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National art and poetry initiative to commemorate the centenary of the First World War
November 28, 2015
Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 18.49.29

Never Such Innocence is a charity committed to helping children to commemorate the centenary of the First World War through poetry, art and drama. We’ve launched a national art and poetry competition – children from Years 5 – 11 are invited to submit a piece of art or a poem relating to the First World War. We have a fantastic resource pack to help to stimulate responses, packed full of information ranging from the role played by animals in the war to art and propaganda. There are great prizes and every child who enters will receive a certificate of commendation.

We’ll send two free packs on request to any school – just email us at enquiries@neversuchinnocence.com . All the details can also be found on our website, neversuchinnocence.com

Many teachers who entered their students’ work last year said it helped with literacy development and understanding of poetry!

Please get in touch. Thanks.

Mini portraits and time travel to engage our budding historians

The world of twitter was never something that I was interested in, until I completed my teacher training. Now in my NQT year I eagerly scroll through the #PedagooFriday tweets on a quest to steal new ideas and strategies from everyone else. Having posted an idea last Friday I was approached to write about it on the blog. Please forgive any ‘blogging faux pas’ I may commit as I am completely new to this too!

During my training year I had a conversation with a fellow teacher who suggested using portraits to explore pictures, so this idea really is the result of that conversation. This technique encourages students to put themselves into the pictures and let their imaginations run wild. I have used this idea recently with my year 7 groups, who have been investigating what it was like to live in a Roman town; however the idea could be adapted for almost any subject.

Initially provide each of your students with a small piece of paper, no more than a 2-3cm square. Instruct them to draw a portrait of the person they are sat next to; give them no longer than two minutes to complete this task, it does just need to be a sketch not a masterpiece. Then let the students hand the portrait to the relevant person. There will of course be lots of laughing and joking at this point as a result of their creations.


In this case the whole process hinges around the idea that each of the students has had the opportunity to time travel. I explained this idea to the students and then revealed the picture we were going to explore. In this case I used a lovely view of a Roman town. A large colour version of the picture was on the projector and each student was given a smaller copy with a number of descriptive words and key features of a Roman town, as a scaffold for their discussions. Initially I asked each of them to place their portrait into the picture and imagine they were there, in this case back in AD55. I gave them a demonstration as if I was the person in the picture and then gave them ten minutes, in pairs, to discuss the picture and describe their surroundings.

Roman town

Roman town worksheet 

To consolidate this work each of the students wrote a letter to a friend describing their time travelling experiences. Overall, the students produced some amazing letters talking about their experiences and this technique was one that all students could access. Very pleased with the results so I am looking forward to using this idea again with future topics.


November 24, 2015

On Monday (16th November) I had a Skype conversation with Marialice Curran who is one of the moderators for Digital Citizen chat (#DigCit) and the organiser of the recent Digital Citizenship Summit in the US (#DigCitSummit), which took place on 2nd October. The events aims and focus was on:

“How children and teens use social media and technology is incredibly important. The focus of the Digital Citizenship Summit is to promote positive and practical solutions towards SAFE, SAVVY and ETHICAL use.”

As our Skype discussion developed it became less a case of an initial discussion about what would be involved, and who should be included in planning a UK event… it became more of an operational conversation.

One week on and we have a venue as Larbert High School have kindly agreed to host the summit, we also have 50 educators and people from a variety of sectors with experience of social media who are keen to get involved and, hopefully, speak at the event.

We are working on some dates that fit in with Larbert High School’s calendar, and expect to have this next week at some point.

Given the momentum there is at the moment with Social Media and Digital Learning in Scotland we felt holding an event sooner rather than later would have the most impact.

As we are expecting some international speakers to attend we thought it would be good for them to be able to attend BETT (20-23rd Jan) and/or the Learning Technologies Conference (3-4th Feb), so we are looking at a date in January or February.

Obviously this is a tight timescale to work towards and it’s going to take a global village of connected educators to pull it off.

I’ve asked critical friends and members of my PLN to help out with this, and wonder if the Pedagoo community might be interested in lending a hand and getting involved in any way that their schedules might allow.

Please Tweet out to #DigCitSummitUK or @mbfxc @EdTech_Stories any and all assistance would be gratefully received.

