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Story-based Functional Skills pilot could help vulnerable young people write a new chapter in their lives

A pilot investigating the impact of interactive, story-based assessment on vulnerable groups has found that the method can improve engagement, motivation, and outcomes in Functional Skills.

The study by The Really NEET Project, and supported by NCFE’s Assessment Innovation Fund, aimed to use technology as an alternative to traditional paper-based assessments that can leave some learners feeling anxious, angry, distressed, and unable to prove their skills and knowledge. 

Using the principles of ‘escape rooms’ through the development of an online story-based platform where students could demonstrate their learning in an immersive environment, the project found that three-quarters of felt that story-based assessments would be of benefit to them, and two-thirds preferred them to traditional exams.   

Overall, 70% of learners said they would be more likely to engage in an English qualification if they were assessed this way, with 52% saying the same for maths.  

Sophie Maxwell, Founder of The Really Neet Project, yesterday said:

“We believe our pilot shows that it is not only possible to create valid, credible, and reliable story-based assessments, but that it is absolutely necessary in order to make assessments accessible for young people with additional needs.” 

The Really NEET Project study grew out of the frustration of watching vulnerable young people working hard to gain basic skills and then, when needing to demonstrate this by gaining a qualification, repeatedly failing to do themselves justice.  

It set about finding out whether a new form of assessment might go some way to solving this problem and devised a pilot to ‘mirror’ maths and English assessments, incorporating Level 1 Functional Skills questions as an alternative to the conventional exams.  

These were story-based, digital, interactive, and piloted with a group of young people across different settings, all of whom had a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC), Social, Emotional, and Mental Health (SEMH) or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  

Young peoples’ views and experiences of completing these story-based assessments were then gathered through surveys and analysed alongside the staff survey responses and researcher observations. The findings strongly support the idea that this type of assessment could help many young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND).  

Many SEND learners felt less anxious and more relaxed during their story-based assessments than they had in traditional exams in the past. This increased engagement with the assessment and enhanced the learner’s ability to focus and concentrate on their answers. 

The project has been supported by a grant from NCFE’s Assessment Innovation Fund which has already invested £1 million to help organisations with new approaches to assessment to explore innovative uses of technology.     

Gray Mytton, Assessment Innovation Manager and project lead at NCFE, yesterday said:

“It has been fantastic to see how story-based assessments have developed to the point where The Really NEET Project has created four amazing stories that contain rigorously validated Functional Skills assessments.  

“The learners in this pilot have clearly enjoyed the experience and have been motivated to study maths and English more than through traditional approaches to their summative assessment.” 

Supported by NCFE and Ufi VocTech Trust, the next round of the Assessment Innovation Fund is now open to applications and focuses on assessment within vocational education, helping UK adults develop the skills they need to gain and maintain employment.   

Two organisations will be awarded up to £150,000 each and the fund welcomes applications from training providers, awarding organisations, EdTech businesses, colleges, and others interested in changing the future of assessment.     

 To find out more information about the pilot and to read the final report, visit our Really NEET Project page.


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