‘Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today’ Malcolm X

Our last post reported how the challenge of supporting learners to develop and recognise a wider range of skills was a key theme of the eAssessment Question Conference in London in April. Closer to home it was also the focus of a recent ‘Working Together’ meeting led by the Senior Phase and Youth Participation Team at Stirling Council, to which SQA was very pleased to contribute.

 ‘Working Together’ is a forward-looking series of meetings organised, hosted and facilitated by the wider Schools, Learning and Education Team. Each meeting brings together Early Years Heads of Establishments and primary and secondary heads with staff from the authority’s central support team for a half day of updating, sharing practice and, above all, helping to build and sustain a consensus around what makes a high quality educational experience for the young people of Stirling.

 The strapline for the morning was the quote from Malcolm X used as the title of this post. Leading the event Chief Education Officer Kevin Kelman walked through the authority’s Schools’ Learning and Education Improvement Priorities 2019 – 20, highlighted recent successes and achievements and updated on staff appointments – all essential to building a strong sense of common purpose.

The remainder of the morning was dedicated to sharing experiences from outwith and inside the authority. Joan McKay, Head of Curriculum Innovation at Education Scotland, set delegates the challenge of defining their personal skills before posing the question of how we support young people to own and be able to articulate their skills. Ian Munro, Rector at Kelvinside Academy, followed with an outline of the ambitious work his school is doing to open an Innovation School in Glasgow in collaboration with the US-based NuVu organisation. Ian described how the purpose of the Innovation School is to help young people to develop the skills they needed to thrive in an uncertain future through learning in new ways and using new technologies.

 For our part we explained …

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The 17th Annual eAssessment Question Conference – ‘Transformation, Change and Evolution’

If, as the views of a range of authoritative bodies suggest, the relative importance of ‘21st century skills’ is set to grow in future, what are we as an educational assessment community doing to make sure we can assess and recognise them for learners?

This question was my key takeaway from last week’s eAssessment Question Conference held in London. The conference was its usual eclectic mix of delegates and presenters, all bound by a common interest in the use of technology in assessment. Potentially reflecting an upsurge in interest in exploiting these opportunities for learners the conference was the largest for a number of years. There was also a palpable vibrancy around the event.

There was, as always, something for everyone in the presentations and workshops, including an insight into the use of e-assessment in India. One company which is very active in this environment referred to a trial involving 1 million learners. For scale at least that puts our UK challenges into perspective. SQA was pleased to support our partners at City of Glasgow College in raising awareness of the UfI-funded MySkills project in which we are exploring the opportunities and challenges of digital certification.

Organisationally it was great to see Martyn Roads and Jeff Ross, instigators of the conference and organisers for all 17 years to date, recognised for their stalwart role in supporting the development of e-assessment in the UK. Ownership of the conference now passes to the eAssessment Association which, on the evidence of the conference, is going from strength to strength under the energetic leadership of Matt Wingfield. And to quote Matt ‘If you aren’t a member you really should join. It’s free….’.

To return to where we started, whilst many of the presentations focused on how we digitise what we currently assess, some asked more fundamental questions over what we should assess in future and how eassessment could help. The logic of the argument runs:

A number of authoritative bodies including the World Economic Forum and the OECD are clear about importance of ‘21st century skills’ to an individual’s ability to thrive in the 21st century.

Whilst there is a consensus that these skills are not new, there is agreement that we have not, in educational assessment at least, assessed them in a meaningful way to date.

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‘Young people are experts of their own experience’

These thought-provoking words formed part of the welcome from Young Scot’s Chief Executive Louise Macdonald to the launch of the report of Young Scot’s #SQAFutures Panel and SQA’s response in Glasgow earlier today.

Publication of the report and response was the culmination of over a year’s work by the members of the Panel under the guidance of Young Scot and its co-design framework. We reported on the Ideas Gathering event held as part of this process in an earlier post.

Following a welcome to today’s event from SQA’s Chair David Middleton and Louise Macdonald, five members of the Panel provided an overview of the report and the four thematic areas under which it is organised. These are: Essays, Continuous Assessment, Lifeskills and Inclusivity and accessibility. The report proposes a number of ‘Actions for change’ under each of these themes.

In its response to the report SQA has committed itself to action in three areas. These are:

Area One – Continuing to engage with young people on specific actions identified in the report. These include considering how we involve young people in activities such as:

– the processes and mechanisms we use to design, develop and review qualifications and assessments
– developing the information we provide to young people about our qualifications, assessments and wider services
– our thinking and work to increase the use of digital approaches to assessment to support our qualifications.

Area Two – Working with a group of young people and wider stakeholders to co-design an approach to the assessing competence in what are often called ‘life skills’. These are the skills and abilities that may not always be strongly or explicitly recognised in existing qualifications and assessments and which international bodies such as the OECD and the World Economic Forum regard as increasingly critical to an individual’s future success in the workplace or society.

