Policy Development Workshop – Assessment for the real world

12/09/2014 On 10 September AQA held the second of three policy development workshops as part of our major project The future of assessment: 2025 and beyond. This event was based on the theme of ‘assessment for the real world’, looking at vocational and practical education and assessment.

With this theme we hoped to inspire a discussion regarding how to assess skills which aren’t covered by traditional written examinations. Attitude, professionalism, ethics, and teamwork are just some examples of the skills required in many vocational professions, from medicine to beauty therapy. We wanted our guests to consider how these skills could be reliably and validly assessed in the future, and what policies might help to achieve this.

Our first speaker was Professor Prue Huddleston, Professor Emeritus at the Centre for Education and Industry at the University of Warwick. She posed some questions for our guests to consider, including wondering if there was a difference between vocational education and occupational training, and whether assessment should focus on what learners know or on what they can do.

Professor Jen Cleland, John Simpson Chair of Medical Education at the University of Aberdeen, was our next speaker. She is an expert in medical education, and took us through some of the examples of assessment used in medical training and throughout medical careers. She explained the difference between technical skills, such as taking blood pressure, and non-technical skills, including teamwork and talking to patients, and she emphasised the difficulty in measuring and assessing the latter of these skill-sets.


Following the speakers, our guests discussed some of the issues relating to vocational education and assessment. One of the recurring questions asked was about investment in these qualifications – do we as a society value some vocational professions more than others, and invest more time and money into developing more rigorous qualifications in these areas? There was also consensus among the guests about the need for transferability of vocational skills assessment, particularly for young people who are likely to have several jobs across different sectors.

Our audience, which was made up of professionals and practitioners from across the education and skills sectors, split into three groups and were joined by our speakers for some smaller, more concentrated discussions. We focused on three key areas – what the standards and outcomes of these qualifications should be, who could define these standards, and how can we evidence outcomes to create confidence in these qualifications.

One of the key conclusions the groups came to was that employers should have a role in both developing and defining the outcomes of any vocational qualifications, although this should be carefully balanced with the involvement of education practitioners. However, the groups also recognised that employers are not a single homogenous group, and they have different needs and requirements according to their specialisms. Additionally, our guests thought there should be a greater effort to build more of an evidence-base around vocational qualifications, in order to change their perception and to increase the reliability. One idea suggested which could help evidence the value of the qualification was to use destination data to show the progression of students who had completed it. The use of technology could also play a role in this, as a means by which students complete assessments designed to test skills which traditional written exams cannot properly measure.

The final event in our project will be held on the 15 October on the theme of 21st Century Assessment, where we will discuss how technology can make assessment more relevant, valid and practical. If you would like to register for this event, or if you have any comments about the project, please see the details in this blog post.

Our thanks go to our speakers and guests who helped contribute to such an interesting discussion.

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