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Title: Transforming education through globalized peer assessment


Author: Dan Buckley

Institution: Cambridge Education
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Our 21st century global economy finds value in diversity, collaboration, creativity and
innovation yet the structure of our schools tends to lead to conformity, compliance
and homogeny. Currently there are few models across the world, of schools that are
able to respond to the creative chaos of collaborative learning whilst ensuring
consistent quality and measurable outcomes. This is leading to fears of a ‘tipping
point’ in education as learners become increasingly unhappy with the gap between
learning in schools and the wealth of online opportunities available to them outside of

Over the last hundred years the design of schools, the curriculum, teacher roles,
student roles and organisational structures have all evolved together and just like an
ecosystem, are now entwined in complex interrelationships. Research is continuing to
demonstrate that changes are needed to improve the system but there is a nervousness
and lack of clarity about how we achieve this given the complexity. Like an
ecosystem, if we were to change one aspect we could have a profound and possibly
unplanned effect on the rest. To avoid such unforeseen changes, educationalists must
develop clear and holistic future school visions that see schools within the context of a
global community. The introduction of new technologies is a much faster process
than turning around an education system so we must start the change process towards
e-enabled schools now, even though the prospect of every child internationally with
an internet enabled device still seems a fair way off, the prospect of a transformed
education system seems further.

In 2006 I was commissioned by Microsoft to write a number of holistic future schools

visions. The intention was to have an ‘off the shelf’ resource for Headteachers that
not only provided them with a range of future schools but, once they had decided on
which vision they subscribed to, a clear route map for how to efficiently use resources
to get there. I developed three models in detail and then, rather surprisingly found
that these three encompassed the views of the majority of Headteachers and agencies
with which we debated the model. The three routes are described in brief terms below
and in much greater detail in my joint work with Microsofti (Microsoft’s Practical
Guide to Envisioning and Transforming Education).

The three future schools visions were based on what future relationship would exist
between the teacher and the pupil
• Evolved School Models - This assumes the current system is the best we can
achieve. In this scenario we would be using ICT to find new ways of
supporting the existing structures. ICT would tend to be used to make the role
of the Teacher easier by providing them with greater tools with which to
teach. (The T-route).
• Transformed School Models – This assumes that there are ways of organising
schools which empower the learner to take greater control over what they
learn and how they learn it. In this case ICT would tend to be used in ways
which provide the Pupil with better tools with which to develop their own
learning and work collaboratively with others to construct knowledge. (The P-
• De-schooled Models - Whichever model is pursued, success should be
measured in the belief of students and parents that attending school provides a
more valuable experience than being educated alone at home or, as is the case
in some areas of the world, not being educated at all. If there were a third
option it would be that schools cease to exist because they can’t compete with
home learning or don’t offer a route for the child towards greater opportunity
for themselves or their families. This third option is increasingly evident in
developed countries with numbers of home schooled students increasing
yearly and the performance of home schooled children in the UK, Canada and
USA now greater than schooledii. Systems that place such little importance on
collaboration and considerable value on individually written examinations are,
in effect, favouring isolated learning and so it is not surprising that if resources
of a similar quality are available at home, students will increasingly choose
this option. I don’t believe this to be a positive move culturally or socially.

In India for example, the drive towards universal education has seen a ten fold
increase in attendance of schoolsiii, largely constructed as elsewhere in the world,
around the T-route. For the remaining students yet to attend school there has been
some excellent initiatives around P-route development including the ‘joyful learning’
and a ‘child-centred’ approaches associated with the revised, competency-based
school curriculum. Further developments such as the upgrading of learning
environments and positive role modelling through schemes such as the ‘Girl Star’
projectiv have further developed the community’s assessment of the value of education
thus reducing those within the no-school group.

In all countries it is likely that all three models will exist well into the future so our
overall vision must encompass all of these routes but the P-route is currently
underdeveloped and likely to deliver the greatest returns both in terms of progress for
the individual but also in terms of the economic competitiveness and social cohesion
of the country within which they live. Recognition of the need for this move is
increasingly appearing in national educational vision documentation commonly under
the banner of ‘21st century learning skills’.

The concept of P-route schools is not new and there are numerous examples across
the globe of systems which provide learners with greater choice and self-
determination ranging from the Microsociety schools in the USA and Japan in which
children run the school as a mini society to the Danish schools such as HGOv based
on democratic empowerment. As P-route is fundamentally intended to advance
competencies and there is no widely accepted methodology or taxonomy for
measuring such competencies, it is extremely difficult to gauge the effectiveness of
such models. Ironically, the instrument which is frequently used to assess their
effectiveness is how well the students perform on standard written tests. A good
example of this is the education system in the UK in the 1970s. This was an attempt
to develop P-route practice on a wide scale but without the widespread monitoring
control of a national curriculum and assessment system. There were a number of well
publicised problems and the overriding view of educationalists was that it was a failed
process, yet recent research indicates that the generation of students that attended
schools in the 70s have been much more likely to continue their education throughout
their life, have developed much more entrepreneurship and wealth generation and
have achieved greater social mobility than any other recent decade.

