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Pearson : publishes initial findings from major national consultation on the future of qualifications and assessment in the UK

06/16/2021 | 03:04am EDT

16 Jun 2021published at 08:00 AM BST

London, 16th June 2021: Pearson, the world's leading learning company, has today published its interim Future of Qualifications & Assessment report following the launch of a national consultation in February 2021.

The consultation aims to provide a better understanding of what a more effective system of assessment and qualification for young people between 14 and 19 looks like and how to successfully put it in place. This is against the backdrop of the pandemic resulting in the cancellation of exams for the past two years which has sharpened the debate on assessment.

With this in mind, the consultation called on the views of those from across the spectrum of education community, from learners making plans for their futures to the employers looking for candidates to support their businesses, from the parliamentarians leading education policy through to the teachers responsible for implementing them.

Key findings from the consultation include:

  • People believe there is too much weight on exams. Although important, an over-emphasis of summative high-stakes assessment is sometimes seen as to the detriment of broader learning.

  • Employers think students need broader, deeper knowledge and skills: Only one fifth of employers believe students are prepared with all of the right knowledge and skills. They value a core of knowledge plus broader, deeper knowledge including problem-solving, creativity, resilience, leadership and respect for others.

  • Academic qualifications alone aren't preparing students for jobs of the future: 61% of MPs thought academic qualifications alone do not prepare young people for jobs of the future with the need for a less binary split between vocational and academic pathways. Young people have a similar view

  • Perceived lack of choice in curriculum when it comes to the range of subjects available to study or the qualifications available: 39% of recent school leavers (19-24-year-olds) told Pearson they believe there's a lack of choice, while 26% of 14-19-year-olds hold this view. Two thirds of teachers also feel the range of subjects they can offer their students at KS4 and KS5 is limited

  • Qualifications are valuable: 75% of people think qualifications are important and want them balanced with a broad education that helps young people play an active role in society preparing them for life

  • Career path is the biggest factor behind qualification choices: 43% of 14-19-year-olds said that pursing a particular career was the key factor influencing the decision on what qualifications to choose

  • More innovation with technology is needed: 75% of school and college leaders and classroom teachers feel more teaching and assessment should be supported through technological solutions. But 95% of teachers want more support such as regular CPD to make the most of these solutions

Commenting on the findings of the interim report, Rod Bristow, President of Global Online Learning & UK at Pearson, said: 'The pandemic has sharpened the debate about the role of assessment, following the period of disruption it caused. At Pearson, we play a significant role in the education system in the UK so it is only right that we help facilitate this debate.

'To consider what the future of assessments and qualifications looks like, we need to use a lens with a wider angle to take into account the overall purpose of assessments and qualifications, drawing on the views of those from across the entire education system'.

'Today, we have published the interim findings of our consultation into the future of qualifications and assessment, and what we discovered was in some ways surprising, but also encouraging. Most people see our education system as an improving platform to be modified and built upon, not as something to be dismantled and rebuilt.

'But they do want education to be more inclusive, more empowering and more relevant to people's lives. They want clarity and choice of the right learning pathway but in a flexible system of bridges and ladders, not rigid tracks. That will require some degree of change.

'Now, we are turning our attention to the next phase of the project to outline our collective recommendations on how to build a more effective system of qualifications for the future'.

Lord Blunkett, an expert panellist who is contributing to the consultation, said: 'From across the education ecosystem, the message is clear: the change to assessments and qualifications needs to amount to an evolution of the current system rather than a complete revolution - leading to radical change but without disruption.

'It is important not to narrow options and create a rigid artificial divide between vocational and academic which puts tidiness before the needs of students today and in an ever-changing future.

'It is critical that we broaden the debate on education to ensure we have a system in place that effectively serves society. Our young people require a system that means they can flourish in later life and Pearson's consultation has effectively bought together key voices needed to achieve that.'

Nick Hillman, an expert panellist who is contributing to the consultation, said: ''It's been a privilege to contribute my voice to this open and unprejudiced consultation. It's absolutely right we take this opportunity to take a thorough look at how the system works and how we might make it better.

'Compared to other countries around the world, the UK's universities are highly selective, meaning it is particularly important we ensure our model of qualifications and assessment is fit for purpose - learners risk missing out otherwise.'

Pearson's methodology mirrors OECD guidelines for a 'bottom-up' approach to affecting change in education - surveying 5,000 individuals, including students aged 14-19, young people aged 19-23, parents, teachers, higher education professionals and employers

The independent expert advisory panel has played an instrumental role throughout the consultation, taking part in four round table discussions to the report findings. They will continue play an important role in the next phase of the project as we look ahead to the recommendations that will be published in Autumn 2021.

