FE fears justified;Letter

26th March 1999 at 00:00
AS A former media studies tutor, I am sure Graeme Hyslop is aware of the amount of research that goes into a programme such as Frontline Scotland's (FE Focus, March 12) investigation of academic standards and assessment practice in the FE sector.

The programme team spoke to a large number of lecturers and students from colleges around the country. They also spoke to external verifiers and union representatives. This took place over four months. It was clear from this that many working in further education do have significant concerns about falling academic standards. The programme reflected the nature of these concerns.

Mr Hyslop points out the Scottish Qualifications Agency, the Inspectorate and the funding agencies were not interviewed in the programme. However, we did interview the principals of the two colleges and one university to allow them to respond to the points raised. I am sure Mr Hyslop will agree that those three principals were more than qualified to talk about continuous assessment, external verification and the pressures of funding, all of which were covered in the programme. We also invited the Education Minister, Helen Liddell, to participate but she declined our offer.

Mr Hyslop says we could have focused on student retention. We did. Shelley Jofre questioned Matthew Aird from Reid Kerr College specifically on that point. Several other contributors raised their concern over the financial pressure to keep numbers high.

The lecturers who spoke in the programme and to the researchers had no axe to grind. They were motivated solely by their commitment to their students and their worries over the quality of education. Mr Hyslop says the programme featured in staffroom conversations throughout the country. Judging by the calls we received after the programme it certainly struck a chord with many. A substantial number of callers gave their own experiences which echoed those heard in the programme. They came from FE colleges across Scotland - including the college at which Mr Hyslop is principal designate.

The programme was not designed - nor could it be - as an exhaustive audit of further education in Scotland. There is no suggestion that there are problems on every course of college and the programme explicitly said so. What the programme did demonstrate is that there is sufficient concern to give the sector food for thought.

Perhaps those running FE colleges should consider why it is that so many staff only feel able to voice their worries anonymously.

Neil McDonald Editor, BBC Frontline Scotland Glasgow

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