For more details about the US event please see the links below;

DigCitSummit Description

Pedagoo Beach Walk 5 December 2015 #PedagooMeetBoMo
November 23, 2015


Earlier this term, I attended #PedagooHampshire, organised by Martyn Reah at Eggar’s School in Hants. The day was an amazing success: a wide range of sessions throughout the day, filled with teachers (and some other professions) clearly passionate about their jobs. The conversations were rich and filled the local pub long into the evening.

The day ended with an incredible speech from Vivienne Porritt (@LCLL_Director), and her message really stuck with me. Here we were, 100 or so teachers giving up our Saturday for CPD, but would it be worth it? What difference would this event make to the teaching and learning in our own settings, long term?

As a result, we were determined to keep the ‘learning conversations’ going, and so Martyn, Abigail Mann and myself discussed a follow up event. And so  #PedagooMeetBoMo was born. The plan is to rendezvous on Bournemouth seafront on Saturday 5 December. The day will consist of beach walking, hot chocolate and mulled wine, more walking, and culminate with a Christmas party at the Spyglass and Kettle pub. The main purpose is to catch up again after #PedagooHampshire, and share what has been happening since. How did the day impact our own teaching? Where are we going next?

All attendees of #PedagooHampshire are invited, as are people who didn’t actually make the first event. Come along, find out what we discussed, what we learnt, and what is happening as a result.

The day itself is very informal. No timetables and no set speakers or presentations. Just an opportunity to catch up with fellow colleagues and keep the conversations going.

Hope to see you there. Bring your thermals!


Sign up here:


Putting the ‘character’ in 140 characters: my first ScotEdChat

Last night I hosted my first #ScotEdChat on Twitter. It is the third chat so far having accidentally started the ball rolling a few weeks ago. The first chat happened on 5th November hosted by @MrsPert1, the second on 12th hosted by @athole. Next week the host will be @DrewBurrett. Having started with basically zero followers, the @ScotEdChat account has 625 followers as of this second. Not bad for three weeks worth of fun.

The theme of the chat last night was a meaty issue that I have been fascinated by for a few years now: Character, Values and Citizenship. Initially I was a bit worried about the idea of hosting a chat on a theme that I have a personal interest in – however I was reassured by various people that it would be of interest to others too and to just get on with it.

If you don’t know me, I work as a consultant for the charity Character Scotland and I recently curated a major international conference for them on the theme of ‘Character, Culture and Values’. I am now delivering a Pathway Project, which includes a call for evidence to practitioners, designed to build on the successes of this event. I have a range of other potential projects lined up in these areas for 2016 involving Character Scotland and other organisations. Hopefully you will see more developments on that front soon. Please get in touch if you want to know more: gary.walsh@character-scotland.org.uk. That’s me.

Here are the questions I proposed for last night’s ScotEdChat:


It was a steep learning curve. I felt like I imagine the wee dude on the skateboard must have felt seconds after the photo above was taken. I have never hosted an online chat before and participated in only a couple, all the while wondering how on earth the host is supposed to keep up. So there I was with all my tweets scheduled (I used Hootsuite for scheduling and Canva to produce the images), and Tweetdeck open so I could follow the thread as it happened in real time and prompt as necessary.

It was another successful (I think!) and interesting chat that raised lots of issues and questions. You can view the summary on Storify here.

You will notice that I have proposed that the conversation carries on using the #SlowChat format unti Wed 25th November. There are a few reasons for this. When I was lucky enough to have a loose and completely voluntary ScotEdChat ‘team’ in place, we had some conversation about the format of the chats. Concerns were raised from the off that the one hour format can be too fast and frenetic. We agreed that a week-long SlowChat could be more effective and therefore worth a shot. However, you need a following to do that. So we’ve had three fast chats partly to establish a critical mass of followers. I think we have now done that pretty effectively. So you might see more ‘slow chats’ happening as #ScotEdChat continues to evolve.

