13 May 2021

Young people have their say about assessment worries

Members of Aberdeenshire Council’s Education and Children’s Services Committee enjoyed meeting with representatives of Aberdeenshire Youth Council, the local authority’s Pupil Participation Forum and MSYPs again this week.

Elected members were keen to hear from young people during the ongoing period of SQA assessments to ensure they understand what’s happening in practice and do everything in their power to support them.

Committee chair Cllr Gillian Owen began the meeting by thanking everyone for attending and underlining the importance of holding regular get togethers. She said: “We really do value these sessions and the chance to hear directly from you. I always look forward to these evenings and enjoy our discussions.”

Children’s Health Commissioner for NHS Grampian Tracy Davis was also welcomed along to the sessions for the first time, recognising her role in leading a multi-agency GIRFEC group focusing on children’s rights and participation across Aberdeenshire.

The first issue raised by young people in attendance was on the issue of clarity concerning how much teachers are advised to say on pupils’ grades before these are officially published by the SQA in August.

Head of Education Vincent Docherty explained that all young people across Aberdeenshire will be informed of their grades by their school, subject to SQA moderation, before the end of June and so that they have the opportunity to discuss these with their teachers.

He said: “We are following an alternative accreditation model this year which is different to last time. This time, judgement has to be based on evidence rather than teachers suggesting inferred attainment.

“It’s not just one teacher doing a test and deciding your grade, though. We have a big process of moderation to go through at department, school and local authority levels and we are absolutely committed to being fair to each student.

“We hope that by giving information about grades out before the end of term, young people can have time within the term to discuss this with their school.

“Some schools may discuss results earlier than others but that will be led by the school and the teacher. Teachers will still be collating evidence at the moment.”

Avril Nicol, Head of Communities, Wellbeing and Partnerships, took the opportunity to share progress on devising a programme of summer activities which will be free at the point of delivery to children and young people across Aberdeenshire. She said her team is working towards co-producing the programme with young people and that the council has set aside funding in its budget to support activities this summer, this October and next Easter holidays.

Almost 800 young people responded to a survey about holiday activity options and focus groups are ongoing to decide how activities such as biking and dancing can be delivered. These will be bookable online and as well as a core offer for all there will be a targeted offer, supported by the Scottish Government, to support the most disadvantaged children and young people.

In answer to how the return to school has been delivered, young people in attendance were keen to highlight that staff have been very supportive, they feel listened to and everyone is well accustomed to wearing masks and using hand sanitizer, although some young people have struggled with anxiety more than others.

They also flagged up concerns about peers who perhaps hadn’t managed to keep up with work during lockdown as well as they had.

Neil Morrison, head teacher at Portlethen Academy who represents the Aberdeenshire Secondary Head Teachers Association (ASHTA) highlighted the importance of school staff really trying to understand young people’s point of view at the moment. He said: “Empathy is especially important at this time as young people have faced a year like no other. We’re trying to understand the tiredness staff and pupils are feeling, and work together to address worries. We can’t remove the pressures but we are trying to take out any confusing factors.”

Asked if there are any safety nets in place if young people just don’t do as well as they hope they will, Vincent was keen to highlight the importance of dialogue.

He commented: “Teachers have a degree of discretion and flexibility in assessments, and numerous assessments they can use to gather evidence but please remember they are doing their absolute best to be fair to everyone and are feeling a lot of pressure too. The important thing is to discuss any concerns you may have with your teachers. They, along with guidance teachers and other school staff, will be happy to talk through any worries with a young person.”

In terms of the impact the last year will have on young people’s ability to go on to further study or employment, Vincent added: “It is important to remember young people across Scotland and across the world are in a similar situation. Colleges, universities and employers are very aware of that and are very understanding. We are continuing a great deal of partnership working, through our Developing the Young Workforce and Community Learning and Development teams and others, to help with that.”

The final point raised by a young person was that a lot of her peers are wondering what will happen with senior phase assessments next year. Does the council know yet?

Vincent explained: “The pandemic has put a real spotlight on the link between wellbeing and learning and that will continue to be a focus for us. When we feel well, and when we have a positive sense of wellbeing, that’s when deep, high quality learning happens.

“I think the positives we have gained from improving and evolving digital learning will remain too. In the longer term, sustainability and climate change means things may have to be different in other ways as well.

“In terms of the assessment process itself, the focus nationally is on improvement and using lessons learned to inform what happens next when it comes to ongoing assessment and exams.”

A national report is due to be published in June and the hope is that this will give everyone more of an insight into approaches to assessment in the next academic year and beyond.

Find out more about how young people can engage in decision-making and representing the voice of their peers at: https://www.girfec-aberdeenshire.org/home/children-and-young-people/get-involved-youth-participation-and-engagement-in-aberdeenshire/