What does success look like

16 Sep

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts” – Albert Einstein

Last week Aled Roberts AM wrote a timely and very interesting piece for the Western Mail arguing for the need to establish a new way of measuring pupil achievement.  You can read his article here.

I have long since believed that the criteria we use and how we measure success is a problematic issue for our schools.  The truth is no one can give an absolute clearly defined picture of what we want from the young adults who leave school.  You could ask a thousand teachers and parents what is it that constitutes a successful pupil at the end of their time in school and it could very well be that you get very few duplicate answers.

To some it is producing individuals who have a string of straight A* at GCSE and A Levels.  For others it is about ensuring that each and every pupil reaches their potential, be that the highest grade or an extremely hard-earned D mark.  In some cases it is an individual that has the moral fiber of a conscientious character that will put back into the community.  For others it is simply that they have enjoyed their time in school and retain a lifelong passion for learning.

Of course there is no reason to not wish to encapsulate all of the above into one system but the reality is what “success” means to one pupil, and one school, may very well be radically different to another.

In his piece Aled Roberts is right to draw attention to the fact that the Minister has attempted to separate success from the examination system.  Indeed his comment that there is “undue focus on the C grade” is very welcome.  That boundary, while important in some senses, does in fact undermine and devalue the very real successes of some individuals in achieving a D against all odds.  Sometimes the hard work and determination that deliveres that precious D is the start of a self-empowerment process that can spur on greater academic, social and personal development in future.  Having the blanket appraisals of just looking at C and above is an easy and sometimes useful approach, but very often is overlooks the real progress that goes on in a school.  This approach hides both the improvements and potential shortcomings in progress for pupils below and above the line and almost forces teachers to concentrate on those around the margins of it.

Sadly it remains stubbornly difficult to divorce the one-off examination results from the entire perception of success and failures for a pupil and a school.  Indeed through the introduction of school banding we have, if anything, created an even greater reliance on these results as a pure, and often misleading, reflection of the work that goes on within a school.  While of course the quality of qualifications that students obtain must be a factor in appraisal should it be the only one?

A further point that Aled Roberts rightfully draws attention to is the differing evaluation models we have.  This is something I have previously blogged on and was in fact picked up by the OECD as a failing in the Welsh system.  Estyn/Banding/Categorisation are all competing with one another and giving contradictory information to teachers and parents.  We simply can’t continue to aim for success unless a tighter definition of what that exactly means is established.  More importantly, we want to see a measurment that takes into account the individual successes of all pupils not just the average of the many against a simplistic target.

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