Memorandum submitted by Association of
AoC (the Association of Colleges) is the representative
body for colleges of further education, including general FE colleges,
sixth form colleges and specialist colleges in England, Wales
(through our association with fforum) and Northern Ireland (through
our association with ANIC). AoC was established in 1996 by the
colleges themselves to provide a voice for further education at
national and regional levels. Some 98% of the 415 plus general
FE colleges, sixth form colleges and specialist colleges in the
three countries are in membership. These colleges are the largest
providers of post-16 general and vocational education and training
in the UK. They serve over four million of the six million learners
participating in post-statutory education and training, offering
lifelong learning opportunities for school leavers and adults
over a vast range of academic and vocational qualifications. Levels
of study range from the basic skills needed to remedy disadvantage,
through to professional qualifications and higher education degrees.
The key role played by the sector and its 250,000
staff in raising the level of skills and competitiveness of the
nation's workforce make colleges central to the Government's national
and regional agenda for economic prosperity and social inclusion.
AoC services to member college corporations include information,
professional development and support in all aspects of institutional
management, governance, curriculum development, quality, employment,
business development and funding. AoC also works in close partnership
with the Government and all other key national and regional agencies
to assist policy development, continuously to improve quality
and to secure the best possible provision for post-16 education
A summary of the key points included in this
1. The assessment framework should mirror
the move towards a modular approach to the curriculum and therefore
allow for the assessment of bite-sized chunks of learning which
builds on learners' existing achievements.
2. A flexible approach should be taken to
forms of assessment to ensure that they can be accessed by all
learners: this is particularly important at a time when there
is a greater emphasis on summative assessments.
3. This learner centred approach will be
facilitated by ensuring that lecturers have a role in devising
appropriate assessment tools.
4. Whatever form of assessment is used it
is key that the burden and/or nature of assessment does not become
more important than the learning taking place.
5. As the platform of awarding bodies widens
there should be differentiation in the rigour of the regulatory
framework and monitoring procedure based upon the quality and
maturity of the provider.
6. The impact of Key Skills tests on raising
attainment levels is open to question. Consideration should be
given to broadening the range of such tests if they are to continue
to allow for a broader picture of young peoples' skills and abilities.
7. League tables do not provide a true reflection
of the work of the FE sector and the emphasis on them is in danger
of shifting the focus within the school sector to league results
rather than individual need.
8. There is no recognition given in league
tables to the 48% of young people who do achieve Level 2: the
inclusion of Level 1 results would provide a much needed incentive
for schools to invest resources and expertise in this significant
group of learners.
9. The current league table reporting mechanisms
based on individual institutions will not meet the needs of the
14-19 reforms where partnerships and shared ownership of students
will be the key.
10. The current testing system at 16 is,
in our view, a disincentive to progression. We advocate the development
of an experiential learning route post 14 with an appropriate
assessment and testing framework.
11. The potential negative impact upon teaching
and learning and on the cohesive view of subjects created by modular
assessments could be mitigated by the wider use of such initiatives
as the Level 3 extension project.
12. There can be no justification for universities
imposing another hurdle for young people to overcome through the
use of entry tests. If the rationale for these tests is dissatisfaction
with the standards of A-level then this is the problem which should
AoC is pleased to provide evidence to the Committee
on the key issue of testing and assessment: an issue which has
been the subject of much recent debate.
1. GENERAL ISSUES
1.1 AoC would want to reiterate its consistently
stated view of the key principles which should, in our view, underpin
any system of testing and assessment. These are that assessments
be able to be accessed by all learners
regardless of their learning styles
build on learners' existing achievements
allow for the assessment of bite-
sized chunks of learning
allow for formative charting of progress
1.2 The assessment framework should mirror
the move towards a modular approach to the curriculum which responds
effectively to the needs of both learners and employers. This
incremental approach whereby learners would be able to build up
a bank of achievements would not be impeded by the current restrictions
of age and level but would allow the learner to develop skills
and knowledge against agreed standards in a way which would maximise
individual potential and maintain motivation.
1.3 AoC believes that the Qualifications
and Credit Framework currently being piloted is an example of
best practice. Whilst welcoming the commitment to use QCF principles
in the design of the Foundation Learning Tier AoC believes that
if the decision had been taken to encompass all qualifications
within this framework it would have resulted in a genuinely flexible
assessment and testing system which would have allowed all learners
to achieve their full potential.
