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Developing the skills to meet life’s challenges and possibilities


How ASDAN are drawing on their expertise to help young people find opportunity in the modern world

Young people face an uncertain and challenging future. The pace of social and economic change and growing inequality, intensified by the effects of technology, are limiting opportunities for young people, particularly those growing up in disadvantaged communities.

For young people preparing to find opportunity in our complex 21st century, having a strong foundation of desirable and transferable core skills has never been more important. The renewed national interest in personal, social and employability development offers a vital opportunity to re-evaluate the most effective ways to foster these skills and qualities that young people will need to thrive in learning, work and life.

ASDAN is an education charity and awarding organisation providing courses, accredited curriculum programmes and regulated qualifications to engage, elevate and empower young people aged 11 to 25 years in greatest need. 

Where it all began…

The ASDAN story began in the early 1980s. Faced with students disengaged by their experience of school, a Devon based teacher germinated the idea for a radical award scheme. This would offer certification for achievements not recognised or valued by the traditional framework of educational assessment, constructed around engaging activities that would motivate students, celebrate their skills and talents, and encourage them to progress in learning and/or to work.

Meanwhile, teachers on a Master’s programme in Bristol formed a network to develop and accredit core skills, and to share effective teaching and learning practice. The programme pioneered in Devon was adopted by this emerging network, and subsequently developed into the regional Youth Award Scheme. This blossomed into of a national network of practitioners working with young people disengaged from and undervalued by the education system, supported by a team from the Education faculty at the University of the West of England.

The increasing popularity of the scheme required a national structure and the Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network (ASDAN) was born. Formally established as a charity in 1997, helping young people develop knowledge and skills to flourish in life has been at the forefront of ASDAN’s mission ever since.

The original Youth Award Scheme went on to inform the development of ASDAN’s first regulated qualifications in the 2000s – notably the Certificate of Personal Effectiveness. Hundreds of thousands of young people have since benefited from ASDAN’s practical and personalised approach to developing their core skills and competencies whilst instilling confidence, wellbeing and personal resilience.

Driven by a desire to help learners achieve meaningful outcomes and belief in the value of personal and social effectiveness, ASDAN continues to inspire confidence in young learners, their teachers and tutors, and prepare them for the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Personal and social effectiveness for modern life

Honouring the original vision of the teachers in Devon and Bristol, ASDAN has a long-standing tradition and extensive expertise in developing young people’s personal and social skills to achieve meaningful outcomes. Drawing on a wealth of knowledge, they have a commitment to be at the leading edge of effective practice in society and education. This is reflected in the availability of a variety of curriculum programmes and qualifications, offering a range of approaches to quality assurance and assessment.

The ASDAN Personal Development Programmes are a direct descendent from the original Youth Award Scheme, brought up to date to reflect modern competencies and qualities. They are still accredited through practitioner networks of teachers and teaching assistants who act as stewards for the quality of the awards, alongside ASDAN’s professional team of advisers.

A suite of thirty-three short courses covers a huge spectrum of engaging topics, from PSHE through to gardening, leadership, expressive arts and beyond. Learners’ achievements are certificated by teachers, and there are opportunities to recognise small steps of learning in credits for as little as 10 hours of learning.

The Certificate of Personal Effectiveness (CoPE) develops a wide range of core skills, personal qualities and attributes, introducing young people to new activities and challenges to help them prepare for opportunities in further learning, work and life. It has the external moderation arrangements befitting a regulated qualification, and is a good example of a ‘learning outcomes-based’ qualification with end-to-end professional support for centres designed into the quality assurance arrangements.

Building on the success of the CoPE qualification and in response to the abrupt changes in education and society that 2020 brought, ASDAN began updating their personal effectiveness offer. Continuing the focus of preparing young people for their futures, they developed new qualifications to meet their needs in an uncertain world.

The Personal and Social Effectiveness (PSE) qualifications were designed to develop modern and future-facing competencies in communication, collaboration and emotional intelligence. Aimed at young learners working at Level 1 and 2, the PSE qualifications offer a unique and personalised approach to enabling individual progress, assessed by a portfolio of evidence.

The ASDAN Award in Personal and Social Effectiveness covers three skilled-based units at Award level:

  • Developing myself and my performance
  • Working with others
  • Problem solving

With over 30 years’ experience designing curriculum for young people, ASDAN knows that core skills are best developed in context. To provide context, students can select from twelve topics, such as health and wellbeing, science and technology, the environment and independent living, specifically chosen to present a wide-ranging and modern set of options for learners. The topics create an engaging framework for learners to develop the core skills needed to progress in life.

By selecting to study topics that interest and motivate them, young people can create learning experiences they find meaningful. Their positive engagement with the topic-matter provides a solid framework for developing the targeted skills, attributes and values of the core units. This approach to learning can help improve behaviours and grow confidence, crucial for a young person’s future development.

Learners can advance to the Certificate in Personal and Social Effectiveness by delivering a project linked to a topic covered in one of the three units.