Area Three – Developing an overarching commitment and approach to engaging with young people which recognises them as a key stakeholder group, treated with equal importance to other stakeholders.

This last commitment is in many respects the most significant. It make clear that our engagement with young people is not just to tick a box in this, the Year of Young People. Rather it is to recognise that as ‘experts of their own experience’ young people have a unique and distinctive contribution to make to our work. Listening to their views along with those of other stakeholders will inform, broaden and challenge our thinking about the future of assessment. It will also strengthen our organisation, products and services more generally.

Copies of Young Scot’s report and SQA’s response together with further details …

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‘The problem with history is there’s no future in it’

This was the most unexpected of the comments we collected on the post-its left by delegates who attended our Assessment Futures workshop at the recent round of annual SQA co-ordinator events. The events were run in five different venues across Scotland. Their purpose is to allow SQA to update co-ordinators on key developments and for co-ordinators to give us their feedback on what is working well and where improvement is needed. Our workshop aimed at sharing and getting feedback on the outcomes of our Assessment Futures work to date, to help inform future plans. At the end of each workshop we asked delegates to leave their parting thought on one post-it. With thanks to all those who did, this blog is based on these thoughts.

So what did we learn? A lot. More specifically we took away four main points:

On the evidence of the workshops there is real interest amongst the teaching profession in Scotland in exploring what and how we assess, and how that could and should look different over the medium to long term future. There was lively debate at each of the workshops. Our impression was that most who attended found the workshop useful. Some of the post-its provided evidence of this, noting that it ‘Generated some very useful discussion’, was ‘Very informative and interesting’ and ‘Thought provoking’. Another post-it said just ‘Intriguing’.

Focusing on the needs of learners, two delegates noted the ‘Need to change [our] thinking if children can succeed in future’ and that ‘Assessment needs to adapt to ensure that all young people have the best possible chance of success.’ At each session we asked whether we should be discussing the future of assessment. The strong consensus amongst the groups was that we should, or in the words of one delegate ‘Re-assessing assessment is an urgent priority – not an add-on’.

Caution over making changes too quickly. Whilst this may appear to contradict the urgency expressed in the point above, the sense was that we should begin the debate now and that any changes that result must be carefully considered. ‘Think it through before pushing for change’ was one delegate’s advice. Another was more direct, urging that we ‘Don’t rush in!’ The reason for this caution seemed to be captured in the aspiration that ‘We need to take the opportunities the future offers but take care not to leave anyone behind’. Combining the sense of a need for the debate now and for careful consideration before making any changes was the statement that this is ‘A discussion that needs to take place. A medium to long term strategy is essential.’

Recognition of the complexity entailed in making changes to assessment as it is to any aspect of education and training. ‘How do we remove media/politics from educational/pedagogical processes?’ asked one delegate, whilst another questioned ‘Are we as practitioners equipped to support and help drive it [change] forward?’  Another noted simply that the whole area represented ‘A huge challenge but what SQA [is] assessing and how needs to change’.

The place of technology in the future of teaching, learning and assessment featured prominently and was in itself seen as a source of complexity. This was reflected in a comment that ‘…one concern is that we generalise that we are teaching the digital generation/computer generation – however we are actually teaching the computer game generation who lack the ability to undertake basic tasks on computers/tablets – saving files etc’. Variation between and within schools and authorities in learners’ ability to access technology for teaching, learning and assessment was another recurring theme. This reflected the wider question of resourcing, captured in the post-it that read simply ‘Infrastructure’ and another which observed that ‘The future depends on the funding and resourcing that is available to schools. The answer to all of this can only be answered [sic] by politicians and the Scottish Government’. Returning to the question of the speed of change one delegate gave clear voice to the potential tension between doing it quickly and doing it well with their observation that ‘A genuinely inclusive national debate with all stakeholders is needed…..but is there time for this when change is so rapid?’

There is already a sense of some of the directions our approaches to assessment should take in future and of some key principles that should inform our thinking. One clear-thinking delegate asserted that ‘To modify our model of assessment we must first identify the skills we value.’ Others drew attention to the importance of changes in approaches to teaching, learning and assessment moving together as a ‘three-legged race’ in their comments that ‘Style of assessment must change in line with changes in learning and teaching’ and ‘Assessment of the future will need to reflect learning of the future’. Other comments suggested the need to intensify our focus on the development and assessment of skills, for assessment to be increasingly cross-subject and urged that in an increasingly technology-driven age we do not lose sight of the contribution of social sciences to developing the critical thinking and other skills that are increasingly in demand. One delegate was clear that ‘Future assessment needs to be flexible and learner driven!’ and another that a ‘Plan [is] needed to remove lengthy summative assessments sat by pupils in warm exam halls’.

