Annual E-Forum 2010: The Role of Assessment in Promoting the Development of Student’s Competencies

22 November Week 1 – Reflective Paper on Assessment in Scotland

The following article is taken from my paper on Assessment which was recently submitted to the International Bureau of Education Community of Practice. This is the first of three papers which span this year’s theme as described above. It is available as a .pdf; if you want a copy please get in touch with your email address and I’ll forward it to you as soon as possible.

Discussion Paper – Theme

What are the current issues and visions relating to the improvement of assessment formats in your region, as seen from the perspectives of teachers, researchers and other educational stakeholders?

Rationale – The Scottish Context

Across Scotland, learning providers including schools, colleges, universities and third sector organisations have started to implement Curriculum for Excellence. The ambition is to help all our children and young people to become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors. These are the four capacities which sit at the heart of education in Scotland, with particular focus on numeracy, literacy and health and wellbeing.

Scotland is building upon the strength of effective approaches to assessment within the formal context of attainment and under the wider auspices of achievement. The vision aims to ensure that existing good practice is shared, reflected upon and implemented  in  order  to

raise standards of achievement for all children and young people, regardless of ability or the  young person’s learning setting. It also takes account of best practice elsewhere and the findings of international research such as those in the Analysis and Review of Innovations in Assessment (ARIA). 

In Scotland, it is recognised that learning (both formal and informal) can take place through school, further and higher education, National Training Programmes, Employment, Personal Social Development (informal learning) and Volunteering. 

An inclusive curriculum accommodates the needs of all learners and through the planning and delivery of a broad general education (3 to 15) and effective transition into a positive and sustained destination within the Senior Phase curriculum (broadly 15 to 18) it is possible to promote assessment which permits cultural and social inclusion whilst providing a rich and diverse experience based on a range of skills for learning, life and work. 

Ergo, in the Scottish context, the purposes of assessment can be defined to: 

  • support learning that develops the knowledge and understanding, skills, attributes and capabilities which contribute to the four capacities as previously described; 
  • give assurance to parents, learners and others, that children and young people are progressing in their learning and developing in line with expectations; 
  • provide a summary of what learners have achieved, including through qualifications and awards; 
  • contribute to planning the next stages of learning and to help learners progress to further education, higher education and employment; 
  • inform future improvements in learning and teaching.

Culture, Structure and Process 

Teachers and the wider school community have implicit theories and assumptions on what counts as ‘good assessment’. These mental models have developed their own history as current educators relate to their personal experiences as students, making the ideas natural and resistant to change. 

In Scotland, encouragement in innovation and curriculum design requires transformational change to the whole education system in terms of the culture and ethos within schools, the structure that supports the system and the processes and practice which drive learning and teaching. If society does not understand a new policy, even well intentioned change cannot be sustained. There is evidence in Scotland that key stakeholders have invested massive resources into the new assessment framework which underpins the new curriculum and this can be seen in the new Framework for Assessment, as part of the Building the Curriculum series. 

Through the planning and delivery of a personalised learning pathway, children and young people are recognised as individuals and as such they must be provided with the opportunity to realise their potential whilst accessing high quality teaching, information, advice and guidance. This means that the majority of young people, following a more academic route into further or higher education, will still study formal National Qualifications. It is vital that the system recognises that not all young people are able to pass formal examinations within this context and that the culture, structure and process allows those whom choose to follow a more vocational based pathway are given the opportunity to do so.

16+ Learning Choices is the Scottish Government’s policy to support all young people into positive and sustained destinations. This is a tailored programme of support which places emphasis on recognising the student as an individual and not part of a cohort and assessment of competence, risk and support is essential in this context. Every young person in Scotland aged between 15 and 18 (broadly) is entitled to this support.

Barriers and Attitudes

There is sufficient evidence that there is a consistent and joined up approach to learning, teaching and assessment. Habitual practices which exist within schools and the teaching profession in Scotland can be challenging and present significant barriers to progress. It is only natural that teachers have different levels of knowledge and expertise in planning and carrying out assessment practices that could enable them to implement more inclusive approaches when assessing the competency of their students.

As Curriculum for Excellence is implemented, there is likely to be some discrepancy in the way in which informal classroom assessment is carried out, whereas the more formal assessment through national examinations and portfolios of coursework will be more reliable, as this is verified and quality assured by The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). Using formative assessment to provide deep learning and achieve competencies has questioned previous teaching pedagogy and indeed, the role of the teacher is now changing, from subject specialisms, which will remain, to broader interdisciplinary teaching based on a broad general education; Experiences and Outcomes.

Inclusive education is promoted by all major stakeholders in education; The Scottish Government, Learning and Teaching Scotland, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education, Scotland’s Colleges and the teaching unions all share a common vision. Our Universities and Higher Education institutes provide invaluable research on equality and inclusion which encompass this shared vision and this is built into teacher training, the standards for registration set out by The General Teaching Council for Scotland.

