Building a Learner Profile

Giving full recognition to the strengths of every young person.

The mission of Rethinking Assessment is to recognise the strengths of every young person so that no one leaves school with just a set of exam numbers and letters. 

We believe that the best way of doing this is for every young person to be supported to create a learner profile while at school and be able to take it with them through life, topping it up as they go along.

The creation of a learner profile for every student is already national policy in Australia, and becoming widespread in the USA through initiatives such as the Mastery Transcript and Big Picture Learning credential.

In the UK, this idea is gaining traction. Wales now has a requirement for schools to develop e-portfolios for students, and there are many examples of primary and secondary schools already doing this.
In June 2022, we launched our draft learner profile framework below. We are now in the process of testing this with key stakeholder groups – students and teachers, colleges, universities and employers – and the response so far has been really encouraging.

We will be trialling the learner profile for a range of young people from different backgrounds to test whether it works at all ages and for all needs. Harriet will be one of many case studies.

Each profile will be backed by a student portfolio of their work inside and outside of school.

The profile will be multimedia with the expectation that every young person does a small video to introduce themselves.

There will be space for every student to curate sections of the profile to show the full range of skills and interests. They can then alter the content and layout for  different audiences. 

Young people will accumulate testimonials as they go along as supporting evidence.

Young people will put in the shop window those pieces of best work that they think really stand out. 

There will space for young people to record their achievements outside of school as well as in school e.g. sporting, musical, voluntary activities..

Every student should have the chance to do a personal project -such as the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) to develop a passion and interest. 

There is a big prize here if we can bridge the academic/vocational divide by showcasing a variety of courses, some compulsory, some elective, some majors some minors.

As well as literacy and numeracy  we think there is a strong case for oracy and digital skills to be placed here and will be consulting stakeholders for their views. 

This is a dispositions wheel increasingly used by employers to assess key life skills. The 3 Cs are recognised in curricula across the world as centrally important and this is a place to provide evidence of them.

It is important that this profile allows young people to describe their learning journey at regular points during their schooling. These prompt questions will ultimately help students to write a better personal statement for UCAS or more an informative CV.

Valuing the strengths of every young person 

Stage One – Launching the learner profile

This can begin now even with our existing system. Students can upload formal GCSE, A level, BTEC or other qualifications to this profile. They can add music grades, coaching, DofE and other awards.

They can evidence achievements outside school using testimonials and photographs.

They can describe ways in which they have shown creativity and worked collaboratively with others. It will be up to individual schools, colleges and Multi Academy Trusts to decide.

And in certain locations, local authorities are going to trial something like this for all the schools, colleges and employers in their area

Stage Two – Rebalancing assessment to recognise knowledge, skills and dispositions

In order to rebalance assessment away from relying solely on high-stakes exams that just measure specific areas of subject knowledge, we will need to find a variety of ways to give value to the different components of the profile.

  1. The building blocks 
  2. Courses (single subjects, applied learning, interdisciplinary)
  3. An Extended Project Qualification or equivalent project
  4. The Dispositions Wheel (creative thinking, communication, collaboration)

This is a difficult process which will take time to get right and we will be consulting widely particularly with universities, colleges, employers and others.

questions and challenges 

Why do we need a profile?

The current narrow exam-based system is now out of date and not fit for purpose. It doesn’t adequately prepare young people for a dynamic and modern world. Training for exams is a very different skill set to the attributes, abilities and knowledge young people need to thrive. The current exam-based system does not capture the full range of young people’s strengths and is a crude measure of 14 years of compulsory schooling. Assessment must provide young people with opportunities to develop the tools, strategies and skills they will need in their adult lives.

Why reinvent the wheel?

We are building on past and present examples! Schools and employers in the UK and internationally are currently creating and using digital profiles and e-portfolios as rich sources of information. This is a trend happening right now, and our aim is to build on the foundations of working examples. In the past there were examples such as the National Record of Achievement. However, it was paper-based, too wordy, unfocused and employers were wanting more information about literacy and numeracy. Today, digital solutions exist which can help young people to share their knowledge, interests and skills in order to take the next step in their lives, to further or higher education, training, or into employment. Employers actively want to know about wider skills and dispositions and the technology is in place to make this happen in a profile.

Who will own the profile and what will it contain?

The student will create and curate their profile. They will ‘own’ it, just as they ‘own’ the certificates they achieve in public examinations, and just as adults ‘own’ and write their CVs. But in this case, ownership will be part of an explicit focus on encouraging students to become more powerful learners, able to reflect on the progress they have made, capturing a broader sense of who they are and what they can do. . Externally validated exam grades for core subjects (like maths and literacy) will form part of the Learner Profile, together with teacher assessment (where appropriate); but, crucially, other evidence of a student’s skills and optional interests, projects they have completed, or wider volunteering or work experience will be showcased. Evidence of strengths in creative thinking, collaboration and oracy will combine to give employers or admissions tutors a fuller picture of each young person.

Will everything be validated externally?

No. Some parts will continue to be assessed externally – some exam grades, for example, for (in the future) a reduced number of core subjects. But the key is to lessen the emphasis on a high number of exam grades. Instead, core subject exam grades would be complemented by a wider range of evidence of success, some of which is internally validated in schools, and others (such as the EPQ which is externally validated already), and carries UCAS tariff points when students apply to university. be. Internally validated evidence might include examples of best work, testimonials, videos of collaborative endeavours and evidence of oral demonstration of learning… The aim is not to get rid of exams all together, rather to reform and rebalance the assessment system so that exams are one of a range of appropriate and meaningful assessment tools, which allow a learner to demonstrate their knowledge and skills, without the detrimental burden of excessive – and often unreliable – testing.

