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  • Writer's pictureBen Mason

Rethinking Evidence

Updated: May 27, 2021

Education is asking itself some huge questions as a result of the Covid pandemic, and everyone is writing about it! How we assess talent has been a point of discussion for many years, with many arguing that exam grades alone are an outdated format, if not a completely inappropriate method of assessment for some students.

Only 12% of students surveyed felt that GCSEs/A-Levels/BTECs allowed them to fully showcase their skills, talents, achievements
globalbridge survey, May 2021

There is clearly a need for young people to be able to demonstrate their knowledge. Although all young people should have equal opportunity to learn and develop knowledge, there are varying opinions on whether retention of knowledge alone should be the dominant form of assessment at school. Is there an opportunity to rethink the “one size fits all” approach, for example, GCSEs? If not just to represent the diverse characteristics and academic ability of young people, there should be alternative ways to evidence talents and achievement which can be taken into consideration and be valued in their own right. In light of the challenges facing young people in the mid years of education, consideration or the addition of a skills based curriculum would provide a more appropriate framework to support the needs of all young people. The challenge of assessment can still be in place, but let’s give all young people a chance to shine and a system which motivates them to do so.

Moving beyond grades is not about making assessment any less demanding, but is about being able to make that demand more meaningful.
Amelia Peterson, LSE & London Interdisciplinary School

As Amelia Peterson explains in her article, the current system creates one-big-competition creating division between ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ qualifications. Sector or domain specific assessments demonstrating performance and achievement would create more relevant evidence for destination providers. This in turn would incentivise young people as their assessment preparation and performance would be sector specific.

The ‘skills gap’ is an eternal issue which is clearly not going away anytime soon. If the voices from industry are suggesting the skills required for success are not being produced by education, something needs to change. A world where industry can more easily identify their sector specific skills in action and where young people can demonstrate these skills, will surely increase the motivation of our young people and in turn, reduce the skills gap.

‘There has been a polarised debate about knowledge v skills when what our education system needs is a mixture of both: it’s no good just learning the names of the fish in the rivers if you aren’t also taught how to fish’.
Robert Halfon MP, Chairman, House of Commons education select committee

How do we then create evidence relevant to different industry sectors in a post Covid world when exam assessment is based on a “one size fits all” approach? In a world where skills based competencies and character traits potentially hold more value to employers, the “one size fits all approach” of talent being identified by grades alone, creates a huge gap in the process. Take for example a student who, for whatever reason does not have an academic portfolio, but has a huge personality, great social skills and the ability to communicate well. Is it the former or latter that will secure them an interview via a written application? If students were able to demonstrate this ‘additional’ skill/talent/character, you could argue that they wouldn’t just secure an interview, but would get the job. How much better prepared would students be if they were able to demonstrate their knowledge, alongside their character, skills and achievements?

Even at policy level, the weakness in the current system is identified time and again. With 20% of children incapable of achieving basic qualifications, why are those 20% required to evidence their talents in a way that clearly sets them up to fail in comparison to their peers. In her final speech as Children's Commissioner, Building Back Better, Anne Longfield identifies many of the challenges children face. A “one size fits all” assessment clearly does not reflect the needs of all young people. It especially doesn’t support those young people in the SEN (Special Educational Needs), PRU (Pupil Referral Unit), or NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) categories where mainstream assessment will only add to their list of challenges. An opportunity for young people to record and evidence their achievements and talents will help all students reflect on their strengths, not only building a portfolio, but also confidence and self-esteem as its represents them and their unique talents.

‘...nearly one in five children reaches the age of 19 without getting 5 GCSEs, a technical equivalent or an apprenticeship. That’s the basic benchmark for all children to set them on the path to successful adulthood’.
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner

It seems most agree that the UK needs to ‘rethink’ its assessment. So what does this mean for ‘rethinking evidence’ of these assessment outcomes? As Bill Lucas, co-founder of the rethinking assessment movement identifies; skills required beyond a school exam hall go far beyond how student talent is currently assessed.

‘There is a growing consensus that, to thrive in life today, young people need to develop dispositions such as creativity, critical thinking and collaboration along with high-levels of oracy, all grounded in subject discipline or a real-world context’
Bill Lucas, Co-Founder, Rethinking Assessment

It’s not even just about the outcome of the assessment. How does a young person take their knowledge, their skill and evidence it, in a way that will support their life chances? Can one demonstrate creativity in a grade or number? If my strength is oracy, how can I demonstrate that to you via a written application? We not only need to rethink assessment, we need to rethink how young people evidence the outcomes of their assessments.

Recent letters to The Times: Harnessing technology to improve education, in response to William Hague’s article, suggest education is primed and ready to embrace a technology driven post Covid world. Where better to start than giving young people something tangible and relatable to evidence their knowledge, character, skills and achievements? In his article, Bill Lucas recalls the National Record of Achievement, ‘a folder full of good intentions to give a more balanced picture of students’ strengths. It failed because the technology to make it work did not exist and because universities and employers did not want it’. The technology now exists, and if universities and employers want to reduce the skills gap, they need to start using it. I can honestly say, 100% of adults of my generation who remember the record of achievement, still have it. Admittedly for most, it’s in their attic, but like me, it helped them evidence beyond grades. How much more will today’s students benefit from a digital ‘e-portfolio’ equivalent to help ‘evidence’ talent?

88% of students believe a multimedia digital platform would help them evidence their talents more effectively on applications
globalbridge survey, April 2021

Ben Mason, Founder and CEO, globalbridge



globalbridge impact report:

Anne Longfield:

Robert Halfon:

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