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How Youth Awards Models Could Transform Qualifications and Assessment in Scotland

An opinion piece by James A Duffy

In March 2023, the Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment (IRQA) led by Professor Louise Hayward published its highly-anticipated Interim Report, which proposed a revision to Scotland’s Qualifications and Assessment system that aims to build on the Curriculum for Excellence and capture a wider range of student’s capabilities. 

As a long-established and respected advocate for more inclusive models of learning, the Awards Network has been honoured to play a role in this Review, and is pleased to see the Interim Report reflecting many of the strategies and values of youth awards, including recognition of the importance of non-formal learning, a commitment to empowering young people to self-evaluate and co-design their learning process and an effort to conceive of learning as a journey rather than a destination. 

As the Awards Network remarked in its recommendations to the IRQA, the qualifications and assessment system adopted should accommodate recognition of learning and achievement within or beyond the school gates, whether organised by a school or through another education provider, including the youth work sector. 

Youth awards are increasingly being utilised in youth work, school and community settings to recognise and accredit personal non-formal learning and achievement. They engage young people in a wide range of interdisciplinary and experiential learning and can provide opportunities to recognise learning and skills gained through other programme offers. Often referred to as ‘wider achievement,’ these awards seek to be inclusive of all types of achievement and clear links can be made across all four Capacities of the Curriculum for Excellence through programmes that engage young people in volunteering, campaigning, youth social action, mentoring, leadership, STEM, sustainability, fundraising, enterprise, arts and creativity and so much more. 

By moving forward with a model that embraces the full range of learning experiences, we can equip young people with ‘stories’ for prospective employers and universities that illustrate their knowledge and skills in different contexts. 

In addition to this, it is equally important that the new qualifications and assessment model establishes a co-design approach to learning, encouraging and facilitating young people to record their own personal learning achievements and recognise the transferability of the skills they have developed. 

Youth work and youth awards provide numerous examples for how this can be approached. As early as 2003, the youth work sector developed Step It Up - Charting Young People’s Progress (Ted Milburn et al), which included a web-based tool providing ‘a structure for young people to chart their progress in social and emotional development and show evidence of this.’ Building on this foundation, many Awards Network organisations have utilised an approach to tracking change over time that incorporates a Plan Do Review process, in which a personal profile developed through self-assessment is supported by reflective discussion with a youth worker or teacher. The recently combined Youth Work Outcomes and Skills Framework provides another helpful tool to identify skills that can readily transfer across the four Capacities. These and similar resources (e.g. SDS My World of Work, Careers Standard ‘I Can’ Statements), can help young people to identify their skills and competences and reflect these in a CV or personal profile.

Finally, as we move into this next phase of the qualifications and assessment review, it is important that we actively value the journey of education and not just the destination.

To be true to the Curriculum for Excellence, our focus should be on recognising personal learning achievement rather than gaining qualifications alone. Such is the case already within the youth work sector, where youth awards, badges and other certifications are used to recognise non-formal learning achievement, with internal assessment and independent moderation as appropriate.

Moving from a system where exams predominate to one that fully embraces continuous / alternative assessment will have initial resource implications. Not least of these will be the need for investment in workforce development to ensure consistency and quality as well as measures to ensure equity of opportunity for all young people. However, having confidence in the professional judgement of educators, alongside robust moderation, should enable the introduction of assessment methods which more broadly evidence skills and personal learning achievement. 

By embracing these key values and models long used by youth awards and the youth work sector, we have the potential to create a more inclusive, supportive educational environment—one that is ready to help all young people learn and thrive.

You can read the full Awards Network response to the Review of Qualifications and Assessment here

How Youth Awards Models Could Transform Qualifications and Assessment in Scotland


How Youth Awards Models Could Transform Qualifications and Assessment in Scotland

How Youth Awards Models Could Transform Qualifications and Assessment in Scotland

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