The other reason why I think #SlowChat could work better for an online conversation about character, values and citizenship (among other topics) is that there is a danger that the dialogue only reaches a superficial level. There were sparks of engagement with deep questions and critique last night that I think we could build on in a #SlowChat format, such as:

  • What is meant by character, values and citizenship, and who decides what they mean?
  • If we can agree that the purposes of education extend beyond a utilitarian and economic model of individual ‘cashable’ capacities towards something that is about character, values and citizenship – what exactly are those purposes and to what extent are we fulfilling them at the moment?
  • What is the role of character, values and citizenship in a liberal democracy and just society?
  • Are ‘character, values and citizenship’ the right words to use? Does it matter what words we use? What are the dangers here?
  • What are the key influences on character, values and citizenship and what is the role of formal schooling in this regard?
  • What is the role of parenting, early years provision, communities, informal education and collaboration with 3rd sector organisations in this regard?
  • How could teachers address these issues safely in and out of the classroom? Constructivist approach? Psychological interventions? Enquiry? Critical pedagogy? Socratic dialogue? Aristotelian virtue ethics? Indoctrination? Experiential learning? Collaborative learning? Outdoor education?
  • A great question raised last night: is it easier to address the issue of character in Catholic schools? Why? And what does that mean?
  • What type of citizenship and what type of citizen? Responsible, global, local, social, digital, active…?
  • To what extent is it possible to discuss character, values and citizenship in an online environment? Is it useful to do so or is it just pain silly?

(I am aware that several dissertations could be written on any one of these topics…)

Sue Palmer from Upstart Scotland emailed me after the chat with this wonderful quote from Neil Postman, comparing ‘Brave New World’ (Huxley) and ‘1984’ (Orwell):

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no-one who wanted to read one.

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.

Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy-porgy and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

Neil Postman, author of The Disappearance of Childhood, in a 1995 interview on PBS

I share the fears of both Orwell and Huxley regarding an exploration of the slippery issues of character, values and citizenship. I have had the thought in mind for a while now that the way forward with regard to this exists in the ‘spaces between’ various tensions.

As a musician, Claude Debussy’s comment appeals to me:

Music is to be found in the spaces between the notes

The spaces I am referring to might fall between tensions such as knowledge and skills; knowledge and character; progressivism and traditionalism; liberalism and conservatism; evidence-based and research-informed; economic, social and human capital; freedom and conformity; rights and responsibilities; globalism and localism; all of which could be false binary distinctions by the way.

So where do we go from here? As educators we often fall into the trap of trying to find the right answer when really we should be looking for the right questions, or indeed looking for the spaces between all of these.

Nobody can really comment with authority on any issue of remote importance within 140 characters of text, particularly and ironically, when the subject itself is character without the ‘s’. Having said ALL of that – and thank you for reading to the end – the other option of doing nothing about it, to me, is no option at all.

So why not tweet or blog as part of the first #ScotEdChat #SlowChat on this wonderfully bewildering theme. If you need a reason to do so, this image shared last night by @KatyKingUK during #ScotEdChat is as good as any.


Dealing with Teens and Online Privacy Issues
November 17, 2015


Recently in a middle school poster contest, an eleven-year-old won with her very clear, very concise and very true words emblazoned in bold lettering: The Internet is public; The Internet is forever. She also wore the words painted on her t-shirt and it had many participants and educators talking. If her words rang so true, why do some teen still expect a degree of privacy in such a vast world of technology invading their daily existence, and should they?

Often parents are faced with the insistence from their teens: “I want more privacy”. This used to mean a private place to talk on the phone, or insisting a visitor knocks before entering a closed bedroom door. But today, teens are talking about more freedom with their technology devices. They don’t want parents to know their passwords on Facebook and Twitter, or to “friend” them and know their communication with others is being monitored. It used to be relatively easy to monitor browsing when the family computer was in a centralized location. But with all the handheld devises today, teens can get online anywhere – on the bus, at the mall, and even alone I their “private space” bedrooms.

Advocates of effective parenting skills insist that parents or guardians always be aware of all their child’s passwords, access, user identifications and anything else as they navigate the online world. When a teen refuses monitoring, that’s usually a good sign it needs to be watched. We want to trust our children, and to help them to grow to behave like responsible adults, but his trust can be risky. The Internet provides plenty of instant risk, as easy as pushing a button.