Will a learner profile undermine existing exams such as GCSEs, A levels and BTECs?

No. Profiles will complement these, giving a much fuller picture. They will also create an opportunity for students to gain credit for other non-examined courses they have taken. The further and higher education landscape is already changing quickly, with the introduction of T-Levels and degree level apprenticeships which utilise a broad range of assessment methods alongside exams, including work based assessment and portfolios. Digital assessment for maths and english are being trialled by major exam boards. The sector is currently continuing to develop and offer young people more options for training, education and professional development.

Do we actually know how to assess skills and dispositions like creativity and collaboration?

Yes! The tests of Creative Thinking and Collaborative Problem-solving developed by the international testing body PISA are two examples, as is the Skills Builder Framework now widely used in schools and colleges. We are currently working with leading academics and researchers from the UK and around the world to evidence and document progression in Creative Thinking. In industry, many employers already undertake assessments which aim to understand competency in similar essential life skills. The Skills Builder Framework emerged from research with employers and universities and highlighted Communication skills: Listening and presenting Problem solving and creativity Self-management skills: Staying positive and aiming high Interpersonal skills: Leadership and teamwork as essential skills; they produced progression routes and assessment tools for each skill. The Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum up to the age of 5 already assesses one of the Characteristics of Effective Learning, calling it ‘Creating and thinking critically’. We want to provide young people the opportunity to evidence their skills in communication, teamwork and creative thinking throughout their educational journey. And provide teachers with the assessment methods, rubrics and strategies to teach and assess effectively.

What will employers think?

Most employers want the kinds of skills and personal qualities a learner profile will evidence and they are closely involved with us in developing the profile framework. It will be important for them to be able to get what they need to know relatively quickly from any profile without reducing the profile’s strength, breadth and depth. Many employers already use their own strength-based or competency-based methods to assess candidates strengths, and so any additional information beyond a reductive list of numbers and grades will help them to make more informed recruitment decisions.

Will universities use it?

We believe so, and are working with a number of universities that have expressed interest in establishing pilots. Universities are already looking for broader contextual data as part of their admissions processes, and UCAS is conducting detailed work around reforming the personal statement. We think the learner profile can help with this, and enable young people to compile a range of information and evidence to support their University applications, and the admissions process.

Will the technology work?

Yes! Numerous UK schools are already building their own web-based profiles, using tools such as Google Sites templates, or products on offer from a range of tech providers. Outside the UK, the Mastery Transcript Consortium and a number of other prototypes are in use across the world right now. Digital tools and solutions are increasingly commonplace across education and industry, and we are developing a full guide on products available for schools and colleges, to be published in 2023.

Will it be a lot of extra work for teachers?

No. But it will require a shift in thinking and support for professional development. All Rethinking Assessment tools are being co-developed with headteachers and teachers. Those schools already implementing their own profiles have developed processes and routines to integrate it into the school timetable and curriculum. There are already excellent examples of this being done successfully to assess at the end of year 6. In some schools, a profile has replaced the end of year Report or scorecard, and reduced teacher time on report writing. Additionally, existing practices, such as CV writing at KS4 as part of CIAG, may already have dedicated time and staffing, and the Learner Profile could be implemented to provide an additional tool. Eventually, a modern replacement for the CV development work already done in schools.

At what age would children start to compile them?

They could start from Reception class in primary – obviously they would need more support the younger they are. Our focus, however, during this phase of prototyping and development will be to create learner profile templates and exemplars from KS2-4. Particularly with key transition moments in mind.

Does this benefit middle class children who have more opportunities?

No, the aim is that this profile is about a young person’s learning and their reflections on it. This can include anything the student does at school – sports, DoE, performances, presentations as part of their general education. It might include a focus on one or two parts of their studies which they have particularly enjoyed. It can also include anything outside school – cooking for the family, looking after pets or family members, it could include holiday work experience (formal or informal) or weekend jobs, interests and passions – gaming, animation, fashion design. Schools can enable equity further by providing an adult champion to support those learners who would benefit from assistance in completing their learner profile. Our ambition is that in the longer term, schools are supported to broaden out their offering so that opportunities for evidencing art, music, lab work, outdoor activities or volunteering is a part of the normal curriculum for every school.

How can it support neurodiverse students?

From our consultation with different education providers including SEND and AP settings, we are hearing that the learner profile will enable all young people to demonstrate their strengths and competencies across a range of areas – far beyond what a narrow set of exam results tells us. Many schools, parents and support staff already use a strengths-based approach and many SEND settings and schools are ahead of the curve in thinking about how to document and evidence what young people with a broad range of experiences can do, inside and outside of a school setting. Equally, the Learner Profile is intended to be used by all young people, whether home educated, in alternative provision, or in a school setting – and it can be owned and updated by the students themselves, including during times where they may have periods where they are unable to attend school or their usual provision.

Is Rethinking Assessment going to build a Learner Profile tech product, and what will it cost schools?

We aren’t a technology provider and we aren’t looking to develop our own commercial product. Our role is in researching best practice across the country and the world, in consultation with employers, universities and experts. We have made a strong case for the need to broaden and modernise assessment, with a national and joined-up approach to a new Learner Profile as a step towards this. Currently lacking in the UK, we believe, is a nationally recognised framework or guidance template which helps all schools and learners to take advantage of a Learner Profile, and in a format that Universities and employers understand. We aim to develop this ‘standard’, and we are going to develop a demonstrator template in Google Sites, which will be freely available to all schools and colleges to build out and adapt. We will also be providing information on the range of commercial providers offering more sophisticated products, for schools and colleges which may wish to go down this route.