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Sector News, 21 - 25 April 2008

Group says marking impedes learning. THE, 24 April

“Thirty four academics are backing a manifesto calling for far reaching change to the way universities test and assess their students”.  They state that the obsession with marks and grades limits what students learn.  The “Weston Manor Assessment Manifesto” has the following key points:

·    put more emphasis on assessment for learning rather than assessment of learning

·    move towards assessment of achievement and programme outcomes

·    recognise that standards may be difficult to articulate explicitly

·    develop processes that engage students and staff in dialogue about standards

·    discussion about standards between students and staff should be an integral part of course design

·    establish forums for discussion about standards between disciplinary and professional communities.


The week in higher education. THE, 24 April

More about vocational diplomas as the Guardian reported on 17 April that according to Jerry Jarvis, managing director of exam board EDEXCEL, up to 40,000 students could be saddled with worthless diplomas.  He cites lack of training for teachers and a content that might be too demanding for teenagers.

The Herald, 24 April reported fears that Scottish higher education could become a two tier system.  The Scottish Funding Council plans to allocate a £3 million fund to universities that traditionally recruit from low participation backgrounds.  Amongst the fears expressed are that this move amounts to educational segregation.


QAA warns institutions of ‘gold plating’ their audits. THE, 24 April

Universities have been told that they face being penalised if they are caught using unnecessary bureaucracy to secure a better inspection outcome.  Examples given include, preparation of large volumes of module boxes, dry runs, road shows and mocks, involving all departments in briefings for the audit and ‘re-invention of the wheel’ in different departments.


Experts criticise ‘pseudo-scientific’ complementary medicine degrees.  THE, 24 April

Universities have been criticised for offering bogus degrees.  Claims are being made that there is no scientific basis for some of the complementary medicine degrees being offered by some universities.  The table has been drawn up by Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter, and Simon Singh.  They accuse universities of creating complementary alternative medicine practitioners at the expense of developing a critical approach and discussion about evidence based medicine.


Focus on real access issues. THE, 24 April

Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Exeter, comments that the current widening participation debate focuses on which university students attend and that it has been dominated by arguments over fair access.  He believes that the emphasis of the debate should be moved to discussion about the vast number of able students who never enter HE.


Learning is a two way street.  THE, 24 April

David Nichol, Professor of Higher Education at the University of Strathclyde, expresses the opinion that there is growing dissatisfaction with the quality of teacher feedback.  In addition, he claims that the recent NUS campaign to highlight failures in the area of written feedback is misguided.  The NUS focus on written feedback ignores all the other feedback techniques used by teachers and that good quality feedback requires engaging students as partners.


Red alert for diplomas over Coventry move.  TES, 25 April

Concern is expressed over the possible loss of key staff when the remainder of the QCA move from Mayfair to the West Midlands.  Ofqual, which opened in Coventry this month has been given the QCA role of regulating and monitoring examinations.  The Public and Commercial Services Union said it is expecting 85 per cent of QIA’s employees to resign because they are unwilling to move from London.  This clearly would put a strain on the success of future developments (including the new diplomas).


Departments fight turf wars over 14-19 reforms.  TES, 25 April

It is not clear who is responsible for the new diplomas.  Current responsibility for 14-19 education is shared between the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS).  


High rate of low achievers blamed on ‘chaotic’ lives. TES, 25 April

In response to a report published by the Bow Group, Professor Ewart Keep of Cardiff University said that the failure of thousands of 16 year old to gain GCSEs may be a reflection on their chaotic lives outside school.  The Bow Group report stated that 90,000 pupils left school last year without five GCSE grade Gs.  Whilst the Bow Group commented that pupils without GCSEs risk becoming unemployable, a 2006 report for the CBI found that only 58% of employers set minimum qualifications for new recruits.


Assessment for learning.  TES 25, April

A TES special report looking at a new assessment technique for schools.  Although schools based, many existing post-sixteen teachers will recognise much of the content of this report.  Assessment for learning is based on the ideas of sharing goals with pupils, helping pupils to recognise standards to aim for, providing constructive feedback (i.e. not just 8/10) feedback, teachers believing that pupils can improve, reflections on progress, acceptance of pupil self assessment techniques and a recognition that motivation and self esteem are crucial for effective learning.  Articles within comprise:

  • A marking revolution
  • What is assessment for learning?
  • ‘Amazing’ results- if teachers can stand extra work
  • Staff feel they are back in control.
  • On-screen testing can remove stress for teachers.

CBI urges bright teens to take exam route.  TES, FE Focus, 25 April

The CBI is calling for the brightest teenagers to be channelled in to higher education via traditional GCSE and A level routes.