2. TESTING AND
2.1 Why do we have a centrally run system
of testing and assessment?
2.1.1 The current central system has facilitated
the development of a clear and transparent system of qualifications
with structured levels and pathways. This provides all stakeholders
with confidence in the qualification and assessment system.
2.2 What other systems of assessment are in
place both internationally and across the UK?
2.2.1 Internationally there are many examples
of central testing and accreditation. The European Credit Transfer
System (ECTS) is a credit based system for HE which has been successfully
tested across Europe.
2.3 Does a focus on national testing and assessment
reduce the scope for creativity in the curriculum?
2.3.1 Whilst a national framework does not
of necessity reduce the scope for creativity, the degree of restriction
within that framework can significantly limit the possibility
of delivering curriculum in a differentiated and imaginative way.
Testing reduces creativity if it is inappropriate: for example
a written test of mechanical skills or musical understanding diverts
the curriculum towards that skill and away from mechanics or music.
The system of testing should allow individuals to be tested in
ways that are appropriate for them: it should therefore provide
for a range of assessment methods. These assessments should be
able to credit steps of attainment so that individuals gain a
sense of achievement and motivation and their progress can be
effectively charted. National assessment should not drive the
learning. Colleges tell us that young people are now more interested
in the assessment criteria than they are in the learning material.
If this is the case, then too great an emphasis is being placed
on the test and insufficient on the learning experience.
2.4 Who is the QCA accountable to and is this
2.4.1 QCA as a regulating body accountable
to the DfES plays an essential role in ensuring the integrity
and credibility of the examination system. This regulatory function
has the dual stands of establishing the regulatory framework and
of monitoring its implementation.
2.4.2 AoC believes that the time may now
be appropriated to consider building in greater flexibility and
differentiation into QCA's monitoring processes so that a "lighter
touch" is adopted with those colleges with a strong track
record of operating testing and assessments within a rigorous
internal quality framework. This would reflect the commitment
of moving towards greater self regulation within the college system
and recognise the maturity of many colleges.
2.4.3 The impact of technology on the testing
and assessment mechanisms is a further driver to reviewing the
necessity of maintaining the monitoring system in its current
form. With the growing introduction of on line testing Awarding
Bodies are now able to identify and address any examples of aberrant
marking immediately. This should allow awarding bodies to accurately
assess risk and differentiate between centres. Our aim here is
to reduce the spiralling cost of examinations and the bureaucracy
associated with them.
2.4.4 The Leitch report advocates a more
responsive approach whereby employers are able to devise and accredit
qualifications. AoC recognises that greater flexibility in the
qualification offer is key to the achievement of this demand led
approach, however this wider platform of awarding bodies will
in the medium term require a strong regulatory framework and robust
monitoring procedures.This, therefore supports the proposal for
a differentiated monitoring role played dependent upon the nature
or quality of the provider.
2.5 What role should exam boards have in testing
2.5.1 There is a self evident role for exam
boards in producing examining tools and ensuring the standardisation
of tests and assessments. AoC does, however, question the current
trend towards greater reliance on more traditional, paper- based
summative tests. We understand that the rationale behind this
move is to ensure rigour and to avoid plagiarism but find it regrettable
as it will inevitably penalise those learners who are unable to
evidence their true ability/knowledge through this form of assessment.
The focus on paper- based testing may not always be appropriate
or, indeed, valid for what is being tested and therefore may not
serve either employers' or selectors' needs. AoC has strongly
supported the emphasis on meeting individual learner needs and
welcomes the current focus on providing a framework for personalising
both the school and FE sector. There is a real danger that this
personalisation will be undermined by the use of a single form
2.5.2 AoC has consistently lobbied for lecturers
to be given more responsibility in devising assessment tools which
are appropriate for their learners. This would not only ensure
a closer fit to learner need but also, by placing greater responsibility
and trust in lecturers, would professionalize the workforce. A
more confident workforce taking a more active role in the development
of testing/assessment methods would in turn have a positive impact
on teaching and learning. However, we recognise that this would
need to be supported both by training and rigorous quality controls
especially for new providers.
