What would a lifelong digital passport for literacy record?

This blog post comes as an extension to my last blog – a plea for a lifelong digital passport for literacy for all UK citizens, probably to be developed much in the same spirit and manner as the UK NHS online medical records sharing system.

My point of inspiration came from reading the “Language for Life” (1975) Bullock Report, as commissioned by Margaret Thatcher in her role as Secretary of State for Education in 1972 to investigate delivery and improvement of English teaching within schools. One of the recommendations that jumped out at me from the report was: “There should be close consultation and communication between schools to ensure continuity in the teaching of reading and in the language development of every pupil.”

The overarching need I felt rested on not only the recognition of the importance of the exchange of information on transition between primary and secondary schools, but at levels of transition beyond that too, especially, due to my current role in FE, the need to perhaps gain more continuity in language development for post 16 year olds. They come to us an unknown entity, we have little time with them, and have to catch up fast. The same is true if you are a work-based learning tutor, or a tutor in a government funded training centre. You are expected to carry out initial assessments, diagnostics, create a learning plan with superficial SMART targets (“student should be able to write 5 sentences demonstrating correct use of possessive apostrophes within 3 weeks” – I’ve worked in training centres attached to job centres that do that type of stuff), teach them for a bit, bung them in an assessment, and prove that they have made progress. I’m not sure if that’s very convincing really – are you?

Surely it would be all more deep and meaningful if the learner was the focus embedded in their past line of progress too? Surely they shouldn’t needlessly repeat work they already know? Surely they should have an individual literacy history that comes with them beyond a hit and miss collection of crumpled exam certificates?

So anyway, over the last few days I’ve been perusing the “English from 5 to 16” report (1986 version). I just thought I’d share some snippets that added value to the above proposal / plea, which draw attention to the kind of stuff that might be recorded in such a digital passport for literacy. It’s all well known stuff, too – things we know that Ofsted love to see evidence of to give the outstanding grade for:


“3.4 Schools must ensure that progress in the pupils’ learning takes place. This requires schemes of work which deal with aims, objectives and methods, planning of programmes of work, assessment, recording, and re-adjusted planning in the light of what the assessments show.”

The digital passport could contain reference to the content of previous schemes of work and methods students have been subjected to, what assessments they have undertaken and results of them with targets that were then set for students to try to reach, along with difficulties they encountered in reaching them and support strategies offered to help.

“3.5 The planning of programmes of work and the assessment and recording of the progress of individual pupils should be continuous throughout the primary years as pupils pass from class to class. This requires liaison between class teachers under the leadership of the head and/or the language consultant. In secondary schools these responsibilities lie with the English department.”

Records of such progress and “liaison” and any subsequent decisions made could be recorded. Do primaries still have ‘language consultants’?


“3.6 It is no less essential that there should be adequate curricular liaison between contributing and receiving schools when pupils pass from the primary to the secondary phase of education. There should be agreement between the schools about what pupils should be expected to have learnt and experienced by the time they transfer. Records in agreed form which contain reasonably full assessments of the individual child’s progress in all the language modes should be passed to the receiving school and used there as the starting point for further development. The secondary school must in turn ensure that programmes of work are progressive and that careful assessment and recording of the pupil’s development take place.”

Can we add adequate circular liaison through to post 16 education as well again here please? Why does the student suddenly become detached from their learning history when they get to FE to repeat their GCSE English that they didn’t get grade C in yet, or when they get to the job centre and, after being classed as long term unemployed after 6 months, have to go to do Functional Skills English and employability courses at the government funded training centre next door? Can we add that Further, continuing and Higher Education must ensure that programmes of work are progressive too? Can we have somewhere to record the pupil’s development that isn’t just a short lived data repository on excel spreadsheets produced internally or by individual teachers? Can we ensure that these records are maintained and passed on for continual progress and development to be made into adulthood?


“.10 Assessment needs to be longitudinal. This involves reviewing all of the pupil’s work over a period of time, such as a term. It is then possible to see in what ways progress has been made and in what ways it has not, which enables future work to be planned.”

Again, we shouldn’t make a rod for our own backs in a workload sense, but can we achieve this so that it is viable and means something that remains with the student in an effective way?

“4.11 Assessment must be followed up, so that it leads to improvement. Strengths should be built on by being applied to more demanding tasks. Weaknesses must not be allowed to persist: the pupil should be shown how to do better and should be expected to do so.”

Yes, stretch and challenge. But if students come to us with no history as post 16 learners, how can we challenge them and help them improve? Really? We know nothing! We spend a hurried few months pushing them through a curriculum of GCSE English that was designed to be delivered over two years in school, and are expected to get to know them in that time. We need to know so much more than just what GCSE grades they got at school.


We do now have accountability measures of course, so are obliged to report back on individual learners to show they have progressed in leaps and bounds of +1s and +2s etc. But I’d strongly argue that demonstrating improvement at the individual learner level by a +1 or +2 is probably neither necessary nor sufficient. Let’s get back to focusing on the learner, in all their depth and glory. Give them a history, don’t just kill it at 16.





Source of the above mentioned report:


Cox (1989) English for ages 5 to 16.

English from 5 to 16
HMI Series: Curriculum Matters No. 1

London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office 1984
© Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen’s Printer for Scotland.

English from 5 to 16

Second Edition
(incorporating responses)
Curriculum Matters 1

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