College HE standards hit by flawed marking

November 15, 2002

Flawed student assessment practices are undermining confidence in the standard of some higher education courses in English further education colleges, quality watchdogs have warned.

In a report on the findings of the first batch of 73 new-style teaching quality assessment reports, the Quality Assurance Agency warns that in cases where reviewers had no confidence in standards, the problems included inconsistent marking and unsuitable exam and essay questions. This continued a pattern that was revealed during the ten-year assessment of teaching quality in all university and college departments in England.

The QAA says that in all cases quality was either approved or judged to be "commendable" in relation to teaching and learning, student progression and learning resources. Academic standards are also given the all-clear in most cases, but the QAA confirms that it has "no confidence" in the standard of some courses.

"These included assessment questions or briefs that did not enable the students' achievement of the intended learning outcomes to be tested; the inconsistent application of marking criteria; a lack of evidence of moderation or verification; and feedback that was so perfunctory that it did not assist students in their learning," the report says.

The agency has not revealed where the failing courses are provided.

The QAA says institutions were too easy on themselves in advance of reviews. "We still receive self-evaluation documents that are not sufficiently self-critical," it says.

The reviews, carried out between January and July this year, covered all higher education courses provided by further education colleges. Colleges were furious when the QAA agreed to end subject-level reviews in universities but not in colleges, warning that it would unfairly label them as inferior and undermine the drive to widen access.

"Assessment is an issue, but it is an issue that applies to the whole higher education sector," said Susan Hayday, curriculum manager at the Association of Colleges. "We are working closely with the funding council support team to develop better and more appropriate methods of assessment."

But she said colleges were treated unfairly. "This review system was not designed for the further education sector and was also rejected by the universities sector it was designed for," said Ms Hayday. "The sort of higher education developed in colleges can be very different, with more part-time students, more flexibility and a more vocational focus.

"Colleges will now face disproportionate criticism."

• More than 90 per cent of learners in further education, work-based learning and adult education are satisfied with their education and training, an independent survey commissioned by the Learning and Skills Council has found.


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