13 March 2008

On goal displacement/mission drift in Further Education

On Tuesday the Guardian published a paid-for supplement for the Quality Improvement Agency for lifelong learning. Its front-page article, "Progress Report" includes this;
"This is the first year ever that in all types of providers--work-based learning, adult and community education and colleges--the failure rates are below 10%," says Andrew Thomson, the QIA's chief executive. "They are about 3 or 4% in the case of colleges. And success rates are the highest ever."

Success in further education is tightly defines as the percentage of people signing up for a course that finish having achieved all the requirements. The success rate across the sector in 2006/7, according to data just released, had risen to 77%.
The same edition of the paper's Education Supplement includes an article expressing concern at the standard of training received by early years child care staff. After discussing the alleged decline in standards embodied by the current NVQ2 and even NVQ3 qualifications in the field, the article concludes;

So, are training providers passing students who don't make the grade?

Davies words her answer carefully. "Naturally colleges want to get 100% pass rates, so some of the students who are coming through these courses are being very much supported. Which is good, of course, but it is very much in the college's best interests to support those students to pass."

Two points; "success" and "achievement" are now defined solely in terms of retention and qualifications, and there is no longer any necessary connection between those "qualifications" and actually knowing or being able to do something. Qualifications, which are proxies for capabilities, have become aims in their own right. This is something which disturbs teaching staff in all sectors.

Second, this does not just lead to a dumbing down of the qualification to the level where only 3-4% fail, it also leads to unrealistic coaching to get people through. That might not matter so much in areas where there is no expectation that the holder of a qualification will at the very least be a safe practitioner, but it is unacceptable when issuing what are effectively licences to practice.

More on this from a slightly different perspective here.

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