Learner passport

Recognising student learning

Concerned that conventional assessment undermines rather than meets student needs, Conrad Hughes suggests a different approach to the recognition of learning. Other Heads obviously agree.

The price of narrow assessment

I’m a head of school and have regular 1:1 check-ins with my students to see how things are with them, what their goals are and to get to know them a bit better. Over the past years, I’ve noticed that the conversations with senior students tend to be centred on the concepts of stress, workload and tests.

Pressure is not always a bad thing: it can build resilience. After all, little of worth can be achieved if we simply linger in our comfort zones. However, in today’s world, already so coarsened by Covid, information overload and a rise in levels of anxiety and mental illness, putting more pressure on young people hardly seems necessary. Educational pathways should become more mindful and creative, not more aggressive and narrow.

Of course, this is not what happens: the school system we have designed drowns out much that is pleasant about learning with narrow, high stakes assessments.

I describe much of this in this TEDx Talk

What students lose and what they need

There are many problems caused by this system: students often stop following their passions because they are squeezed out by academics and teaching becomes less creative and much more transactional: teaching to the test as they say. The sad thing is that we are losing human potential as we format ourselves into this straightjacket, just at the point when young minds are at their most creative.

Furthermore, most 21st Century skills consortia will agree that the competences needed for a successful and productive life in the 21st Century are more widespread, intra and interpersonal than those assessed in traditional written examinations. The school of life is not about how well you can do on an abstract test, it is about how you react to your environment.

One school’s response

The first step to take is one that will lead to a new system, something that is aligned with the philosophy of deep learning and human flourishing, not a factory approach. At my school, we are nearing the completion of our Learner Passport. The purpose of this is to allow every star to shine, to let students celebrate their passions and for universities and employers to recognise this.

Responding as a coalition of schools

As we developed the tool, I asked myself what other schools were doing. I reached out to my personal network: school leaders from across the world. The response was surprising: over 30 schools felt the way I did and their principals were just as eager to reform the system.

We set up the Coalition to Honour All Learning. This is a group of schools that is committed to reforming high school certification. Many of the schools in the coalition are already trialling alternative systems such as Global Citizenship Diplomas or micro-credentialing. We also have a small number of universities on the group, such as the University of Toronto. The bridge between universities and schools must be strong for this reform to be lasting and effective. Too often in education, entities work in isolation.

University and employer recognition

Our goal is to publish an interactive matrix that will allow universities, employers, schools and students directly to know which alternative transcripts are recognised by which universities. The goal of the coalition is not to standardise each alternative system into one overarching approach: this is the traditional examination board response that is currently the norm across the world. Rather, we wish to allow each member of the coalition to keep their own identity. At the end of the day, it is the school that is in the best position to assess a students’ competences rather than a globalised external assessing body.

As the collation grows, we hope to encourage more schools to adopt alternative transcripts and to have these feature in our matrix (which we aim to have published mid-way through 2022).

Telling the whole story of learning

The Coalition to Honour All Learning is a group with a vision for a different way of assessing student learning: we are looking to human flourishing and the telling of the whole story. Through time this could lead not only to more creative schools and more diverse learning pathways for students but a more open society where we view each other with admiration for our diversity and not a desire to see us all conform to the same metrics.


Conrad Hughes is Campus & Secondary Principal at International School of Geneva, La Grande Boissière.




Feature Image: Mysticsartdesign at Pixabay

Support Image: with kind permission from the International School of Geneva