Education and Lifelong Learning
National Evaluation of the Recognising Achievement
Collaborative Enquiry Projects
Cathy Howieson, Sheila Semple and Angela Jackson
For at least 30 years, initiatives in Scotland and the UK have sought to encourage and recognise learning beyond the
outcomes of the formal curriculum. This is now being taken forward through Curriculum for Excellence. In 2008 the Scottish
Government initiated pilot projects to investigate different approaches to recognising young people’s achievements beyond
their formal qualifications, and commissioned a national evaluation of this work, conducted by the Centre for Educational
Sociology. This Research Findings outlines the main findings of the evaluation and the issues raised by the experiences of
the pilot projects.
■ There was strong support from all local authority and school staff, pupils, parents, other stakeholders and end-users, for the
policy initiative to recognise pupils’ achievements. All could see the importance of creating a more rounded picture of the
■ Staff, pupils and parents identified a number of benefits for learners who had taken part in the projects including increased
confidence and self-knowledge and the development of core skills.
■ Approaches to recognising achievement should be flexible and based on existing strengths and needs of schools in their
locality and on a shared understanding across pupils, school staff and other stakeholders of the concepts and practice of
■ Such flexibility needs clarity at national level on the principles underpinning the recognition of achievement. In particular, there
is a tension in practice between the need to ensure pupil ownership of the process of recognising achievement and issues of
■ Schools need to draw on and work with the wider community and with ‘significant others’ in the young person’s life, both to
make the process of recognising achievement manageable and to ensure inclusion of the full range of young people’s
■ A model of the three elements of recognising achievement (understanding, explaining, proving, set against a background of
opportunities to achieve) was found useful. The learner’s process of reflection leading to understanding of achievements, then
preparing for explaining achievements to others was fundamental; the proving element was less important, including to end-
■ There was little support for a formal national or local certificate of achievement: there were concerns that any approach
requiring standardised assessment might drive the whole process to the detriment of the learning and personal development
of young people.
■ Both those involved in the pilot projects and the end-users were positive about the idea of an electronic portfolio or store of
the achievement record. Some central policy and resource support was perceived as necessary. The research with end-users
identified the potential for an e-portfolio to be used post-school.
■ 10 college staff across sport and health, social care;
Background engineering and hairdressing;
For at least 30 years, initiatives in Scotland and the UK have
■ senior admissions staff in 7 Scottish Universities and 1
sought to encourage and recognise learning beyond the
member of staff from Skills Development Scotland (SDS)
outcomes of the formal curriculum. It was a theme of other
involved in UCAS Clearing;
policies such as Assessment is for Learning, Determined to
Succeed and More Choices, More Chances. It is now being ■ 8 members of SDS staff (Careers) and two Jobcentre Plus
taken forward through Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) and, staff.
as such, is relevant to learners at all ages and stages from
3-18. Different approaches
In 2008, following a series of stakeholder events across The Collaborative Enquiry Projects (CEPs) differed
Scotland on recognition of achievement, the Scottish considerably including in:
Government (SG), in partnership with 12 local authorities, ■ the emphasis given to providing additional experiences for
established Collaborative Enquiry Projects (CEPs) to pupils vs using pupils’ existing activities;
investigate and pilot different approaches to recognising
achievement. The Centre for Educational Sociology (CES) at ■ the extent to which they focused on developing a
the University of Edinburgh was commissioned by SG to record/end certificate compared with concentrating on
carry out the national evaluation of the projects. The aim of the process of recognition;
the evaluation was to investigate and report on the ■ using only pupils’ achievements in school compared with
experience of the projects to inform the SG and the including achievements in their personal social and
development of guidance on the recognition of achievement community life;
to be published in 2010.
■ the extent to which they used electronic or audio/visual
The evaluation involved: facilities;
1. A literature review and model building ■ whether formal recognition of experiences was being
(reported in a separate Research Findings sought;
■ the age/stage of pupils (P3 to S6);
■ whether whole year groups or smaller groups (either
2. Mapping of projects via review of documentation and
volunteer or selected on certain criteria) took part.
interviews (16) with project managers in local authorities
3. Main fieldwork in the projects: Support for recognition of
■ 34 groups totalling 179 pupils P3-S6 of whom 151 filled achievement
in questionnaires; interviews with 4 pupils;
There was strong support from all local authority and school
■ interviews and group work with school staff (63
staff, pupils, parents, other stakeholders and end-users for
interviewed and 65 in groups);
the policy initiative to recognise pupils’ achievements. It was
■ a further 16 interviews with LA managers; thought that this would provide a more rounded picture of
■ parents: 2 interviews; 24 questionnaires; 1 parents’ event; young people’s achievements, help them to develop their
■ stakeholder interviews: 2 College staff; 3 Training understanding of their own achievements and their ability to
Providers; 2 Youth Workers; 4 Mentors; 4 Employers; 2 articulate them, and help them to understand the
Career Advisers; transferability of their skills to new contexts. All of this could
bring important personal benefits such as improved
■ review of further project documentation.
confidence, self-esteem and a commitment to their ongoing
4. Fieldwork with end-users. Towards the end of the national learning and development.
evaluation, the research team was asked to carry out
In the pilot projects, staff, pupils and parents identified a
additional research with potential end-users on the
number of benefits for learners who had taken part including
process of recognising achievement and any tangible
increased confidence, self-esteem and self-knowledge and
record that might be produced. 37 interviews were
the development of a range of core skills such as
carried out with 48 individuals:
communication, team working and
■ 7 employers in a number of sectors; planning, all of which sometimes crossed over into other
■ 13 Training Providers offering Life Skills; Get Ready for school work as well to social situations. Some pupils felt that
Work; Skillseekers; and Modern Apprenticeships they now had a greater commitment to learning. School staff
programmes over a broad range of sectors; pointed to a positive impact on their relationships with pupils.