3. NATIONAL KEY
3.1 How effective are current Key Stage tests?
3.1.1 As the recipients of students who
have undertaken Key Stage tests, colleges are concerned about
the degree of remedial work they have to undertake to ensure that
students' skills are at the necessary level; this must create
some doubts about how far the tests have helped to raise attainment
levels. This leads us to question the use that is currently being
made of the outcomes of the Key Stage tests.
3.1.2 It would seem sensible that if young
people are going to be tested regularly that the tests should
allow for the assessment of a broader picture of their skills
and abilities to be developed, for example what are their preferred
learning styles or assessment styles? These outcomes could be
used to inform the teaching and learning strategies used and could
be passed on to, for example, the Careers staff to allow for more
targeted advice and guidance to be given. This would be in keeping
with the development of the personalisation agenda and would also
provide the profile necessary to support the progression of young
people to the most appropriate mix of programme within the Specialised
3.2 Are league tables based on test results
an accurate reflection of how well schools are performing?
3.2.1 The league tables currently lead to
schools placing all their efforts on ensuring that as many of
their pupils as possible obtain at least 5 GCSEs at Grade C or
above. It is probable that the outcomes of league table results,
rather than individual need, take precedence; that drilling young
people on the skills needed to pass tests rather that enhancing
their ability to learn and apply that learning has moulded classroom
practice. The consequence of this is that there is a focus of
additional time and resources on those borderline Grade C/D pupils:
many of whom subsequently succeed. However, whilst these young
people have the necessary grades to progress to level 3 courses
they often do not have the necessary concepts or intellectual
rigour to deal with the demands of the next level course. This
raising of false expectations resulting in a sense of inadequacy
may well account for the high drop out rate at 17.
3.2.2 Both the current league tables and
the measurements proposed in the new proposals on "Progression
Measures" only report at Level 2: there is therefore no recognition
given to pupil achievement at Level 1. Given that in 2005-06 41.5%
of pupils left school without having achieved five GCSEs at Grade
C or above (and that this group of young people form a significant
pool of untapped talent who, because their needs are not addressed,
frequently account for a great deal of disruptive behaviour and/or
fall into the NEET group), AoC strongly believes that Level 1
achievement should be included in league tables. This would serve
to highlight the need for high quality provision at this essential
stage and provide incentives to schools to focus resources and
expertise on this level of work.
3.2.3 The development of the Foundation
Learning Tier would, in our view, provide an excellent framework
for that significant tranche of young people who are not ready
to complete a full Level 2 qualification at the age of 16.
4. TESTING AND
16 AND AFTER
4.1 Although there is no specific request
for comment on Performance Measures in FE, AoC considers that
there are issues linked to this which should be drawn to the Committee's
4.2 AoC has consistently objected to the
basis of league tables in that, of their nature, they favour those
schools that are in a position to recruit more able pupils. We
recognise that the development of value-added measures mitigate
against this bias to a certain extent but the focus on academic
examination results continues to undervalue the work done by the
FE sector which has traditionally recruited young people with
lower qualifications and/or those who prefer the vocational to
the academic route.
4.3 The implementation of the Government's
14-19 reform policy raises another fundamental issue about league
tables which AoC believes should be addressed. The current tables
measure performance in individual institutions: however, the 14-19
reforms are based upon partnerships both across schools and across
the school/FE sectors so that frequently students will be "shared"
by two or more institutions. The current league table reporting
mechanism will not promote the partnership working which is at
the heart of the new 14-19 curriculum and consequently will not
encourage the development of provision which meets the needs of
young learners. AoC recommends that thought to be given to disbanding
the current individual performance base in favour of developing
a form of local target setting against which the local performance
of all partners can be measured.
4.4 Is the testing and assessment in "summative"
tests fit for purpose?
4.4.1 As indicated above AoC believes that
any testing regime should allow for all learners to demonstrate
their skills and knowledge. Summative testing has a role in any
testing and assessment framework in that it provides the vehicle
to judge the learners' overall understanding and knowledge. However,
the nature of summative testing at 16 is not in our view "fit
4.4.2 AoC has always argued that the current
form of Level 2 testing at 16 only serves to create a barrier
in that it does not give many young people the opportunity to
demonstrate what they are good at. This artificial hurdle at the
age of 16 is, in our view, a disincentive to progression and a
significant contributory factor to drop out both pre and post
4.4.3 In order to address this issue we
would advocate the development of an experiential learning route
post 14 with an appropriate assessment and testing framework.
