The future of qualifications and assessment: bridges and ladders, not rigid tracks

The future of qualifications and assessment: bridges and ladders, not rigid tracks

The impact of COVID-19 on exams in the UK and around the globe has sharpened the debate about the role of qualifications and assessment in our education systems. This debate has seen a growing number of thought-provoking ideas (for example, radical changes to the GCSE)...

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The impact of COVID-19 on exams in the UK and around the globe has sharpened the debate about the role of qualifications and assessment in our education systems.

This debate has seen a growing number of thought-provoking ideas (for example, radical changes to the GCSE) about how to improve the system we have in place. Many of these ideas reflect the views of experts and opinion-leaders, but of the voices of parents, employers, teachers, and learners themselves have been largely absent.

Considering this, we launched a Future of Assessments & Qualifications consultation in February 2021 to hear the views of thousands of teachers, lecturers, students, parents and employers. We also sought the views of MPs and a panel of education experts.

Pearson plays a significant role in the education system in England, so we felt it right that we support the debate by soliciting and synthesising a broad range of views with a focus on what is in the interests of learners. We have now have published our interim report.

Findings from the interim report

What we discovered was in some ways surprising in view of the critiques we often read, but also encouraging. Most people see our education system as an improving platform to be modified and enhanced, not as something to be dismantled and rebuilt.

We synthesised the findings under four guiding principles to reflect what most people are asking of the education system and to inform the next research phase of this project. These are:

  1. Empowering: an education is a preparation for life and work and should inspire a lifelong love of learning achieved through the acquisition of a core of knowledge plus broader, deeper knowledge including problem-solving, creativity, resilience, leadership and respect for others.
  2. Coherent: curriculum, qualifications, assessment and teaching should work together in harmony. Furthermore, the 14-19 phase itself should be coherent with later pathways through higher education and apprenticeships.
  3. Adaptable: the 14-19 phase should offer flexibility and choice of academic, applied and technical pathways in an inclusive system more akin to bridges and ladders than rigid tracks.
  4. Innovative: the delivery of assessment and teaching within the 14-19 phase should unleash the power of technology to improve adaptability, inclusion, empowerment and coherence.

Next steps and further research

The second phase of this research will test these principles by exploring two research questions:

What outcomes should the post-14 curriculum deliver for young people?

We will consider: What choices should be offered at each stage?  How do we ensure that curriculum pathways are defined by objective outcomes data rather than perceptions and bias? How are employer voices best expressed? How do we ensure equity and inclusion? What are the implications for existing qualifications?

How should assessment best serve learning, and support these outcomes?

We will consider: What role can technology play? How do we ensure validity and reliability of assessments? How can we better define what knowledge and skill matters and therefore what should be assessed? The purposes and behavioural consequences of assessment.

The research will begin in summer 2021 and we expect to publish our final report by the end of 2021.

This is a big project and we do not have all the answers even after listening to thousands of educators, employers, parents, and learners. Indeed, wise people have pointed out that no system or curriculum will completely satisfy such a wide range of public opinion. But our synthesis does provide very clear pointers as we embark on the second phase of research on which we will report by the end of the year. While this interim report doesn’t suggest immediate revolutionary change, it lays the groundwork vital to any change in the future. I am thankful for the contributions of our expert panel of esteemed voices to help guide the project and to test and challenge us.

Finally, as we simplify our education narrative, we might keep in mind the following from Albert Einstein: Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.

 

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