Failing those destined to fail

18th May 2001 at 01:00
IT was wishful thinking on the part of a well-meaning government that providing opportunities for students in further education to raise their standards in communication, application of number and IT would, automatically, make it happen.

Students who failed to get a C grade in their GCSEs did so for a reason, or for several reasons: lack of ability - let's be honest - being a major cause. How, then, miraculously, one year later, can those same students pass a one-hour external exam, consisting of 40 questions, some just as difficult as in GCSE, and complete a portfolio of evidence which demonstrates that they have learned, not only the skills they failed to acquire at school, but the ability to apply them in real course work-linked situations?

If FE is supposed to prepare young people for the real world, why subject them to timed, external exams anyway? These are not mature, self-disciplined, conscientious, bright, young people. If they were, they wouldn't be in FE but in HE.

And another worrying aspect of key skills... Would you be happy for your son or daughter to be taught an important element of their vocational qualification by a non-specialist? Who is qualified to teach key skills? The theoryhope is that whoever teaches them their vocational subject will be able to include the skills they will need to complete their portfolio of evidence and be able to prepare them for the exams. But how qualified are these tutors to do this?

In my college thi role falls increasingly within the sphere of learning support. I am responsible for overseeing the preparation of electrical installation trainees' course work, where it concerns key skills, and the external exam they must sit.

Since the key skills should be integrated within their own course work, as a learning support tutor, I find this task extremely difficult. Surely they need a maths specialist to oversee the maths element, an IT specialist to check their IT skills and an English specialist to help with the English in communications?

I don't feel qualified to prepare them for a GCSE-level-equivalent external maths exam, or to assess the maths element of their course work.

It's a shambles and a nightmare for those responsible. My students are going to fail because they are being asked to do things they are incapable of doing, and because they are not getting properly qualified tutors to help them at least attempt the tasks they have been set.

Playing about with the test results, by either dropping the pass mark or allowing more time, is not good enough. If the system is to be useful it must be more flexible so that students can sit the level of exam and do the level of portfolio they are capable of, regardless of their main course level. More college time needs to be allocated with adequate setting arrangements, and properly qualified subject specialist staff should be employed to teach the core skills.

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