This is part one of an article on developing an education performance framework for the 21st century.

Firstly, a quick reminder that what I write here on my blog, does not always reflect the policy or current aspirations of Government. Simply put, they are my own personal ideas, based on my experience and expertise in such things. Secondly, my thoughts do not explicitly recommend indicators which could be used to measure success, but rather my high level expectations which I believe must be applied to the education system. Although widely based on education in Scotland and ergo inherent to Curriculum for Excellence, the principles could be applied in any other setting, in most countries undergoing some degree of transformational curriculum change.

The purpose of this article (presented in 2 parts), is to stimulate thinking and generate discussion; specifically related to testing and measuring education through a transparent, robust and effective performance framework which measures the impact and value of education on young people.

Current priorities are centred around the continuing implementation of education reform; modernising national qualifications and assessment, including greater recognition of wider achievement; developing a teaching profession which is modern, adaptive and driven to excellence; improving leadership, transformational and strategic, both within schools and across lifelong learning; breaking the link between poverty and low achievement and attainment; enhancing services for vulnerable young people such as those who are looked after or have Additional Support Needs; raising attainment – specifically in literacy and numeracy but also across other areas of knowledge and skill; and producing better outcomes for those children and young people who require partnership intervention to improve their life chances.

We don’t need to scrap everything and start from scratch. Schools – and the wider lifelong learning system – are already familiar with the process of self-evaluation and quality improvement. Demonstrating effectiveness and identifying areas for development is a practice which must continue and there are already firm foundations which can be built upon.

Broadly speaking, I define an ‘education’ performance framework as two separate, but harmonious elements:

  • The ability to test, analyse and measure the learning system: adaptability, responsiveness and effectiveness to meet the changing needs of children and young people. This must be embedded in the culture, structure and processes of learning and teaching whilst supporting individuals through a modern approach to integrated services, incorporating education, social work and health etc.
  • Robust monitoring of both the individual and collective progress of children and young people and their achievements: measuring progress throughout the learner’s journey and recognising their outcomes upon leaving school, an episode of learning and when reaching the end of the statutory curriculum (or later for those who remain in school post-16).

Education is being increasingly framed in lifelong learning terms, from pre-birth and prior to the early years of nursery and primary school, through to the later stages of adult learning. A high priority has been placed on providing children and young people (hereafter young people) with the skills for learning, life and work; whether through compulsory education, post-school study or non-formal learning opportunities. Focus must be steered towards the quality of learning and teaching and ergo the experiences of young people as they make their way through their journey. By applying better service synergy and improving the parity of agency portfolios – roles and responsibilities – young people will develop as successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.

Indeed, I have written about this before in some depth and you can read more here.

This perspective implies a different conception of the data and information needed for policy development and monitoring by:

  • focussing on the whole age cohort to capture the full variety of learning experiences at two key stages within the learner’s journey (perhaps a minimum requirement);
  • accumulate data on achievement and other measures of attainment, rather than just the highest level attained; and
  • where feasible, measure non-formal learning activities as well as formal education; this might include participation in a range of activities outwith school which contribute to the holistic education experience.

Here is the Scottish context: The OECD recognised the need for Careers Scotland (or Skills Development Scotland) to investigate approaches to providing schools, local authorities and colleges with comprehensive point-in-time data on school leaver destinations. Developing the capacity, through 16+ Learning Choices, to track learning pathways and transitions into and through the Senior Phase curriculum will become increasingly important in the years to come, and this is underpinned in my Policy and Practice Framework. Not only does this allow schools and local partners to plan and deliver a more cohesive and relevant curriculum which meets the needs of young people, it also produces robust and timely data for national analysis and statistics. An education system which is flexible, responsive and adaptable, especially during economic recovery is desirable and we must be able to test this, challenge it and support continuous improvement across all of its components. Equally, partnerships with other learning providers and agencies which offer young people support to sustain learning is common across the international landscape and is not unique to Scotland.

In part 2, I will explore this concept in more detail and focus on some of the key principles required to create an effective performance framework. I’ll complete this series by drawing together conclusions to support the principles outlined within and tidy it all up with a nice, rounded explanation of what needs to happen next.

Posted by Lee Dunn

Academic Staff University of Glasgow and Author of Science Fiction