Steps towards ‘future-proofing’ students

In our reader survey this year, many of you let us know you’d like to see more content on the future of education and how to best prepare students for life after school. An industry report from the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education, Future-proofing students - what they need to know and how educators can assess and credential them, argues deeper, systemic change is needed to effectively ‘future-proof’ students. It is the second paper in a series which identifies and seeks to address issues in education.

‘If the goal is to ensure that learners can master skills as part of their day-to-day educational endeavours, it is simply not effective to play around the edges of current practice, with minor adjustments to teaching and assessment,’ the paper reads.

The four authors – Enterprise Professor Sandra Milligan, Dr Rebekah Luo, Associate Professor Eeqbal Hassim and Jayne Johnston – say it starts with altering what and how we assess when it comes to general capabilities. They outline their key recommendations for implementing this change and share school case studies on innovative assessing and credentialing.

‘[The report] came from research partnership work that we’ve done over the last four years with schools and other organisations who I call “first-movers” in reforming education,’ Milligan tells Teacher. These organisations include Big Picture schools, Latrobe Valley Authority and a number of South Australian schools.

‘[These organisations] believe that what students need to know and be able to do, to thrive, both at school and beyond school, is not sufficiently captured in the curriculum and the assessment and the credentialing features of our school systems,’ she explains.

Key messages on future-proofing students

Milligan says one of the main messages of the report is that teachers cannot do this on their own.

‘You can’t expect a classroom teacher to do all the things that are required for students to learn what they need to learn to thrive,’ she says. ‘And that’s because it’s not all in the power of the classroom teacher to do it. … So we tried to seek what was happening in the schools and in the classrooms in the wider ecosystems of concerns that you’d need to have to change, to deeply change things.’

In nine key messages which outline the elements of future-proofing students and the support teachers need, the authors discuss the use of a developmental learner profile based on quality assessments. They suggest its widespread use would enable students to better manage their own learning, monitor their own progress and recognise the learning skills they already have or need to attain. It would also allow stakeholders to better understand the strengths of an individual.

‘… A learner profile is a reporting approach that tries to capture in a useful utilitarian way, the breadth of things that students know and can do,’ Milligan explains. ‘So we’re working with a large number of schools to get a large range of learner profiles that these schools think are useful for themselves, as teachers, to help chart the development of the whole child … One of the big challenges there of course is getting the universities to accept it instead of the ATAR, but I think we’re making some progress in those areas,’ she says.

Assessing general capabilities

Seven in-depth case studies which demonstrate innovative practice in assessing the general capabilities are also outlined in the paper.

One case study focuses on Beenleigh State High School in Queensland, which is part of the University of Melbourne Network of Schools. The network consists of over 100 schools from across the country and facilitates collaborations between school communities and researchers at the University.

Beenleigh SHS has implemented an initiative which seeks to take a tailored approach to assessing and micro-credentialing the development of students’ general capabilities, particularly the skills related to employability.

‘This initiative commenced after the school identified a need to assess and micro-credential the employability skills of its secondary school leavers,’ the paper says. ‘The school had begun to introduce the micro-credential opportunity in 2018 but was unable to develop a suitable rubric for assessment. By the end of 2020, the school is aspiring towards a state-wide pilot of this credential.’

Key recommendations for change

The paper presents three fundamental recommendations to facilitate a new system of assessment: a standards framework, a reporting framework, and moderation support.

The authors say a standards framework would assist teachers with making comparable assessments of students’ levels of attainment in capabilities for learning. A reporting framework which is flexible would help educators with credential attainment and provide common ground for reporting amongst Australian schools. And finally, they argue moderation support is needed.

‘One of the things that we’ve found from our [network] schools is that for student agency to sort of flower, the sorts of things that kids do to learn the general capabilities or to develop them can be very different, but the aspiration that they achieve these things are the same. So this makes assessment more complex,’ Milligan tells Teacher.

It means that teacher judgement – along with other forms of judgement, like employer judgement and peer assessment – are used to make assessments on common standards in things like general capabilities. Because of this, a stronger moderation requirement is needed, Milligan says.

‘There’s no clear standards framework that, say, senior secondary schools could use across Australia to tell whether what “School A” says is the same as what “School B” says when it comes to assessing what a student can do. Now, that is changing … we’re working with the Commonwealth government to get some general standards in the general capabilities; schools haven’t had to work in that framework before, but I think they will soon.’


Milligan, S. K., Luo, R., Hassim, E., & Johnston, J. (2020). Future-proofing students: What they need to know and how to assess and credential them. Melbourne Graduate School of Education, the University of Melbourne.

Think about your school context. What are your priorities when it comes to preparing students for life after school and study? How are you developing students’ general capabilities, particularly the skills related to employability? How do you know students are making progress in these skills?