In order to ensure that ICT systems can be used to best effect in new P-route schools
to identify valuable progress across competencies we need to be certain about the
core design principles including the importance of the following factors

Collaborative knowledge building. We still don’t know enough about how the
contribution of individual team members develops shared understanding and how to
assess each person’s contribution in terms of the overall outcome. What we do know
is that the ability to work in this way is a key component of a 21st century knowledge
economy and yet most of the skills development is happening unknown to schools
through learner’s online social networks, the growth of which is astounding. An
estimated 40% of all UK teenagers have adopted an alternative identity online in
order to collaborate anonymously (2005)vi.

Choice of learning context, creativity and approach. Every society has different
views about what pieces of information are essential and such content would be
required in P-route schools although how and when a learner accessed it may be more
within their control. In my own school for example, I delivered the national
curriculum by providing each child with teacher training and then commissioning
them to deliver it. Students had complete creative freedom as to how they achieved
this; the only requirement was that they had to evidence what proportion of the class
had learnt what they were teaching. Although all 300 children performed better in
standard tests than those taught traditionally, but it was in terms of their core
competencies that an incredible acceleration of three years was achieved in one year.
Hence in the P-route school it is the competencies framework which unites students
and drives collaboration rather than the subject content. To take a rather simple
example, if the required competence is to present clearly to an audience then it is
actually beneficial if each of the teams are working on entirely different content.
What unites them is a common framework for progressing and assessing the skills of
presentation. The number of countries recognising the need to base their curriculum
on core universal competences rather than knowledge has grown dramatically over
the past five years. The difference in focus may be subtle but when a teacher is
pressed for time what is removed to make space, content or opportunities to develop
competences? Frameworks such as the NACCCE help to clarify minimum
requirements around which such priorities can be identified.vii

Ownership of assessment. Assessment undoubtedly drives every education system.

Research concludes that the more assessment is integrated into the process of
learning, understood and owned by the individual the more effective and the less
damaging it is. Assessment used overtly to monitor teachers, school performance and
norm referenced milestones tends to label individuals, negatively impact on learner
independence and learner self-image (Black (1998)viii).
In Finland, teachers own the data and use it to conduct active research into their own
practice. This acts as a powerful role model for the students who can interpret
assessment as a tool for reflective practice and development. The monitoring role of
assessment is not shared widely so that government agencies can use the data to direct
support without placing a pressure for driven targets.
Sites such as have grown exponentially as learners demonstrate that
integrating review and assessment into leaning acts as a fuel rather than an inhibiter
especially when the learner is of a similar age or ability.ix The most striking piece of
evidence is this was the e-viva project operated by Ultralabx. This replaced written
questions with recorded messages to the child’s mobile phone. The research
discovered that learners would give more complex answers when the recorded
message was someone of their own age. PbyP (personalisation by pieces) is the first
system to provide such peer assessment as authentic qualifications without the need
for teacher verification and will be discussed later in this paper.

Student leadership. Schools which offer the diversity of a P-route curriculum need
to develop wide ranges of ‘real’ learning opportunities. Schools begin to develop into
brokers of learning opportunities and, in many cases into fully functioning
communities with student led services. The Grange school in the UK is a good
example of such a school. It was one of the lowest performing schools in the region
and had lost the confidence of its community. The school responded with a radical re-
evaluation of its structures, re-launching as ‘Grangeton’ a town run by students in
which they set up and ran a radio station, café, shop and even a museumxi and used
these devices as a vehicle for skills development, enjoyment and achievement. Four
years later it is one of the top performing schools in the country.
In the Five Islands School I set up teams of student leaders who designed a training
course to cover the ICT requirements and manage the equipment. They now deliver
the programme to all of the students including the assessment and monitoring. Such
opportunities increase the capacity for project leadership and enables genuine
empowered partnership as described by Hart’s ‘Degrees of Participation’xii which he
derived from the work of Arnstein (1969)xiii

One of the most stunning examples of such transformed practice is the Room 13
projectxiv in Scotland. In this case, students from ages 5 to 11 were given a room and
the budget to run it including funding to employ an adult to supervise. The students
employed an artist in residence. To gain access to the room, students had to complete
their schoolwork for the day. Students were soon requesting the work a day early so
they could complete it at home and spend the next day in room 13.