We continue to advocate an incremental learning model in which
young people can mix levels of learning in different subjects
according to their ability. The potential this would create of
achieving at a higher level in areas of strength and interest
would be a powerful motivating influence and would increase the
number of young people who continue learning beyond the age of
4.4.4 AoC welcomes the introduction of the
extended project at Level 3 as it will provide a more enabling
way for young people to demonstrate their skills and attributes
than the traditional testing methods. We believe that the introduction
of such innovations should be extended to develop a richer and
more differentiated range of 14-19 testing and assessment tools.
4.5 Are the changes to GCSE coursework due
to come into effect in 2008 reasonable? What alternative forms
of assessment might be used?
4.5.1 We consider that GCSE provision falls
within the schools' remit. However, on the principle of the changes
being introduced, we would stress that colleges' whole ethos is
to develop the individual's learning skills and ability to take
responsibility for and ownership of research for projects: this
runs counter to the planned changes to the GSE testing methodology.
AoC recognises the concerns over plagiarism which lies behind
these changes but would draw the Committee's attention to the
alternative approach being taken to this issue by the Joint Council
for Qualifications who, in a pilot project with colleges, are
encouraging an approach that places the responsibility on the
young person to utilise a software package to check for plagiarism.
This is, in our view, a more appropriate manner of dealing with
the concerns of intellectual property and improper use of the
Internet as a research tool. It anticipates and prepares young
people to recognise and acknowledge their sources and to develop
referencing skills that will be required at higher levels of study.
4.6 What are the benefits of exams and coursework?
How should they work together? What should the balance be between
4.6.1 AoC has always asserted that, ideally,
assessment should form a natural part of learning. One of the
key attributes of good teachers is the ability to embed the ongoing
checking of learning into their teaching practice thus being able
to chart individual progress and provide additional or alternative
learning opportunities as appropriate; a model used naturally
in Work Based Learning. We recognise that this is the ideal and
appreciate the Government's desire to retain rigour within assessment
processes; however, we believe that currently the balance is swinging
too far towards summative assessment and that consideration should
now be given to redressing this balance.
4.7 Will the ways in which the new 14-19 diplomas
are to be assessed impact on other qualifications such as GCSE?
4.7.1 The 14-19 diplomas will be assessed
using a range of internal and external assessment methods; detail
of these have not yet been finalised. AoC would wish the same
principles of a rigorous framework which gives flexibility for
teachers to devise assessment tools suitable to their learners'
needs to be adopted. We would want the opportunity to comment
upon the detail of the Diploma assessment and testing methodology
as the detail is developed.
4.8 Is holding formative summative tests at
ages 16, 17 and 18 imposing too great a burden on students? If
so, what changes should be made?
4.8.1 There is some concern in the sector
that this pattern of summative tests can result in too much time
being dedicated to preparation for examinations rather than giving
students a real understanding of their subjects. Summative tests
at 17 appear to be the main cause for concern and a review of
the nature of assessment at this stage may be appropriate.
4.9 To what extent is frequent, modular assessment
altering both the scope of teaching and the style of learning?
4.9.1 Modular assessment has facilitated
the introduction of bite-sized learning so that students are able
to focus on a specific component of their course and gain accreditation
for it prior to moving on to another component, thus increasing
motivation. There is, however, a down side to this modular approach
in that if overused it can lead to a fragmentation of the curriculum
whereby students do not glean an overview of the subject or of
natural links within a subject. The introduction of such initiatives
as the extended project at Level 3 will serve to reduce this risk
of fragmentation and we would advocate the wider use of this model.
4.10 How does the national assessment system
interact with university entrance? What does it mean for a national
system of testing and assessment that universities are setting
entrance tests as individual institutions?
4.10.1 AoC sees an intrinsic illogicality
in the fact that there is a structured qualifications system which
does not allow for automatic progression to Higher Education.
We are disappointed that universities remain elitist and unaccountable
bodies who are able to use additional entrance tests to further
their own selection agendas. If the rationale behind these entrance
tests is that universities are not satisfied with the standards
of A levels then the perceived problem ie A level should be tackled
rather than imposing yet another hurdle for young people to overcome.
The elitism in the Higher Education system is exacerbated by the
use of tests for which the privileged will be coached whilst others
will be denied access. This cannot be fair nor is it in line with
Government policy to increase access to degree level qualifications.