consulted through pupil councils or helping to create materials which would generate discussion on achievement with parents and teachers. In some schools a small number of pupils had responsibility for elements of recognition, perhaps through managing and loading information on to the 'recognition' plasma screen or being responsible for achievement notice-boards or assemblies. One project involved pupils at a deeper level. Following an extensive consultation across stakeholders, a system of 'Pupil Choice Awards' was developed in response to pupil suggestions: all pupils were involved in nominating their peers for specific awards and pupil representatives were responsible for deciding which pupils should be given an award under each category.
6.25 Some schools were very clear that pupils should take the lead role in the overall process:
' This is all about pupils and for them, it should be theirs, not the school's' (Principal Teacher)
6.26 Others focused on concerns about the school's responsibility for the process of recording:
' We have to keep control of the process, because pupils are always losing things.' (Teacher)
' We don't get to take the folders home in case we lose them so you can't show it to your Mum' (S1 pupil)
6.27 Where a youth worker was centrally involved, issues of ownership were quite clear from the beginning:
' As a youth worker I have to make sure involvement is voluntary and that young people have ownership (it's part of the code). I really need to make sure I don't compromise this as it would affect work in the community if I was seen as part of the school and telling young people what to do…. The Youth Achievement Award involves planning, doing, reviewing and personal observations; it's peer assessed (they present the challenge, and peers sign off) and they may ask the award worker by invitation to assess… Minimal writing is necessary (the portfolio can be from the most basic to incredible)… I've designed simple cover sheets for the evidence for those who don't want to do the writing… but it is the young person's responsibility to keep everything and decide what happens.'(Youth worker)
6.28 This approach to ownership was clearly recognised by young people concerned:
' She gives you the sheets and gets you to do it yourself… you have to arrange meetings with her, have to write the letters yourself for fundraising, have to arrange meetings with the depute to get consent.' (S3 pupil)
6.29 We would note that in this situation, pupil ownership was supported not only by the roles adopted by the adults but also by the system used which required that the challenge undertaken by the pupil to demonstrate achievement and his/her reflection in the portfolio had to be controlled by the pupil.
6.30 Is pupil ownership something that teachers generally would have difficulty with? Pupils felt that some teachers could deliver the process of recognising achievement while maintaining pupil ownership while others could not; school managers recognised that it might need enthusiastic staff able to have an appropriate relationship with pupils. Another suggestion was that effective, pupil-centred recognition of achievement might require the school to have a strong commitment to knowing pupils well to ensure that reflection could be centred on the pupil and that the pupil would be willing to talk openly about achievements and challenges. One secondary school which had focused much of its work on new entrants to the school felt that recognition of achievement necessarily built on the growing relationship with S1:
' By the end of the first week we will know all S1 by name and have the pupil tracking system up and running… it's important that in a new big world, they are called by name.' (Depute Headteacher)
6.31 Finally, involving pupils more centrally had a pragmatic as well as a philosophical purpose:
' Things get done much more quickly if pupils lead them rather than if staff lead them!' (Depute Headteacher)
Ownership of the process of recognition
6.32 We now consider the experiences of the projects with respect to pupil ownership in relation to the different elements of the process (Understanding, Explaining and Proving, para 5.19 of this report) and to the task of recording achievement. The principle of ownership was more or less problematic depending on the element of the process of recognising achievement as we now consider.
Ownership of the Understanding and Explaining elements
6.33 Since the purpose of recognising achievement is to increase pupils' understanding and their capacity to explain their own achievements, then it followed that letting or (more positively) requiring that they controlled and owned these elements of the process was the appropriate approach. In one school, for example, both teachers and pupils agreed who was responsible:
' Pupils and staff share entering of achievement on logs… but if I wanted to put something in and they didn't, they'd have the final decision… or the other way around' (Teacher)
' Yeah, it's ours, it belongs to us [general agreement in the group] , if they [teachers] want to put something in they've got to discuss it, it's up to us…your parents help you, too, they can help decide what should go in and they can say, 'what about that? You've forgotten you did that!'…it's easy to do because it's about you and what you've already done and you can decide about the things you do outside of school, do they go in, and it lets teachers see the other side of you, your personality, your interests. It's about you.' (S1 group)
6.34 It was not uncommon for teachers to think that pupils had more ownership of the process than did pupils. From comments made by pupils it may be that teachers, intending to be encouraging and supportive, pushed hard to make sure that achievements valued by the school were included, even if they were not valued by the young person; or conversely, dismissed those achievements suggested by the young person as irrelevant. A clearer, shared, focus on the meaning and purpose of recognition of achievement is required in such a situation.