This new qualification offers a unique flexibility, equipping teachers with intuitive and adaptable resources to design their curriculum in a way that reflects and meets the needs of their learners. Susannah Harlow of ASDAN is a co-author of the PSE qualifications and notes a significant consideration in the design process was that “Young people will need to be grounded in their own values and able to relate with others on a local and global scale to adapt creatively and resiliently as change unfolds”.

By teachers, for teachers

ASDAN originated when teachers got together to design courses to meet their students’ needs. Committed to maintaining this tradition, ASDAN actively seeks feedback and insights from its members to inform the development and updating of all its courses. The PSE curriculum, for example, was created in close collaboration with education practitioners and ASDAN members, incorporating their input to guide its development.

Supporting teachers to reflect on and develop their professional practice is at the core of ASDAN’s approach. Professional learning is an effective way to enhance critical thinking and learning for teachers. It ensures that teaching practice is evidence-informed and relevant, and will in turn inspire and engage all learners. Staying true to its roots as a network for sharing effective teaching practice, ASDAN is currently in the pilot phase of establishing professional learning communities for teachers delivering PSE.

From concept to classroom

As a member organisation, ASDAN works closely with its community of teachers and tutors to serve them in the best ways possible. Through positive relationships with those on the teaching frontline, ASDAN creates appropriate and engaging course content, supported by the most effective methods to ensure its delivery in ways that are pedagogically appropriate.

Alongside the design and development of its new Personal and Social Effectiveness qualifications, ASDAN has implemented an evaluation study, a two-year project with the aim of gathering rich information on teachers’ experience of delivering the new qualification, to reflect and shape learning processes and further improve ASDAN’s support for teachers – from concept to classroom.

ASDAN is enormously grateful to the teachers who have committed their time and energy to contribute to this evaluation, alongside ASDAN staff and an external independent researcher. Focus group sessions with this group are providing valuable insights from the classroom, informing the provision of resources and training materials that accompany the PSE qualification.

One emerging theme from the discussions is ‘flexibility’. Teachers have remarked on the empowering choices built into the PSE course for practitioners and learners alike. They have also valued the opportunity to facilitate learning that is relevant and rooted in real life.

Another encouraging reflection is how the course has increased the confidence of learners. Teachers have observed how learners have shown self-assurance within themselves and assertiveness in skills such as self-organisation and critical questioning. It is encouraging to note how learners have demonstrated their understanding of how the topics were being used to develop their core skills. Positive feedback from learners on their experiences with the PSE curriculum is also now also starting to emerge.

By evaluating the journey of their new Personal and Social Effectiveness qualifications, ASDAN is building a systematic approach to learning about, from and with its members. This will continue to inform the design and development of quality learning options for young people in greatest need.

A pivotal moment

This is a pivotal moment for young people and the opportunities that education may or may not offer them.

Within the Department of Education’s post-16 qualifications reform plans and SEND improvement plan is a promise of a renewed focus on personal, social and employability skills. But will this give young people access to real, decent and accessible options that will benefit their futures? ASDAN argues that bold and hope-filled thinking about the design of curriculum and teaching and learning approaches should accompany the development of national standards, qualifications and assessment strategies. If these can be integrated within a learning-outcomes based design framework, and grounded in the real practice and experience of teachers, tutors and learners, the potential in that promise could be realised.

The Rethinking Assessment movement has it right in calling for a re-balancing of the role of exams in our education system to make way for a broader-based approach to recognising and valuing the qualities, skills and talents of young people. They point to workable solutions, practical ideas and approaches to make assessment fairer, broader and more equitable. These are being developed across the world as well as at home in the UK, by educators and employers with a common interest in creating a fairer system for recognising and discovering talent through new and more inspiring forms of assessment.

‘A real-life laboratory’

Jenny Williams, ASDAN’s Chief Executive is hopeful about the opportunities ahead:

“We are immensely proud of our heritage of having been designed by teachers for teachers, and humbled that, despite the challenges of the last few years, teachers and their learners continue to support us by using ASDAN courses.

At a time when the grades race in education is exacerbating inequalities and reducing opportunities for those from disadvantaged communities, the need for practical and personalised learning opportunities to engage, elevate and empower young people in greatest need has never been more important.

One of our values is that we are real. That’s ultimately what young people need from us and so we seek to understand the challenges of teaching and the courage it requires, and aim to support educators in practical and creative ways.

We are a ‘real-life laboratory’ for a number of the ideas and approaches currently being explored to recognise and elevate the qualities, skills and talents of young people. We look forward to learning more from the teachers and educators whose resilience and belief in education and young people’s talents inspires us every day.”

Find out more on the ASDAN website: https://www.asdan.org.uk

Read about the Personal and Social Effectiveness qualifications: https://www.asdan.org.uk/pse

Get in touch with an ASDAN advisor to discuss the benefits to your learners:
0117 941 1126 | info@asdan.org.uk

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