On 20th and 21st October I was delighted to represent Inspera and attend the Federation of Awarding Bodies’ FAB 2022 conference.

The theme of this year’s conference was delivering opportunity for all: equity, diversity and inclusion in qualifications and skills. The importance of this commitment was reiterated by Paul Kett, Director General for Skills Group at the Department for Education, in the opening keynote. He explained simply that a key purpose of the Department for Education is to help learners achieve their potential – something we all agree is vital to the success of all learners from all backgrounds.

After a few days to reflect on my experiences of the conference, I’d like to share my three top takeaways.

Equality is not the same as equity

Often, it takes a simple example to illuminate the trickiest issues. Frank Douglas, Non-Executive Director of City & Guilds Group, provided this example in his keynote when explaining that equity is not the same as equality.

As he pointed out, if you’re going to be truly equal, you will allocate exactly the same amount of time to teaching every student the same things. But imagine you have a student who’s struggling or who comes from a background where they have been unable to benefit from the same learning opportunities as their peers. Giving that student the same amount of teaching might be equal, but it isn’t equitable because that student needs more assistance to achieve the same outcome.

The question is then, how can you assess your students’ knowledge and capabilities in a way that is both equal and equitable?

Enhancing equality and equity through formative assessment

The conference was an excellent opportunity to hear the regulatory point of view in this context. In short, if you’re going to change the way in which you assess candidates, you also have to design the curriculum for that change. It works both ways too. If you want to change the curriculum, you also have to think about how you’re going to assess it.

We know that many students, for many reasons, don’t perform at their best in high stakes exam environments. On the other hand, taking a more modular approach and testing them in different ways throughout the teaching and learning lifecycle can help to support them and ensure that all learners are able to demonstrate their knowledge along with their skills and capabilities.

Diagnostic testing during formative teaching and learning helps enhance potential  learning outcomes. It enables teachers and tutors to gain insights that assist in determining where students are excelling and where they need additional support, ensuring equity for all throughout teaching and learning.

It provides benefits to awarding bodies too, because it gives a much more rounded picture of learners’ capabilities than a single final assessment or relying on predicted grades or teacher assessments.

Achieving equality and equity in assessments

However, if we move towards more modular testing, we also need to consider the way we carry out that testing. The administration and logistical drawbacks of traditional paper-based testing are well-rehearsed. If we introduce more testing, we risk making these burdens even heavier.

Digital assessment offers significant opportunities to overcome these drawbacks. It’s easier to do in bite-sized chunks because the administration and logistical barriers are far lower than they are for traditional paper-based assessment. You’re also in greater control of the reasonable adjustments and special considerations that you can offer to your candidates, which in turn supports vitally important requirements around inclusivity and accessibility.

Beyond the practicalities, we open up new ways to conduct assessments too. We can take a ‘lift and shift’ approach by taking traditional essay-type questions and moving them to a digital context.

Another approach is more radical, and it’s what we call ‘born digital’. This embraces all the interactive tasks you can offer in a digital environment, but that you can’t take advantage of in a traditional paper-based environment. This is an incredibly powerful approach for functional skills assessments and vocational qualifications where essay-based questions might not provide the best test of a candidate’s skills, knowledge and abilities. It can also help boost uptake of assessments, especially amongst cohorts who might not engage with traditional, paper-based methods.

The power of digital

This was the first FAB conference that Inspera has attended. It was inspirational to see the determination in the room to deliver opportunity for all. There was a lot of excitement about the potential of digital assessment in helping with the mission. At the same time, there was recognition that we need proof of concepts to demonstrate that digital assessment can help awarding bodies achieve the enhanced outcomes they seek.

Inspera has a wealth of experience working in other markets that we can bring to this debate, in particular thanks to our work in higher education and national school level assessment programmes in Scandinavia.

It’s this experience that is feeding into conversations we’re currently having with awarding organisations and assessment services providers to help them progress with proofs of concept.

If you’d like to have a similar conversation, please get in touch.