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I did promise a follow up to my first post upon hearing the news that SQA and Education Scotland were to be re-engineered. Having taken part in some of the initial consultations. It was good to hear that the reform will be phased and planned. But I am no clearer on where the destination will be. I am not sure publication of OECD senior phase report this week makes the destination any clearer.
There will be the same impasse around both what the content is in any national qualifications and how it should be assessed. I'll leave that to the end.
I am going to jump to other side of challenge. There are some parts of the Scottish system that need fixed and these suggested changes would support any future system.
If we stay fixed on the contentious parts of the challenge, as I covered in my last post the real and present danger that by making the reforms all about schools then lots of other useful parts of the system could be lost and we may not make the headway required.So here is a list of things that simply need fixed for any system to operate more effectively for all.
- Data : As a system, the Scottish system small as it is , is very poor at capturing and sharing data on what is actually happening across the learning system. To future proof the system we need to acknowledge that everything is now data and we need to set up a new awarding system that is more effective at providing learners , teachers , centres, employers and the broader community access to reliable information.
- It should start by making everything digital by default. Start by designing a system that is future proof.
- This could be as simple as making proper use of the Scottish Candidate Number (SCN), it has been used for decades but it is not used across education and/or consistently by Higher Education Institutions. If you really wish to track attainment gaps being closed and the impact of FE, HE and work based learning this needs to be addressed. It is there already don't invent something new, just ensure no one gets any public money unless they use it to report on learners' progress.
- More ambitiously and much more productively would be to publish any outcomes or eventual curriculum in a machine readable way. Yes , other countries do this already ! . Then if a PDF document is the output you need, you can have it , but by creating data in this way, the assets can be easily reused across the system. No more collective keying of unit descriptors , experiences and outcomes etc into lots of spreadsheets and databases.
- Certification :There is a quick easy win to make all certification digital and online. SQA were almost there, but lacked political support to push this across the line. A new agency should start by making sure no learner ever needs to worry about a lost certificate again. The system should be set up to allow learner to share a secure view of their certification on any job application etc. Smoothing recruitment processes for all. It would also be cost effective way to deliver richer information to learners. This probably is about data again but needs a heading of its own.
- Subject Communities Who owns and decides what is in the assessable certifiable bits of learning in the Scottish system ?. It should be transparent and clear to all learners , parents , teachers. For teachers and learners there should be clear ways for them to suggest and shape the content of awards. There have always been subject panels - you do still need experts - but make the process more open. Qualifications could be maintained by an iterative yearly online process to keep them current. This with clear stakeholder engagement. Solves relevancy issues with computing and some sciences subjects. It needs to be clear that what arrives in a qualification is actually informed by national occupational standards when this is relevant.
- Learner Communities for learners sitting national assessments the national system should have figured out a way by now to give learners some safe secure spaces to allow learners to access to peer support. If the system is not brave enough to tackle this, it should be brave enough with caveats to highlight services like The Students Room. that have been around for years - but the system should be able to do better. We don't encourage our learners to see that there is a national education system. We should be encouraging national and international engagement.
- Courses and Assessment Direct to Learners If most learners now have laptops. The new agency should work towards having a clearer offer direct to learners. In partnership with relevant agencies Education Scotland, SDS and College Development Network and others. It can be piloted, it does not have to be a big bang. Any learner should have access to any national subject anywhere in Scotland and the opportunity to be assessed and certificated in that subject. This is something that any new agency should be able to coordinate - Colleges ,local authorities, Scholar and other partners can deliver. Perhaps precipitated by more of a focus on open learning.
- Open Learning Materials If you follow my blog you will see a lot about this. If the learning content is created by lecturer , teacher and or funded by public money whether through an institution , agency or local authority . The learning material should be made open and available under an appropriate open licence Non Commercial Share Alike to allow teachers and learners to remix and use. Simply aligned to UNESCO global standards in this area. This does not replace a teacher or trainer but gives learners and teachers access to better learning resources. Initially this does not need massive investment in any national system it simply needs positive policy messaging and support so that all actors in the system adopt the UNESCO guidelines.
- Staff Development The new agency should be seen to be lowering the administrative burden on teachers and College staff while not diminishing their responsibility to understand any national standards – There should be pilots around roll on and off secure assessment ( Solar mkt 2) The system can collectively maintain standards while lessening the assessment burden on teachers and learners.
- Validation process In Colleges and work based learning, the centres actually have to have teaching staff and resources in place to deliver new courses . This includes ensuring that staff have adequate training to deliver new courses. This may be bridge too far but in many subject areas staff do need annual development. Perhaps having some better validation processes in school sector would raise standards.
- Verification processes: it still has not really been picked up but teaching staff do feel insecure on their decision making. Make sure that there is robust internal, regional and national mechanisms to support teacher decision making. Make sure everyone knows that standards they are working to. In an interconnected world this should not be a logistical challenge. Learners need this exemplification too. Imagine you are learning in a school or centre that can't show you what an "A" looks like. In learning it is not mythical - teachers and learners should be clear about competencies and levels they are working towards.
- Digital Portfolio We should aim to give every learner a digital profile a portfolio of their learning. They build it and they can decide who and or which components of this they wish to share. This more than an online CV and could include link to their digital certification from a range of sources. There are lots of ways this could be achieved freely and within GDPR regulations.
If the reform is because the current system is no longer fit for purpose. Then I really would expect to see the end of paper based examinations - I promised not to be contentious.
I would go further and re-look at the subject silos - perhaps looking again at the experiences and outcomes and stretching these to end of formal schooling. But that is probably a bridge too far. The suggestions above will support a new landscape whether we are assessing latin , maths, english, astrophysics, languages , welding , music , digital literacies, meta-skills or tap-dancing.
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