Ownership of Recording tasks
6.35 Pupils liked the idea of a 'personal store' as a potential way of providing a greater sense of ownership (in contrast to other records kept about them by the school):
' The teachers have it, your guidance file, but you can't see it, the personal store'd be yours.' (S4 pupil)
6.36 Teachers, too, were aware that the way in which recording of achievement was set up could ensure pupil ownership:
' The electronic Progress File is very much a development of old guidance folders, and ownership is not too clear, but [e-portfolio programme] is clearly the young person's, accessible outwith school hours and independently of school.' (Principal Teacher)
' Pupils will decide what they include in the e-portfolio, whether just to include things relating to schooling or more generally. They will control it, hold passwords, decide individual content and decide what to share, and they have the responsibility to learn sufficient IT skills to use it effectively… a high level of tasks previously done by staff are now done by pupils in this school and this [ie recognising achievement] should be just the same, even more so.' (Depute Headteacher)
Ownership of the Proving element
6.37 As we noted in the section The Fundamentals 2 The Recognition of Achievement, the question of ownership and the role of school staff was more contentious in respect to the 'proving' element of recognising achievement. Members of school staff were divided on who owned any certificate, and local authority staff were particularly concerned:
' If this is a certificate endorsed by the school or the authority, surely those reading it are going to expect that the content is accurate? But that's really difficult for a school to do, especially if the achievements being recognised are truly 'wider' and outwith the school. How easy is it to trust what you are told?' (Quality Improvement Officer, local authority)
6.38 This was a view shared by a number of other local authority representatives and was a particular issue when any certificate would bear the mark of the school or the local authority on it. It was also thought to be important for the school to have a central responsibility for presenting evidence of the young person's achievements for an award to any awarding body (part of the 'proving' element).
6.39 Our research with end-users ( section 9) shows that end-users' views about the importance of a certificate and whether and how it might be authenticated are more complex and nuanced than school and local authority staff expected. As we note later, it would be helpful for schools and end-users to have a clearer understanding of each others' perspective.
Definitions of pupil ownership
6.40 Project staff described 3 main ways in which pupil ownership could be envisaged. These were not exclusive and each could be identified to some level in one or more projects either in their intentions or in their practice:
- some pupils should have responsibility for certain tasks relating to recognition of achievement in the school;
- the pupil body, or representatives of the pupil body, should have certain responsibilities or a say in decision-making or a consultation role on the recognition of achievement or a say on whose achievement is recognised;
- the individual pupil should have ownership of the process of understanding, explaining and recording his/her own achievements (ie deciding when, how often, how and what to reflect on and record).
6.41 These are quite different in scope and the question arises as to what was meant by 'ownership' in the original principles for governing recognition of achievement in the Scottish stakeholder consultations? We suggest that a reading of the various documents produced as part of the lead up to the establishment of the pilot projects and of the literature review undertaken as part of this research would indicate that the principle of pupil ownership should be defined in terms of the final bullet point above ie the individual pupil should have ownership of the process of understanding, explaining and recording his/her own achievements. We return to the issue of what is meant by 'ownership' in the final section of the report.
6.42 As can be seen from the sections above the questions of 'who is recognition of achievement for' and pupil ownership raised an inter-connected series of issues for projects. We suggest that in any development of recognition of achievement systems and processes, these issues need to be considered further and that this should happen not just at the level of the implementing schools and their stakeholders, but also at the level of policy.