To learn more about the Future of Qualifications and Assessment research project, visit: https://www.pearson.com/uk/news-and-policy/future-of-assessment.html


Expert panel consists of the following experts

  • Lord Baker of Dorking, CH, PC Secretary of State for Education (1986-1989)

  • Lord Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education (1997-2001)

  • Rebecca Boomer-Clark, Director Secondary, Ark

  • Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, Chair, Universities UK

  • Daisy Christodoulou, Director of Education, No More Marking

  • Professor Robert Coe, Senior Associate, Education Endowment Foundation

  • Nick Hillman, Director, Higher Education Policy Institute

  • Rt. Hon. Damian Hinds MP, Secretary of State for Education (2018-2019)

  • David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges

  • Joysy John, Edtech Advisor

  • Priya Lakhani, CEO, Century Tech

  • Barnaby Lenon, Professor and Dean of Education at the University of Buckingham

  • Clare Marchant, CEO, UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service)

  • Dame Alison Peacock, CEO, Chartered College of Teaching

  • Natalie Perera, Chief Executive, Education Policy Institute

  • Tom Middlehurst, Curriculum and Inspection Specialist, Association of School and College Leaders

  • Baroness Morris of Yardley, Secretary of State for Education (2001 - 2002)

  • Steve Rollett, Chief Executive of Confederation of School Trusts

  • David Russell, Chief Executive of Education and Training Foundation

  • Sir Anthony Seldon Vice-Chancellor, University of Buckingham

  • Lord Storey, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson, House of Lords

  • Bill Watkin, CEO, Sixth Form College Association

  • Dylan Wiliam, Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment, University College London

  • Lord Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science (2010 - 2014)

  • Sir Michael Wilshaw, Former HM Chief Inspector of Schools (2012 - 2016)

Research Timing

This first phase of research was conducted between February and March 2021.


This interim report synthesises the views of over 6,000 people and we are grateful to everyone who contributed to this first stage of the research. As the report highlights, this is an important and complex area that requires careful attention and focus.

The decisions that young people make within the 14-19 phase will impact and resonate throughout their lives. That is why our research chose to start with a public consultation, starting with first principles - what is the purpose of education within this phase, and does it currently meet the needs of young people?

The research focused on three broad areas:

  • Purpose and Value: considering the role that education within the 14-19 phase should play in helping develop confident and well-rounded learners and supporting their life aspirations.

  • Conditions and Environment: exploring how wider economic, technological, and societal trends are changing what people need to know and need to be able to do.

  • Trust and Equity: exploring issues around fairness and coherence in the system to maintain public confidence in qualifications and assessment, and to ensure that the system serves diversity, equity and inclusion.

Summary of consultation responses

The consultation revealed the breadth of opinion across students, parents, teachers, academics, employers, policymakers and politicians, but number of consistent themes emerged among the opinions expressed:

  1. Qualifications are valuable. Young people want something to show for their years of learning and they want it assessed objectively and fairly.

  2. Knowledge and skills are equally important and shouldn't be artificially separated. Knowing and doing are essential pre-requisites for individuals to progress in their lives.

  3. Curriculum should be empowering. Young people should have access to powerful knowledge, relevant to the world around them.

  4. People value choice. Flexible routes through study, with options of a varied curriculum are seen as very important. There are differences of opinion about how broad this choice should be and at what age specialisation should happen.

  5. A purely academic or vocational route can be too binary. There is broad agreement that the combination of practical and academic skills is increasingly valuable.

  6. There is too much weight on exams. Although important, an over-emphasis of summative high-stakes assessment is sometimes to the detriment of broader learning. On the other hand, formative assessment for learning is very valuable.

  7. There are mixed views on school accountability. While some believe that school accountability contributes to an over-emphasis on exams, others see it as important in driving up schools' performance. These views are not mutually exclusive. School accountability should also encourage broader learning for success in life.

  8. There are mixed views on how grades should be awarded. There needs to be a debate about what method is best.

  9. Teachers want more involvement in assessment. Most teachers believe they should play a role in continuous assessments that ultimately contribute to a qualification grade.

  10. Digital innovation needs more emphasis. Digitisation can make assessment more relevant and inclusive but significant effort is required to make this a reality.

Initial Conclusions: Four Guiding Principles

We have synthesised the findings under four guiding principles that reflect what most people are asking of the education system and to inform the next research phase of this project.

Empowering: An education is a preparation for life and work and should inspire a lifelong love of learning achieved through the acquisition of a core of knowledge plus broader, deeper knowledge including problem-solving, creativity, resilience, leadership and respect for others.

Coherent: Curriculum, qualifications, assessment and teaching should work together in harmony. Furthermore, the 14-19 phase itself should be coherent with later pathways through higher education and apprenticeships.

Adaptable: The 14-19 phase should offer flexibility and choice of academic, applied and technical pathways in an inclusive system more akin to bridges and ladders than rigid tracks.

Innovative: The delivery of assessment and teaching within the 14-19 phase should unleash the power of technology to improve adaptability, inclusion, empowerment and coherence.

Next Steps and further research

The second phase of this research will test these principles by exploring two research questions:

  • What outcomes should the post-14 curriculum deliver for young people? We will consider: What choices should be offered at each stage? How do we ensure that curriculum pathways are defined by objective outcomes data rather than perceptions and bias? How are employer voices best expressed? How do we ensure equity and inclusion? What are the implications for existing qualifications?

  • How should assessment best serve learning, and support these outcomes? We will consider: What role can technology play? How do we ensure validity and reliability of assessments? How can we better define what knowledge and skill matters and therefore what should be assessed? The purposes and behavioural consequences of assessment.

The research will begin in summer 2021 and we expect to publish our final report by the end of 2021.


Pearson plc published this content on 16 June 2021 and is solely responsible for the information contained therein. Distributed by Public, unedited and unaltered, on 16 June 2021 07:03:02 UTC.

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