Technocracy writer and advocate Phil Elmore makes some serious points about how much privacy to allow your child with regards to using the Internet, particularly surfing sites that are inappropriate, violent and pornographic. “The solution is NOT to throw up your hands and decide that, if they’re going to do it, they might as well do it in the safety of your home. That’s weak parenting. It’s the abdication of your responsibility. You MUST do everything you can to slow them down, to monitor as much as possible, even if you can’t stop them completely and you can’t see it all.” He makes parents aware, as does Julie Rovolo, writing for Forbes, who contends: “pornography comprises fully 4 percent of all websites. That number may not impress you until you consider just how many websites there are. There are perhaps a trillion websites on the Internet.” Pornography is the most prolific of Internet material your child will likely encounter, often without your monitoring.

At school, teachers and administrators also want to develop a degree of trust among the students with regards to appropriate use of the Internet and degrees of privacy. A degree of respect for the world of the teenager and a striving to change the environment that helps educate young people should include more understanding about what and how they think, feel and act. Teens in particular will always seek privacy as they explore their world without the watchful eyes of adults.

Elementary Principal and education blogger Peter deWitt points out four categories that help break down the need for privacy in the age of social media. The first of these is Persistence; knowledge that teens have that today everything has the capability of being recorded and retrieved …and can linger, or haunt forever. Secondly he discusses Replicability, which we know as the simple ability to cut, paste, record, and plagiarize. Teachers have had to teach the use of a plagiarism checker as an assessing tool more regularly. Thirdly, Search-ability make the whole world visible and content readily accessible. And finally, Scale-ability he defines as the scope of sharing, and the infinity of an audience. Social media, especially for teens, makes this the fastest form of gossip available.

There is room for all this technology in education, even if at times it can feel invasive to students and educators alike. Teens in particular can be taught that they can choose, through their words, what they want to privatize, and what they want to publicize. They are keenly aware that their schools and homes are under the watchful eyes of adult, controlled situations, but within these walls there are still places where privacy can be granted.

Social media may blur what is public and what is private, as communication always has been. Privacy can also be attained to some degree through control of situations. Even in a place as public as shopping mall, a teen will feel they can have a private conversation without scrutiny, perhaps more than in the privacy of their own home. As tech research Danah Boyd summarizes, and perhaps may be the next poster published by a middle-schooler : “The Internet is Public by default, Private by Effort”.

Sources :

How we could reform assessment and certification
Image by non-partizanImage by non-partizan

[Originally published on stuckwithphysics.co.uk on 5th November 2015]

In my recent post ‘Why we need to reform assessment‘, I outlined a number of issues which give me concern over the assessment of SQA National 3-5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, introduced as part of the delivery of Curriculum for Excellence.

Whilst there may be many teachers who would wish for a return to the simpler assessment arrangements of the Intermediate 1 & 2, Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications of the ‘Higher Still’ era, which have been replaced by the CfE courses, I feel that one of the major shortcomings of CfE is its failure in doing anything to fundamentally change the nature or the purpose of assessment.

The new system, as with all of its predecessors, places almost the entire value of the certified qualifications on the terminal summative assessment of the course – the exam. Though some courses have significant elements of coursework, and many include an extended project or research task, still the majority of what our students, schools and staff are judged upon happens in a narrow time frame of a few hours at the end of almost an entire year of study. The results of these high stakes assessments supersede those for the individual unit assessments completed during the courses studied, rendering them effectively worthless.

In addition to this, there is the issue of the complexity involved in marking and recording the results of the unit assessments (which I outlined in ‘Why we need to reform assessment‘) which makes it difficult for students to understand whether they have passed units or not and increases the administrative burden on teachers.

In order to overcome these issues I propose the following changes to the methods of assessment and certification.

Unit Assessment via online e-Assessment

The SQA currently makes use of its own system for online e-Assessment, SQA Solar, for a range of courses across Nationals, Higher, HNC etc. Centres and candidates have unique, secure logins ensuring security of the assessment, and the system allows assessments to be scheduled at a time when the student is ready to be assessed.

