Self-protection register

January 24, 2013

Bruce Macfarlane bemoans the “learnerism” arising from the so-called “surveillance culture” that measures student absenteeism, but also acknowledges the correlation between academic performance and attendance (“Be here now, or else: lamentable effects of student ‘presenteeism’”, Opinion, 13 December).

However, he misses the point. As university teachers, we maintain registers chiefly for our own protection in this world of burgeoning “managerialism”, with its passion for “accountability”. After all, it is helpful to have a record of the presence of students (our “customers”) in class in case those with low attendance records who perform badly in assessments seek to blame their tutors for the poor results. Ensuing heated conversations (occasionally with confrontational parental involvement, subject to customer permission) typically evaporate once the register is presented.

Teachers are not interested in administering surveillance regimes (although “presenteeism” may be a retentive preoccupation of management). We remind our students about the benefits of being present at learning sessions, encourage them to attend, but recognise their rights (and, dare I say it, responsibilities?) to learn.

As Macfarlane suggests, the emphasis should be on engagement (a two-way process, let us not forget). Perhaps we should add yet another “ism” to the pedagogic lexicon: “engageism”. Implying that poor attendance may be more to do with the “quality of our own teaching” than with students’ attitudes and motivation is a predictable managerial perspective.

(PS - group assessment most certainly does not reduce assessment workload, and may often complicate and increase it.)

Julian Pellatt, Senior lecturer, School of Business, University of Chester.

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