Whistleblowers: Doncaster course failing

June 8, 2001

Doncaster College could be forced to scrap a number of music courses after a series of quality-control failings.

Documents obtained by The THES show that some six months after award body Edexcel demanded "remedial" action to address problems with the college's Btec higher national diploma music-technology courses, external verifiers have again criticised the provision. The fate of the courses could be decided next week, after a follow-up validation visit to the college.

Edexcel sent a compliance team to investigate in October last year following an allegation from a former lecturer that music-technology HND students were gaining qualifications without the proper level of attainment.

Edexcel's compliance officer, Jason Raife, reported that the college had acknowledged problems with the delivery, administration and resourcing of the courses before the visit. But the inspection revealed that "the problems were far more widespread than originally thought".

Mr Raife found that the system of accrediting students for prior learning (APL) had been misapplied. While a number of students had gained credit for assignments through APL, "the centre had not been applying the correct procedures to assess candidates using evidence from prior achievement".

He was concerned that one student had benefited from the flawed APL process and had later been employed by the college. He said: "I have asked the new external verifier to pay particular attention to resources during his next visit, and to verify that all new staff are appropriately qualified to deliver music technology programmes." The student, whose award was eventually approved by the verifier, was employed as a technician/instructor. He has since left the college.

Mr Raife said inspectors would revisit the college to "check the progress of the remedial action". He said he was confident that measures had been put in place to address the problems.

But it seemed the monitoring did not solve the problems. Last month, Edexcel external verifier John Turton handed out "not approved" ratings for six separate music programmes. He gave the provision an overall quality-assessment rating of D (in a scale from A to E), judging that the requirements of performance indicators were "not met, or only partly met". "There are a great many inconsistencies across these courses. I wonder if there is any/enough internal moderation going on," he said.

Mr Turton said that marking systems were contrary to Btec practice, and he said that there were problems with the accreditation of prior learning, as highlighted in the October investigation. "I have a particular concern that national diploma work should count as APL for HND," he said.

Doncaster's principal, Terry Ashurst, said that Edexcel would return for a routine second visit to the college on June 11 to sample more work. "It is normal practice not to approve certification until the second visit has been made," he said.

He denied that the college had failed to learn from the mistakes identified last year: "The remedial action advised by Edexcel in respect of the October 2000 visit was taken promptly and resulted in all completing students fulfilling the requirements of the course and receiving certification.

"The issues raised have been properly addressed and that while there are some procedural changes required to the course organisation to ensure continuous improvement is in place, I am confident that the overall course does meet the standards set by Edexcel."

Edexcel said it was common for verifiers not to approve courses for certification until further examples of student work had been sampled. If problems persisted after the second visit, Edexcel could ultimately withdraw its approval for the courses.

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