Outcomes for certification and the lifecourse

Does the educational experience equip learners for adult and working life, and for an unknown future?

What outcomes do we want from education?

We certainly need people who can contribute effectively in economic terms within the labour market. We also need citizens with social and global awareness in response to growing cultural diversity and the ecological challenge. We need those who will become good parents and contribute to their communities and civil society. And then there is the need for future technologists … and the arts ... and so on, and so on.

Whilst there is relative continuity in general priorities, specific needs and circumstances do change over time. From this perspective, outcomes such as having self-confidence and a positive learning disposition relate to ‘agency’ – the intrinsic, personal capacity to adapt to circumstances throughout the lifecourse.

Examinations are the traditional way of certifying capabilities in relation to summative attainment in mainstream school subjects. However, more innovative forms of assessment, such as portfolios, may be more appropriate in representing more developmental achievements.

Curriculum

Effectiveness: are there improvements in standards, in both basic skills and other areas of curricular attainment, to satisfy society’s educational goals?

School performance is a major public issue and will always be a concern of parents, governors, local authorities, media and politicians. And the moral commitment of teachers to learners also calls for active monitoring of outcomes. Such reviews of performance provide a valuable focus for systematic reflective and collaborative enquiry.

Inspection of schools is managed in different ways in each nation of the UK, but there appears to be an increasing focus on the quality of teaching and learning itself and, of course, on pupil outcomes. Significantly, the professional judgement of inspectors has the potential to tackle issues which numeric data cannot reach. Where measures are collected, contextualised value-added analyses have not always supplanted the crude aggregations on which league tables of school performance are founded. For monitoring the performance of school systems as a whole, the most common strategy internationally is to sample performance in key subject areas, as is done in the OECD’s PISA study.

Pedagogy

Empowerment: is the pedagogic repertoire successful in enhancing wellbeing, learning disposition, capabilities and agency?

TLRP researched learning at many stages of life and found that agency and self-belief were crucial at every age and in nursery, school, college, workplace, family and home settings (see: www.tlrp.org/projects). Indeed, thefirst of TLRP’s Ten Principles states that: ‘Learning should aim to help people to develop the intellectual, personal and social resources that will enable them to participate as active citizens and workers and to flourish as individuals in a diverse and changing society’. So empowerment is the very stuff of ‘education’ in its broadest sense. But what does this mean in the classroom?

Dweck (2000) contrasted pupils with a ‘mastery’ orientation from those who develop ‘learned helplessness’ in school. The conditions and experiences of classroom life contribute to such self-beliefs. By creating opportunities for learners to take independent action and experience success, teachers support the development of self-confidence and positive learning dispositions.

Assessment

Consequence: do assessment outcomes lead towards recognised qualifications and a confident sense of personal identity?

At the end of the day, teachers need to consider whether or not they have been able to enrich the lives of the learners in their care and increased learners’ life chances.

Are they better able to acquire the qualifications they will one day need to enter the labour market? We need to be sure that new knowledge, understanding and skills are secure. In national curriculum terms, pupils may have moved through various levels of attainment – but we may also be able to detect and celebrate other achievements. It is crucial, of course, that all students acquire good basic skills before they leave school.

Have they developed more self-confidence and a stronger sense of personal identity? Education has sometimes been characterised as the process of ‘becoming’ a person, and it is certainly important to affirm the role of teachers in facilitating the emergence of confident individuals and future citizens (see TLRP’s Learning Lives project: Biesta et al, 2010).