Over the past fifteen years, I have been devising and implementing projects which can
bring about P-route transformation. Many of these such as the ‘Access Manager
Scheme’, ‘Eggbuckland Peer Learning Project’ and the ‘ICT passport project’ have
achieved national and international recognition having demonstrated significant value
added in terms of ‘value added’ measurements and final examinations.

In 2004 I left Eggbuckland Community College to try to develop a toolkit that would
enable schools to plot their own P-route without external intervention. Such a toolkit
would need to introduce personalisation piece by piece at a pace which enables the
school to transform other interrelated practices and structures rather than through
radical and instant change. It would need to provide services over the web to every
individual student that would allow them to manage their own working and peer
assess the work of learners from other schools. It would need to be competency based
and enable the school to monitor progression in these competencies at a whole school
and individual level.

The first step in developing the PbyP toolkit (Personalisation by Pieces) was to define
the basic building block of learning at all ages. I defined a learning cycle which
involves the learner choosing a target, discussing this with a mentor, devising a way
of meeting the target, carrying out an activity to meet the target, gathering the
evidence and finally submitting the evidence for peer assessment before returning to
the start of the cycle with a different target. The targets needed to be accessible by the
individual and needed to be based on core competencies rather than knowledge. The
content of the targets was less important than ensuring they could be achieved and
evidenced independently.

Although each country and organisation defines competencies slightly differently,

there is enough overlap to define a set of approximately 50 from which all other
competency based curricular can be derived as a subset. Learning institutions then
identify the subset of competences they wish to promote. Each competence is then
divided into 9 statements of increasing difficulty. I have called such sets ‘Skill
ladders’. Returning to the example of ‘Presenting to an audience’, the level 1
statement asks the learner to prove that they can bring in something from home and
talk about it for a couple of minutes to their class. The statement is not intended to
encompass all of the skills and competences involved in presenting to an audience but
it does provide a starting point which can easily be understood and evidenced by the

Children who choose this target can use the PbyP web tool to see how other children
from around the world have achieved it. This inspires an idea such as submitting a
picture of themselves in front of the class. The child organises the photo to be taken
and then submits it. The work goes to another child who has already achieved this
target. This second child could be in a different country studying different content but
they are effectively an ‘expert’ in achieving this statement and so are able to assess it.
If this ‘expert’ agrees that the work has passed then it enters the child’s e-portfolio
and adds to the examples on the web that could inspire others. Like on eBay, the
child gets to rate the advice they have been given so that a set of ratings emerge which
are capable of monitoring progress measures through feedback. The learner can now
progress to the level 2 statement or switch to another competence.

I developed PbyP last year and it is currently undergoing extensive trials in over 30
UK learning institutions ranging from infant schools to university degree courses. I
applied the model to a 5-11 school in ‘special measures’, meaning it was nationally
identified as failing its students. Within 18 months of implementing a change
management plan based on the vision of a P-route school employing PbyP it was
declared ‘Outstanding in all areas’. All of the other trials have involved less direct
intervention but all are already reporting improved outcomes which in two cases have
been externally verified. Such schools are reporting that they have greater confidence
in beginning to diversify the range of opportunities because they have ways of
evaluating the educational benefits and the ability to offer it only to those students
who have demonstrated the competencies required to make use of these opportunities.
The simplicity of the concept, the ease of adoption and the flexibility to introduce new
competences I believe means that the concept will grow as its use diversifies.
Examples of this include developing multiple language versions which will allow
students to have their language work assessed by a native speaker, implementations in
different international education systems to demonstrate the overlap of universal
competences and the introduction of specific entrepreneurial skills.

Across the world, greater collaborative empowerment and personal ownership of

learning will require schools that act as both centres of community learning and
brokers of opportunities. In this way the democratisation of learning in the classroom
will support sustainable economic growth both within the local and global economy.
All references appear in the end note
Buckley, D. & Ziadeh, N. (2006) Microsoft’s Practical Guide to Envisioning and Transforming Education).
US home schooling statistics
Usha Jayachandran (2002), Socio-Economic Determinants of School Attendance in India
Danish democratised schools
Livingstone S; Bober M (2005) UK children go online
Black, P. & Wiliam, D, (1998) ‘Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment’
Greenwood, C. R.; Carta, J. J.; and Kamps, D.
"Teacher-Mediated Versus Peer-Mediated Instruction: A Review of Educational Advantages and Disadvantages." In
Children Helping Children, edited by H. C. Foot, M. J. Morgan, and R. H. Shute. New York: John Wiley and Sons,
1990, 177-205.
Walton S, (2005)
Roger A Hart, Children's Participation: The Theory and Practice of Involving Young Citizens in Community
Development and Environmental Care, UNICEF, New York, 1997.
Arnstein, Sherry R. "A Ladder of Citizen Participation," JAIP, Vol. 35, No. 4, July 1969, pp. 216-224

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