Pupil assessment is failing to capture key information about candidates and should be better aligned with the needs of firms, according to a senior figure at one of the country’s leading business organisations.
Gregor Scotland, head of policy at CBI Scotland, said it was felt the existing system provides “quite a limited picture” of an individual’s potential, with employers tending to use current qualifications only as a “minimum requirement” or “crude filter” in the recruitment process.
He told The Herald that the role of teachers in judging learner attainment during the Covid-19 pandemic had sparked interest in creating a “score card” to recognise and measure vital abilities such as creative thinking and team working. Mr Scotland also indicated businesses were not confident they will have access to the skills they need.
“Exam results tend to focus on one specific aspect of a person rather than the person in the round and employers, I think, would really like assessments to better reflect the kind of soft skills and abilities that young people are leaving education with,” he said. “And when I say that I mean things like problem solving, motivation, creative thinking, team working, communication – all those kinds of skills that are really important to firms but that perhaps the assessment system in its current form doesn’t quite capture.”
He added: “We do a regular education and skills survey of businesses right across the UK, not just in Scotland but it includes employers in Scotland, and they said that the most important factor when recruiting school and college leavers is character and behaviours, that’s followed by literacy and numeracy, and then work experience. The results and formal qualifications actually came last in that list.
“At the same time, the same survey found that employers most expect the need for those kinds of soft skills – that is, problem solving, motivation, creative thinking, team working, communication – to grow but they don’t have the confidence that they’re going to have the supply of those skills to fill those needs. So I think we can do more to capture those skills and I think we can also do more to embed those skills in learning throughout the course of primary education, secondary education and beyond.”
Mr Scotland’s remarks echo those of Professor Gordon Stobart, author of a major review of upper secondary school assessment that suggests replacing National 5 exams with a graduation certificate or diploma.
His report, which was published in August by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), addresses the possibility of “de-cluttering” the historical diets of exams taken in S4-S6 and considering “alternative ways to acknowledge the end of compulsory schooling”. It says a graduation certificate could include “some external components combined with school-based assessments and other contributions to the community”. The review also states that this would allow for “clearer recognition” of a young person’s progress towards becoming an effective contributor, a confident individual, a responsible citizen and a successful learner – also known as the four “capacities” at the heart of Curriculum for Excellence.
Elaborating on the potential advantages of a certificate for those aged 16, Professor Stobart’s report adds: “A fuller profile of achievement might provide richer information for users and serve leavers better at this stage, for example by identifying social contributions and attainments such as vocational, music, or Duke of Edinburgh awards. For the majority who stay on into post-compulsory education, the Higher and Advanced Higher examination results are the basis for selection to university, training and employment.”
Mr Scotland said: “I think anything like [Professor Stobart’s idea of a school graduation certificate or diploma] that would give a more rounded picture of a young person’s overall potential would be helpful for businesses because it is that overall potential that businesses are really interested in. Could we ask [teachers] to feed back on students’ soft skills as part of the assessment model so that we can try to capture some of those skills that are not done in exams? Could we even look to formalise some of the extracurricular activities that pupils do that help them build some of those soft skills?”
Fiona Robertson, Scottish Qualifications Authority chief executive, said: “The debate about what Scotland wants from its assessment and qualifications system is an important one. Qualifications provide society with a way of showing what people know, what they can do and that they are ready to take the next step in their education, training, or career development.
“Collectively, we must all take this opportunity to engage positively in what Scotland needs to support economic recovery and to ensure learners gain qualifications which provide a passport for progression and opportunity, now and in the future.”
A Government spokeswoman said: “We will be consulting widely on how assessments will look in the future. Our considerations will be informed by Professor Stobart’s paper and by listening to a wide range of views, including from young people, parents, teachers and other education professionals, as well as other important interests, including business.”