This system could be expanded to incorporate all unit assessments in all subjects at all levels, and could be set up so that students performance could be recorded against the many individual criteria necessary to achieve a pass in a given unit. Any reassessment required could automatically be tailored to the specific areas not achieved at the first attempt. Given a sufficiently large bank of assessment items, or a sufficiently adaptable format, allowing numerical data to change for calculation-based questions (as it does on Heriot-Watt University’s Scholar VLE), it might be possible for students to make multiple attempts at assessments until the required standard is reached.

As the system is fully automated, this would free up teachers’ time for teaching and supporting their students learning, rather than using it for the bureaucratic administration of data. It would also reduce the ‘data chase’ required to ensure that SQA data is kept up to date on school MIS systems for transfer to SQA systems.

‘Points’ allocation and certification for internally assessed components –

Most courses have individual unit assessments which must be passed by students in order for them to achieve a grade in the final examination. Although these unit passes are included on students’ certificates, there is no explicit value placed upon them in comparison to the exam grade achieved. By allocating all components of all courses a number of points at the relevant SCQF level, students could potentially build up points across a number of courses whilst being able to choose whether or not to sit the final examination. This would reduce the ‘high stakes’ nature of the final examination, and allow for students, departments and schools to be judged and compared over the full range of their performance.

Points allocation for units could be based on the ‘size’ of the units, whilst exam grades could be allocated points determined by the band of pass. In my own subject, Physics, for example –

N5 – points awarded at SCQF level 5

3 x units, each with 10 points = 30 points,

Exam grade bands – A1 = 30 points, A2 = 25 points, B3 = 20 points, etc

Higher – points awarded at SCQF level 6

2 x full unit, each with 10 points + 2 x half unit, each with 5 points = 30 points,

Exam grade bands as for N5

Revision and separate certification of assessed course ‘Added Value’ units and ‘Assignments’ – 

Many courses have an internally assessed ‘Added Value’ unit, which at N4 has to meet every one of a significant number of individual criteria. Teachers are allowed to provide feedback to students in order to modify their submissions so that these criteria can be met.

The equivalent component of most N5 courses is an externally assessed ‘Assignment’, a formal report which is completed ‘under close supervision’ after a period of research which may include practical experimental work. Though guidance is given to students from their teachers, no feedback may be given on the report produced which is sent to the SQA to be assessed. The final mark for the assignment, given out of 20, forms a small proportion of the final score and hence the final grade.

These arrangements make it much more demanding for an N4 student, who may find the task much more challenging than most N5 students. A poorly completed N4 AVU would not meet all of the critera, resulting in the student not meeting the requirements of the unit, and subsequently not receiving an overall award for the course. A poorly completed N5 Assignment carries no such penalty, and would simply give the student a lower final score – without denying the student an overall pass.

Revisions should be made to the assessment of AVU tasks to make them fairer on the students. Perhaps an AVU could be consider to have been passed if a significant proportion of the criteria for the task, say 10 out of 15, were met by the student.

In addition to the significant differences in the assessments of these equivalent tasks across SCQF levels, AVU and assignment tasks are often very similar in related subject areas. This results in significant duplication of effort and repeated assessment of skills across a number of a student’s subjects.

By assessing these tasks on a skills basis, rather than within subjects, a single AVU or assignment could be completed by a student studying more than one science, or social subject. Students could choose which subject or subjects their assignments could cover, potentially allowing more meaningful, challenging, inter-disciplinary work to be undertaken. Though this might make the assessment of students’ reports more complicated, it might offer an opportunity to make the assessment criteria more flexible, as they are for the Baccalaureate qualifications undertaken by some students in S6. If nothing else, a reduction in the number of these tasks would significantly reduce the workload on students and reduce the SQA who have found it increasingly difficult to recruit sufficient markers for these tasks since their introduction.

I recognise that these proposals would require significant change to our current systems of assessment and certification, and that the Scottish teaching profession has experienced unprecedented change throughout the development and delivery of Curriculum fro Excellence. I further accept that one of the main reasons for avoiding radical change in the exam system has been concern that parents, employers, colleges and universities, might not fully understand the significance of new qualifications. In reality, it could be argued that these groups don’t fully understand the significance of the current qualifications system, and haven’t done so for a long time, if they ever have at all.

