House of Lords Committee on Youth Unemployment

Recommendations for Rethinking Assessment

Olly Newton Executive Director, Edge Foundation

Over the last nine months I have had the pleasure of being one of the Specialist Advisers for the House of Lords Committee on Youth Unemployment. This energetic and dedicated group of cross-party Peers, chaired by Lord Shipley, has produced a wide-ranging report looking at how every aspect of the system could be improved to give all young people the best start to their life and work. 

The Committee took a very wide range of evidence as part of its work, from headteachers, college principals, academic experts and, most importantly, from many young people around the country who have personal experience with unemployment.

One area that came up again and again in that evidence was the narrowness of the school curriculum, driven by performance measures including EBacc and Progress 8. This has squeezed out technical and creative subjects which often give young people the broader skills like team working and problem solving that are so in demand from employers. As Tony Ryan, Chief Executive of the Design and Technology Association told the Committee:

The emphasis on accountability has meant that non-EBacc tends to be put into basket 3, and students can choose one creative subject if they are lucky. In some schools, they do not even have that option.

The Committee made a series of clear recommendations to address this, setting out that:

The government must therefore reform progress indictors so that schools that wish to focus on courses of practical, technical, cultural, business- and work-related skills alongside the core are able to do so without being downgraded on Government performance measures.

One example they provided was the possibility of moving from Progress 8 to a new Progress 5, featuring a smaller core and much greater choice for schools and young people around this.

Although not central to their remit, the Committee also heard significant evidence of debate over assessment methods and their role in helping young people to secure employment and fulfil their career aspirations.

This tended to reflect three main concerns, which we are very familiar with in the Rethinking Assessment movement:

  • The stage at which young people are assessed, including whether there is still a strong argument for formal assessment at age 16 following the raising of the participation age.
  • The skills tested, where there was significant commentary on the over-focus on subject domain knowledge recall above all else.
  • The assessment methods, where the Committee heard a number of views advocating for a broader range of assessment methods beyond written exams.

In this area, the Committee signalled the importance of the work of the Rethinking Assessment, concluding that there needs to be a thorough review of this area:

The evidence we heard suggests there may be a case for a thorough review of the assessment of young people in our secondary schools today to ensure that it is fit for purpose and that it effectively assesses the full range of young people’s skills and talents. Among other factors, this review could cover the stages of assessment, the skills tested and the methods of assessment. Any such review should consider the forthcoming recommendations of the Rethinking Assessment group, as well as other voices who have contributed to the debate on assessment reform.

The next step will be for the Government to respond to each of the Committee’s recommendations in early 2022. Given the very strong range of witnesses and evidence and the cross-party membership of the Committee, I hope they will consider their proposals very carefully. 

In the meantime, you can download a copy of the report here and sign up to an Edge Foundation webinar on 24 February featuring Lord Shipley, who chaired the Committee. 

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