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Exams aren’t everything. Every pupil, and every pupil’s journey, matters  

Scotland’s Inclusion Ambassadors have created a new award to celebrate success, writes Enquire’s Lucy Johnson

After a turbulent couple of years, we find ourselves working through what is likely to be a long period of recovery. As schools adjust, establish new routines and balance ongoing challenges, an important part of this should be recognising and celebrating the successes of their pupils. We know a number of schools already do this, but there is a heightened awareness amongst us all for the need to help pupils strengthen their confidence and build self-esteem.

The pupils we work with across Children in Scotland, Enquire and My Rights, My Say, tell us repeatedly about the impact relationships with their families, peers and school staff has on their learning. They highlight the importance of feeling included in the school community and of being involved in decisions made about them and their support. This feeling of being included should also extend to how personal success is recognised.

An appetite for change

Often, when we talk about achievements in learning, we talk about exams. But this doesn’t recognise and celebrate the diversity of success. Exams are typically used to form a gateway to the next stage of higher or further education. Exam results may play an important role in identifying the aptitude of pupils to gain entry to college or university. But they have also historically limited opportunities to celebrate the successes of those who are not on this traditional path. A focus on exam results can detract from the success of younger pupils and those who may not be following a traditional academic route, which can be especially true for those with additional support needs.

In recognition of this, there is a growing national conversation emerging about the power and opportunity of looking and measuring success in different ways.

Amongst these voices is Scotland’s national Inclusion Ambassadors. A group of young people with a range of additional support needs, they believe that there are more varied ways to measure success. Whilst understanding that assessments and exams have their place, they argue there needs to be room for something more – especially for those whom success and achievement does not take the form of test scores.

Success Looks Different Award

It is this thinking that led the Inclusion Ambassadors to launch the Success Looks Different Award. Developed as part of ongoing work around the Scottish Government’s Additional Support for Learning Implementation Plan, the award recognises and progresses the call in Angela Morgan’s independent review that success does not have to be measured solely by exam results. Whilst hopeful of larger systematic change, the group recognises that individual schools have little influence on nationalised testing and that exams are generally an inevitable part of school.

However, they also see an opportunity to create something to help schools share different and creative ways success can be celebrated. Within the application for the award, there is a chance for schools to include the voices of pupils about how they are working collaboratively with them to help support them to be the best they can be.

The need for system and culture change

For many of the young people we speak to, they would welcome recognition of achievements in both their personal and learning journey. No matter how big or small they may be, it is important - now more than ever - to celebrate these successes. It builds a sense of community, promotes real and genuine inclusion and recognises the work and achievements of pupils, and those who support them, in all forms.

We also know that celebrating all pupils within a school community helps build a more inclusive learning environment. It communicates the message that exam results are not the only way to mark achievement and that every pupil, and every pupil’s journey, matters.

Lucy Johnson is Communication and Child Rights Officer for Enquire. She manages the Success Looks Different Award.  

The Award is open to all publicly funded and grant-aided schools, including primary, secondary, early learning settings and special schools. Applications will be accepted until 5pm on Friday 10 June.  

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About the author

Lucy Johnson is Communication and Child Rights Officer for Enquire

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Success Looks Different Award

Recognising schools that celebrate the non-academic achievements of pupils

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