needs of schools in their locality. If a flexible system is to be
Approaching recognition the way forward, this means that clarity at national level is
A lesson from the pilot projects is that it takes time to needed on the principles underpinning the recognition of
develop approaches to recognising achievement. It is crucial achievement.
to work through basic issues such as concepts of A conceptual and practical model of recognising
achievement and recognition, what counts as an achievement was produced as part of the research and
achievement, and the focus of the work in order to arrive at trialled with stakeholders in the CEPs and with end-users.
a shared understanding across pupils, school staff and other This seems to provide a way forward towards a common
stakeholders. understanding of purpose and process that would allow for a
Responses from pupils, staff and stakeholders show the range of approaches and accommodate local needs.
complexity of the task of defining ‘achievement’: there was
no single definition of achievement in practice although there Understanding
might be a single written definition in existence. Definitions achievement
varied depending on which pupil or groups of pupils were
All the projects had taken steps (ranging on a scale from Personal
formal to informal) to recognise the achievements of their
pupils. Fundamental to all approaches, however, was helping
learners go through a process of reflection leading to an
understanding of the achievement rather than recognition in
itself. This task of reflection was difficult for all learners, not
only the less academic or engaged. Pupils were more likely
than staff to recognise the potential importance of friends Everyone could relate to the three key elements by which
and family in identifying and acknowledging their achievement can be recognised: understanding, explaining
achievements. and proving against a background context of ‘opportunities
Projects took different approaches to recording for achievement’. The model centres on a personal portfolio
achievement. The projects noted challenges relating to how or store, owned by learners, in which they store different
best to engage learners in the processes of reflection and types of materials, chosen by them, relating to activities of
recording and how these should be organised eg frequency all kinds and from which they can draw for different
and timing. It became apparent that individual discussion purposes, from personal reflection to college/job
needed to be part of the process – a time intensive activity. applications. It also fits well with other developments on the
national scene. It appears to offer a policy framework for
The wider context development of recognition of achievement.
The experience of the projects suggests that schools need
to draw on and work with the wider community both to make Certificates of Achievement
the process manageable and to ensure inclusion of the full The third element of the model - proving - raised concerns
range of young people’s achievements. Pupils’ activities and among staff in some CEPs and some end-users. While formal
achievements outwith the school need to be captured; this Certificates of Achievement were being trialled in a number
can be a particular challenge if they occur in the individual’s of projects at authority and school level there was concern
personal or family context rather than in the more formal about whether the strength of evidence needed and the
structure of youth work or a community based award. associated assessment might drive the whole process to the
Equally, teachers were inclined to take full responsibility for detriment of the learning and personal development of young
the process of recognising achievement although most people. This concern echoes the findings of the Literature
pupils would welcome support from others eg peers, Review about the possible detrimental impact of assessment
buddies, girl/boyfriends, and parents. Youth workers are and quality assurance procedures to accredit achievement.
another resource for schools (and were central to the work There was little support in the CEPs for the creation of a
of one of the projects). Schools could share responsibility for Scottish Certificate of Achievement which, it was thought,
the process of recognising achievement more broadly. would be likely to require standardised assessment.
The end-users consulted as part of the research showed little
A flexible framework appetite for a formal certificate of achievement, national or
The unanimous view of the CEPs was that there should not local. Rather they focused on the value of recognition of
be a single method of how recognising achievement should achievement as a way to enable young people to understand,
operate in practice. The CEPs had each developed their own explain and market their skills and achievements in a
particular approach building on the existing strengths and selection setting. While they appreciated a record of
applicants’ wider interests and skills/personality, they were ■ if young people have the right to ‘opt out’ does this ensure
unlikely to give weight to it as a formal confirmation of a pupil ownership? What about the principle of not ‘widening
young person’s abilities and skills. the gap’ if disadvantaged pupils opt out?
■ pupils, staff and some end-users raised the question of
E-portfolios equity if priority is given to disadvantaged pupils – what
Pupils and staff in CEPs and end-users were positive about about the ‘ordinary’ pupil, often overlooked, who would
the concept of an electronic portfolio or store of the also benefit?
achievement record from which the young person and others
These issues need further consideration at a national level
might draw for different purposes. School staff thought that
and in national guidelines.
local flexibility to develop an e-portfolio within a national host
(eg the Glow intranet) was ideal. Some central policy and
resource support was perceived as necessary. Development needs
The research with end-users identified the potential for an e- The process of recognising pupils’ achievement demands
portfolio to be used post-school in education, training and new or enhanced skills on the part of pupils, teachers and
employment. other staff such as careers advisers and youth workers. The
success of the policy requires these development and
Who is it for and who owns it? support needs to be addressed. While this will require
resources, such provision should also contribute more
One of the principles set out for recognising achievement is
generally to Curriculum for Excellence.
that any approach must support potentially disengaged
pupils, those in need of more choices, more chances and not
widen the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged.
A second key principle is that the learner should own the Initially the term used in policy was ‘wider achievement’, the
process. How the CEPs interpreted these principles in word ‘wider’ was later removed to develop a more inclusive
practice varied and raised challenging issues for them: concept which would include ‘attainment’ within
‘achievements’ to avoid the risk that ‘wider achievements’
■ is recognition of achievement really for all pupils or
would be afforded a lower status. However there were some
primarily a compensatory activity for those unlikely to
signs that this change was confusing; the result might be to
achieve academic qualifications?
limit recognition of achievements to those within the ambit of
■ is it for everyone but schools provide compensatory the school. Certainly end-users did not use or relate to the
experiences to the less advantaged to ‘level the playing term ‘achievement’ on its own.
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RR Donnelley B63647 02-2010