Of course their opinion matters

21st October 2005 at 01:00
I have read and re-read Dennis Hayes' Backchat ( ("Don't ask for an opinion", FE Focus, October 7), in which he dismisses learner feedback as nothing more than "just a false and flattering pretence".

Can he really be serious? If he intended to question the current preoccupation with generating simplistic indices of satisfaction, then I would have some sympathy. But his claim is that there is no point in asking learners anything at all about their education or training beyond the quality of the canteen sandwiches.

However, perhaps the clue to his apparent lack of faith in what learners have to tell us about the weaknesses of provision and how it can be improved lies in the choice of the evaluation question to support his argument: "The academic support on this course was very good, quite good, neither good nor bad, fairly poor, very poor, don't know". If this represents the typical content of learner feedback surveys, then perhaps they deserve his criticism.

What we should be concentrating on are those aspects of the education and training experience in which learners are not just the best, but in some cases the only, reliable source of information, not wasting their time and ours with ambiguous questions, the answers to which provide little real basis for improvement action.

The potential of learner feedback has yet to be fully exploited in many colleges and training providers.

Hard-pressed staff need all the encouragement and support they can get to help them develop effective feedback systems and put them to good use for the benefit of their students.

John Berkeley Associate fellow Centre for Lifelong Learning University of Warwick

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