Through Assessment Is For Learning (AiFL) teachers have been provided with a multitude of assessment resources which allow both formative and summative reflection on the progress of individuals.

Through training models, student teachers have paid particular attention to the different types of assessment, the strategies they are built upon and how to maintain records – monitoring and tracking being a recognised essential component in developing student competencies. The largest proportion of training takes place during University based lectures and workshops, though student teachers are given the opportunity to practice their skills and pedagogy through direct engagement with young people whilst on a school placement.

With an arsenal of strategies to deploy, it is important that teachers know when it is appropriate to use a particular method and when it is not. It is therefore relevant to mention that part of this training, which is on-going even for the most experienced teachers through a series of in-service days and continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities, to hone these skills by translating research into effective practices, assess the progress of all students through the curriculum; including how to assess learners whose attainment is lower than average; use assessment as a planning tool for the class as a whole, as well as drawing up individual plans and targets for pupils. It is expected that teachers in Scotland spend an additional 35 hours of CPD activity, though this does not necessarily need to be based upon assessment.

There is evidence, supported by reports on school inspection by HMIe, to suggest that most schools have short life working groups or committees’ set-up to address assessment, usually under the auspices raising achievement and attainment.

All of the following strategies and record keeping practices for competency based-  assessment are amongst the toolkit of all teachers in Scotland, underpinned by a desire to promote the four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence. Where subject specialism’s differ, the type of project work and evidence gathered could diverse significantly. The list is not exhaustive by any means and as creativity is encouraged, teachers are developing new innovative methods of collating assessment evidence. 

Glow, the schools digital network, provides opportunities for online assessment of homework and coursework. In Scotland, though significant resources have been applied to Glow, it still only scratches the tip of the ice-burg in this context. There is potential here, to develop a world class leading system of digital learning. 

Type of Assessment

Strategy Record Keeping


Group work, problem solving, learning centres, excursions, incursions, developmental play, learning stories Anecdotal notes, skills checklists, marking criteria, photography, video/audio/digital recordings

Work Samples

Individual work items: concept mapping, drawings, activity sheets, writing tasks, reflections, visual representations, surveys, position papers Portfolios (digital and hard copy), student profiles, scrap books, files


Dramatic enactments, debates, interviews, operas, raps, poetry, songs, dance, panel discussions Marking criteria, rubrics, peer and self assessment, descriptive feedback – oral and written


Models, murals, collages, written projects, community projects, presentations, design briefs, powerpoints

Marking criteria, ruberics, peer and self assessment, descriptive feedback – oral and written.

 Moss & Godinho (2005) 

The UNESCO-IBE discussion paper recognises that internationally, contextual assessment is under-developed. There is a historic culture in Scotland that when a young person struggles to attain their potential, that they themselves are to blame. This attitude, which is not unique to Scotland, has started to change in recognition that to be inclusive, the education system is responsible for allowing young people to grow and develop. New partnerships with internal and external agencies are now driving forward progress; new ways of working with a range of professionals in Health, The Police, Psychological Services and Social Workers are now accepted as normal practice by teachers, parents, carers and indeed children and young people.

Common, single assessment is now the approach which promotes the young person at the centre of any planning and delivery within the education service. Through various strategies such as Cooperative Learning and collaborative assessment; teamwork, leadership, communication, organisation and high level skills in preparing for learning, life and work are all core components of a rich and diverse curriculum. This requires, from the onset in teaching training, a sound understanding of the purpose of assessment and the role that it plays on developing competencies. Teachers must now be the facilitator and the evaluator and they need to understand where one role starts and the other stops.

There is a desirable need for schools to change their practices if they are to become 21st century learning providers. Policymakers and staff delivering frontline services need to realise that it is acceptable to promote alternative assessment practices if they are to inform the progress of an individual or a cohort. The new National Qualifications will employ a systemic and robust quality assurance process which sees the required assessment being consistent and orderly across Scotland and this will soon be made public in detail from The Scottish Qualifications Authority.


Posted by Lee Dunn

Academic Staff University of Glasgow and Author of Science Fiction


  1. Good piece of details that you’ve obtained on this web site submit. Hope I might get some a lot more of the stuff in your website. I will occur again.

  2. There are so many lessons we can consider. The suggestions are always important root ofinformations

  3. […] A special thanks to Jayne Brady, a colleague from UNESCO-IBE based in Geneva (and Aberdeen) for this contribution, recently uploaded to the CoP Curriculum Development eForum. It provides a really useful outline of curriculum change in Scotland, and I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me sharing it with you! It sits nicely beside my recent paper on Assessment in Scotland. […]

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