On a superficial level, it is easily understood that a student with an ‘A’ grade in a qualification is in some way ‘better qualified’ than another with a ‘C’ grade in the same subject, and that a student with five Higher passes is ‘better qualified’ than another with three Highers and two National 5s. But unless one has recently studied a course, or taught it, there is little chance of understanding what knowledge and skills are really involved gaining such a qualification, let alone how that qualification compares with other subjects or other levels.

It is often argued that we need these qualifications to allow universities to choose between applicants for places on their undergraduate courses. Without wishing to belittle this assertion, it does bear comparison to the ‘Sorting Hat’ in the Harry Potter novels – e.g. ‘AAAAB’ at Higher being the minimum requirement for a Law degree (Slytherin?). Increasingly, however, universities apply their own assessment requirements (BMAT, UKCAT exams), conduct entrance interviews, or consider applicants on the broader indicators of their personal statements, reducing their reliance on the crude measurement of ‘ability’ given by exam results alone.

In many ways the awarding of badges by organisations such as the Boy’s Brigade or Scouts to indicate the achievements of their members is a much more understandable form of accreditation. Indeed many professional and vocational qualifications are already ‘badgified’ in this way using industry standards, against which ‘badges’ are referenced and accredited. Mozilla, the organisation behind the Firefox we browser, support such a system for teachers to award ‘Open Badges‘ to their students using ‘open standards’ – where the criteria for which the badge is awarded are embedded as meta-data and awarded digitally. These badges can be electronically attached to a student’s digital profile via their blog, Google or other online account, and shared with prospective employers, colleges and universities.

Some work has already been undertaken by the SQA to develop this approach to accreditation, outlined in this press release from 2013, with small scale projects being adopted by some FE colleges, including Borders College, for accrediting both the work of students and staff CPD.

Open badges may not solve all of the short comings of our current system, indeed other, better systems may be in use elsewhere, or currently under development. Such a system, if combined with students’ unique Glow account could potentially stay with them throughout their schooling and beyond, perhaps even following them beyond further and higher education and into employment. The development of such a ‘Scottish Learner’s Account’, integrating assessment, certification and the accreditation of skills could form the foundation of a truly radical approach to these issues upon which students at all stages could build throughout the ‘Lifelong Learning’ that lies at the heart of the Scottish Government’s ambitions for the future of education.

Dyslexia Scotland – teachers welcome!

The theme of Dyslexia Awareness Week this year is ‘Making Sense of Dyslexia’, chosen to fit in with Education Scotland’s 2014 report ‘Making Sense: Education for Children and Young People in Scotland’.

Lots of people think that we just work with children and adults with dyslexia and parents but that’s not so. Earlier this month, over 300 delegates attended our Education Conference and heard about some of the important developments resulting from the recommendations of the report, including new professional learning resources for teachers:  a ‘Route Map through Career Long Professional Learning for Dyslexia and Inclusive Practice’ and interactive reading and writing resources that have been added to the Online Addressing Dyslexia Toolkit.

This year our branches across Scotland have organised a great variety of events for anyone to attend. Our branches organise meetings for anyone with an interest, but the majority of people who come along tend to be parents and teachers.  Often at these events,  parents will talk about their confusion and frustration about an apparent reluctance from schools to carry out assessments for dyslexia.  On the other hand we hear from teachers of continued cuts to budgets and classroom support and a lack of proper training to assess pupils for dyslexia. There is often potential for a heated situation but what’s interesting is how often both parties find it useful to hear the other’s perspective.

Parents are usually not being unreasonable and out for a fight for the sake of it – they are worried and stressed about the possibility that their son or daughter hasn’t had their needs properly identified or that they’re not getting the help they need. Teachers are facing huge workloads, increasing targets and are expected to be experts in all areas – but they do want to help every pupil they teach, whatever their needs.

Our message to parents is always that the best outcome for their child will be if they have a good relationship with the school. It’s true that both sides sometimes need to work on this but we believe that one of the most valuable things about our branches is providing a forum where both sides can meet in a neutral place.

So if you’re a teacher, why not come along to any of the events during Dyslexia Awareness Week and find out more about what we’re about?

Find out about individual and school membership of Dyslexia Scotland here.

