The RA Learner Profile: our response to five important questions

The Rethinking Assessment response to of the thoughtful feedback we’ve received

Last month, we officially launched the concept for our digital Learner Profile.  Following two years of research and consultation, we believe that it represents a way to build an assessment system which recognises the strengths of every young person.

Over the last few weeks, a significant number of people have joined the conversation and contributed valuable feedback. It is clear that there is great support for the concept across the education and skills sector. Many people have offered insightful suggestions which we shall seriously consider. These include incorporating a statement on values and leaving more room for student reflection.

We have also received a number of insightful and important questions that need to be considered. We thought it would be helpful to briefly respond to five of the most common.

Is the technology really up to scratch to make this a reality for every young person in every school?

Yes.  Not only does the right technology exist, it is already facilitating this approach in countries around the world.

We totally understand why this has been a common question.  There probably isn’t a single person working in education who hasn’t experienced brilliant ideas grinding to a halt because the technology isn’t up to scratch. Making the Learner Profile effective will depend on young people having constant access to the right tech, and we are deeply mindful that schools may have to facilitate this.

Getting the technology right, and working with the right partners, is going to be essential to making the Learner Profile a meaningful reality.  The right technologies now exist to make our concept not just workable, but seamless and straightforward. The use of technology will never be free from frustration. But it is inevitable that it will continue to touch each aspect of education, and grow in importance, as the years progress.

Teachers already have a near-impossible workload.  Won’t this just add to it?

All changes in practice in schools requires time initially. But it will be students who mainly spend time updating their profile. It will be RA’s role to make the process of updating as intuitive and engaging as possible and the introduction of external data – badges, music grades etc – seamless.

With multi-modal sources of data the teachers’ role will be primarily be as light-touch validators of entries. Some of the formative assessment work teachers already do routinely with their students, commenting on work in progress, for example, will simply shift to the profile.

In the longer term, it is important to stress that the Learner Profile is presented as an alternative to the current assessment system; not an addition to it. In the short-medium term, we know that many schools are already exploring portfolio-based systems to evidence student learning and achievement, and many already have their own version of a learner profile based on their curriculum model and values. We hope that the framework that we have created can support these existing efforts and will be something that young people and teachers can start using straight away, without too much change to existing curricula or timetabling – the learner profile page on our website describes our current thinking.

Over the next year we will be working closely with teachers, school leaders and young people to research how the learner profile can be best implemented in education settings, and what is needed for it to be both manageable and to have broad buy-in and ownership.

Won’t such an idea only be effective if it has high and common currency with employers and universities.  How do we know that it will?

Feedback from both employers and universities shows that the Learner Profile is an approach that can give them the information they really need.  Clare Marchant, Chief Executive of UCAS, has said that a learner profile is a logical extension of the personal statement, which suggests that universities will quickly value it.

Evidence from other countries shows that approaches like this have quickly gained currency. In the USA, a similar initiative, the Mastery Transcript, is now being used by schools and Universities as an alternative to SAT scores. Feedback from employers, many of whom have developed their own strength-based assessments using the kind of information that is contained within the learner profile, suggests that this is just the kind of innovation they are crying out for.

However, our vision is not that the profile only emerges through optional adoption.  Over time, we believe that the governments of the UK should adopt it as a matter of policy, as other countries around the world are beginning to do.

Isn’t a Learner Profile really just a LinkedIn page?  Why try and beat the best at what they already do?

Yes! The profile is a kind of Learning LinkedIn but with many more functions. Ultimately, we imagine all young people will have their own url for life tracking their learning.  It is important to note that the Learner Profile is designed to be broader, deeper and richer than something like a LinkedIn profile.

We hope that it will support both formative and summative assessment, and be able to be used at key milestones in a young person’s education, for example the transition from primary to secondary school, or for parents evenings, as well as presenting a more curated summative statement for transitions out of education e.g. into employment. Young people will add to it throughout their education and take it into adulthood to support lifelong learning.

Doesn’t this approach just benefit those young people who have access to lots of extra-curricular experiences and opportunities for learning and skill development?

This question has been at the forefront of our mind as we have developed our vision for, and the different components of, the learner profile. It’s something we will be considering carefully as part of our next stage of development with teachers and young people from across all phases and settings of education.

Feedback we have had so far from schools serving economically disadvantaged populations, from the special educational needs sector, and from AP settings, is that this kind of approach has the potential to support these learners in evidencing their strengths and capabilities in a way that current system does not allow. The section of the profile with personal reflection is particularly powerful, plus the portfolio element which captures a variety of forms of evidence.

On a related note, one of the common complaints of teachers is that the current assessment system straightjackets the curriculum.  They might know what their students need and how they need to be taught it.  But they simply cannot devote the time to it. Preparing for a narrow range of high-stakes exams is all consuming.

The Learner Profile, we believe, is a potential first step to rebalance the curriculum, to value and incentivise breadth, and in time free teachers to equip their young people – regardless of their background – with the knowledge, skills and attributes they need to succeed and ensure they have time to evidence those achievements. We believe that this will lead to a more equitable assessment system.

There is still time to contribute your thoughts to our consultation on the Learner Profile.  Please join the conversation.

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