So all in all some very useful …

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‘Can the soul of a man be trapped in the body of a woman and vice versa?’

This was one of the questions challenging the audience at last Friday’s TEDx Glasgow. Adam Kashmiry’s passionate exploration of how we construct our understanding of ourselves and those around us sat alongside talks on topics as diverse as new theories on the dark universe, the role anger and other emotions can play in undermining our wellbeing, development of …

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‘Risk and Reward: How do we deliver the benefits of e-assessment?’

This question was the theme of the 16th Annual e-Assessment Question conference held recently in London. SQA attended the conference as it has for a number of years to hear about latest developments in e-assessment from speakers from a wide range of backgrounds. All of this helps to inform our thinking about future directions for our own assessments. This year we were grateful for the opportunity to present together with John Winkley, Director of AlphaPlus, on the Assessment Expert Group meeting we held in London last June and reported on in our blog post of 12 July. Using the title of ‘Assessment Futures – Seeking to develop a consensus’, we explained the key themes for the future of assessment identified by the Group and invited feedback on whether others shared their views.

Whilst there are always some common themes at the conference, it also provides an opportunity to hear views on new and emerging technologies that could support assessment. This year this technology was blockchain. A very informative and thought-provoking session focused on the bold step taken by Malta which has reportedly become the first country to put educational records on the blockchain at scale. Their experience will be watched very closely for what it tells us about the potential of blockchain to underpin educational certification more widely.

The Conference also acts as the focus for the annual e-Assessment Awards organised by the UK’s eAssessment Association. SQA was delighted to sponsor the summative assessment award which was collected by the International Baccalaureate (IB) for its work on e-assessment for its Middle Years Programme. The approach taken by the IB has aimed to enhance the validity of its assessments through combining on-screen assessment in a range of subject areas with evidence gathering using an e-portfolio tool. The IB’s work provides a very useful case study for anyone involved in the development and implementation of new assessment approaches.

Closer to home, over the next couple of weeks we will be taking the findings from our Assessment Futures work to date to the series of SQA Co-ordinator Conferences which starts this Thursday in Inverness. We hope to see some of you there and look forward to hearing your views.

TEDx returns to Glasgow

On Friday 01 June TEDx Glasgow returns to the SEC in Glasgow, and for the first time, a new standalone event TEDxYouth@Glasgow will showcase the amazing talents of young people in Scotland.

If you can’t make it to Glasgow on Thursday 31 May for TEDxYouth@Glasgow, check out how to register for the live stream of the whole event here for free.

TEDx Glasgow 2017 was a major stepping stone for us last year as …

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Young Scot Ideas Gathering session

“A really good way to impact exams for future students.”

That was the view of one of the young people who formed part of Young Scot’s Assessment Futures Vision Panel and who attended the Ideas Gathering session with SQA on 28 March.

This session, was led and facilitated by the young people from across the county, and formed a key …

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‘Qualifications ecosystems need to pre-emptively disrupt from within or risk being unprepared for digital transformation.’

Since my last post we have had some great opportunities to gather further views to help inform our thinking about the future of assessment. The soundbite heading up this post was taken from ‘The Digitisation Agenda – Re-thinking the Role of Qualifications and Skills’ conference, organised by Quality and Qualifications Ireland on 24 October.

The starkness of the challenge presented in the …

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That’s the summer over…….

Well that’s the summer over (it was on a Thursday afternoon for us here Scotland this year) and we’re getting down to work on the next phase of our work on the future of assessment.

As my earlier posts reflected, we achieved a lot in June including our TEDx workshop and Assessment Expert Group meeting. Through these and a range of other activities we gathered some great feedback and views on the key factors that will influence the future of assessment. Over the past couple of months I have been busy digesting, synthesising and organising this feedback into a form that allows the team here to understand its implications for SQA. This marks the end of our Discovery Phase.

Our attention is now turning the next phase of work in which we will use the views gathered to date to help anticipate and plan for future learner needs. We plan to approach this by developing user stories which will articulate how our customers will expect to experience assessment in future. This work will involve a combination of internal workshops and further engagement with experts outside SQA who can sense check and inform our thinking.

Whilst this work is underway we will be continuing to seek views on the future of assessment in a number of ways. Just coming to …

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Assessment Expert Group meeting, Thu 29 Jun 2017 – Summary of outcomes

In my 10 July post, I reported that the Assessment Expert Group, we had set up with AlphaPlus had met. I now want to share some of the outcomes of the day with you.

The first task the group members were asked to undertake, was to deliver a 5 minute ‘elevator pitch’ focused on what they saw as the key issue, challenge or opportunity for assessment …

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