Click here to see all the events and resources for Dyslexia Awareness Week on 2 – 8 November.

Why we need to reform assessment

[Originally posted on stuckwithphysics.co.uk on 31st OCtober 2015]

Following on from my post back in May ‘Do Exams Pass Under CfE?‘, I have given the issues of assessment and certification some further consideration, which I discussed in my presentation at this year’s Teachmeet SLF ‘Breakout’ event held at CitizenM, Glasgow back in September. This post is an attempt to summarise and explain the issues which cause me, and many other people in education, huge concern and why I believe assessment must be reformed.

As I outlined in ‘Do Exams Pass Under CfE?‘, the system of assessment and certification has remained largely unchanged after the significant changes brought to the Scottish education system by Curriculum for Excellence. Course content may have been reworked in most subjects, with many now including an extended research and presentation task (assignment) which contributes a proportion of the final exam score, but the framework of unit tests and final exam remains at the heart of how students are assessed.

In many ways what has been put into place for the new CfE National 3-5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, with the unit tests becoming more high-stakes than the NABs they replace – candidates receive only two opportunities to ‘pass’ these tests unless under ‘exceptional circumstances’, but cannot receive a grade for the final exam unless all course units have been passed.

In my own subject the old NAB unit assessments, where pupils had to achieve a score of 60% to pass, have been replaced by assessment which are broken down into two main parts –

  • 2.1 Knowledge & Understanding (KU) – which is broken down in to individual Key Areas described in the SQA arrangements documentation. To ‘pass’ this component students must respond correctly to at least half of the questions – i.e. if there are 14 questions, 7 must be answered correctly. If a student doesn’t meet this requirement they can be reassessed, but they need only to attempt questions from Key Areas that they did not ‘pass’ in their first attempt. If they do not succeed at a second attempt, they have not met the minimum standard and cannot progress unless there are ‘exceptional circumstances’ which would allow a third attempt.
  • 2.2 Problem Solving (PS) – which is further broken down into four skills – Predicting, Selecting, Processing and Analysing. In these tasks student must correctly respond to at least half of each type of question in order to ‘pass’ that problems solving skill – i.e. if there are 6 processing questions, 3 must be answered correctly. Students who don’t meet this requirement for each of the problem solving skills do not need to be reassessed, as other unit assessments will allow opportunities to demonstrate the same skills. Each skill need only be ‘passed’ on one occasion across each of the three unit assessments.

It should also be noted at this point that different marking instructions are applied to these assessments than those for the final exam. A standard calculation question in  the final exam would be marked out of three, broken down into a mark each for: the correct formula; the correct substitution of the values given in the question; the final answer with the correct unit. A student making an error or omission would still be given credit for what is done correctly. In the unit assessments students’ responses are either totally correct or just wrong. This means that any minor error leads to the student being penalised for the whole question.

Teachers giving these assessments must record each students performance in terms of ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ not just for each unit, but for KU and each of the four PS skills for each unit. This applies to courses at all levels from National 3 to Advanced Higher. The collating and recording of students’ progress through these assessments is both complex and time consuming. However, more is required both of students and teachers.

In all courses except N3, students achieving passes in KU across each unit, and across each of the four PS skills must also complete two further tasks before they can sit the final exam –

  • Outcome 1 – practical experimental report. This tasks is broadly similar to the LO3 task in the old Higher course where students perform an experiment and write up a detailed report meeting criteria set by SQA. This task is broken down into a number of individual outcomes, each of which can be achieved in any number of different activities. Students need only achieve each individual outcome once across the whole course – these must also be recorded by the teacher.
  • Research task – The detailed requirements vary between courses, but in general this is an extended research task which is conducted by all students.
    • At N4, the ‘Added Value Unit’ (AVU), which is internally assessed, contains a number of individual criteria all of which must be met in order for the student to ‘pass’ the task and achieve a course award. Students may receive feedback from teachers to ensure all the criteria are met.
    • At N5, students conduct an ‘Assignment’. This research task, which may or may not include experimental work, requires them to collate information as they progress through the task. At the end of the ‘research phase’ of the task, students are required to compile a report, including items demonstrating a variety of information processing and presentations skills ‘under a strict degree of supervision’. The student can not be given any feedback on their report, which is sent to SQA for external assessment. The assignment report is given a mark out of 20 which counts towards the final grade.
    • At Higher, students complete the ‘Researching Physics’ half unit within the course. This is assessed internally by teachers against criteria set by SQA and must include evidence of both research and practical work conducted by the students. The Researching Physics unit can be used as the basis for the students’ remaining assessment task – the ‘Assignment’. As for the N5 assignment, students must compile a report ‘under a degree of strict supervision’ demonstrating a number of information processing and presentation skills, and no feedback can be given. The completed report is sent to the SQA for external assessment with the mark out of 20 counting towards the final grade.
    • At Advanced Higher the arrangements are similar to those for Higher, though pupils conduct extended practical work as part of their ‘Investigation’. This is assessed both internally as a half unit, and externally through their investigation report which is compiled by the student through out the task. Students are allowed to be given feedback at all stages throughout this task.

Only when a student has successfully completed all of the internally assessed components of their course are they allowed to sit the final examination. At the end of all of this detailed and highly involved assessment the final grade awarded to the student will depend mostly on their performance in during the two to two-and-a-half hours spent in the examination hall, with no recognition at all of the tasks that have been successfully completed on the way.

Bearing in mind that students may be following as many as seven N5 courses, in which various other combinations of assessment tasks and arrangements may be in place, there is no doubt that the new CfE courses have significantly increased the burden of assessment on both students and teachers. This is clearly unsustainable and an alternative must be found.

In my next post, I will detail my proposals for reforming the process of assessment to reduce some of this burden and the certification of courses to allow greater recognition of the achievements students assessments throughout their courses.

#ScotEdChat is here!

It started with a tweet


“RT if you agree – educators in Scotland should be sharing & connecting on Twitter using the #scotedchat hashtag – pls using it!!”

I have never caused a mini Twitter-storm before so this was new territory for me… I haven’t been using Twitter very long but in a short time I have found it to be one of the most valuable learning and development tools I use. I also observed that trailblazing teachers have come to the same conclusion – see the success of @UKEdChat and our very own @Pedagoo, as well as Twitter champions such as @cijane02, @mrkempnz and @markrpriestley to name just a few.

So I thought to myself:


Given how popular #UKEdChat is: why isn’t anybody using #ScotEdChat? And what would happen if I suggested that we should be using it?

It turns out that others might have been thinking the same thing. Previous attempts had been made at establishing #ScotEdChat but perhaps the timing wasn’t quite right. Before I knew it the tweet above had 214 engagements including 24 retweets and 41 hashtag clicks, it had started a few conversations, with ‘early adopters’ such as @fkelly, @mrspert1 and @athole getting right on board with the idea straight away. All of a sudden there was an expectation that #ScotEdChat might become an actual ‘thing’ so I continued to push it out there to see who else might like to get involved somehow, with no real idea of what #ScotEdChat was or could become.

Since then the hashtag has received more and more attention and people have been making suggestions as to what it could be and how it could run. So here is my summary of feedback received so far and where I think we are at now.

#ScotEdChat is:

  • a regular week-long #SlowChat happening on Twitter – each chat has a voluntary host who chooses the topic, offers to pose the questions using the @ScotEdChat account and collates responses in a summary blog for the Pedagoo website, all using the #ScotEdChat hashtag,
  • an inclusive grassroots movement open to anybody wanting to continuously improve education in Scotland – this includes teachers, young people, parents, youth workers, 3rd sector organisations, etc,
  • a place where people can freely chat about key issues in Scottish education (some of those mentioned were the attainment gap, teacher workload, professional learning/development, recruitment, standardised testing, learning using technology and a host of other issues)
  • not a #moanathon,
  • a place where the main objectives are (probably) learning, connecting and sharing,
  • a place that allows for dialogue and “messy progress” – get involved to see where it takes you.

We even have a logo…



How to get involved

  1. Have a look at the #ScotEdChat forum on Pedagoo and contribute your ideas
  2. Get chatting on Twitter using #ScotEdChat
  3. Tune in to the first #ScotEdChat – 5th November at 8.30pm


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