What is the SRA getting the UK into?

By Alex Steel

John Flood’s post below highlights the radical nature of the SRA’s proposal.  To be fair to LETR it was primarily a research paper rather than an options paper, and there’s a lot in there that’s of interest to Australian academics – including an overview of the current state of UK education and practice, and useful literature reviews.  A couple of cautionary notes from LETR are apposite to the proposals to move to competency based outcomes:

4.46     Before moving on to evaluate these developments, it is important to recognise that, despite their growing ubiquity, competency approaches have also been heavily criticised, particularly as to the value that competencies bring to the learning process, as opposed to quality assurance and accreditation. … Competency approaches have drawn heavily on behaviourist theories of learning that have been widely criticised for a reductionist approach to learning. It has thus been argued that they risk:

  • fragmenting and over-simplifying activities by focusing on the narrower tasks which comprise elements of that activity’s performance;
  • focusing too much on observable skills rather than underlying knowledge, values, and motivations;
  • reducing the intellectual challenge of learning;
  • reducing scope for innovation in teaching and assessment (if over-specified);
  • leading to an assessment-driven curriculum;
  • reducing teachers’ sense of ownership of education and training through centralisation of standards.

(See, eg, Jones, 1994; Wolf, 1995, 2001; C. Maughan et al, 1995; Boritz and Carnaghan, 2003; Leung, 2002).

So there are real questions about whether a move to concentrate on outputs risks the production of output factories that downplay the broader education ideals of a liberal university.  It also seems that the SRA is heading down the US Bar exam route – once you concentrate on the capability on individual applicants rather than the quality of the course/degree they completed, you need to standardise your data.  LETR again:

4.106     Although the move to an outcomes-led approach offers a basis for some greater consistency and harmonisation, this is unlikely to be enough. Outcomes are simply descriptors. By themselves they say nothing about the standard against which such outcomes are measured or the level of proficiency required.
4.107     Standards are therefore a necessary adjunct to outcomes, and need to be designed in conjunction with the outcomes. …
4.108     Drawing on effective practice, standards in this first sense should address a range of areas or domains relevant to enhancing the consistency and quality of the learning experience and its outcomes: curriculum design and delivery; assessment strategy and processes; the management of teaching, learning and assessment; and the definition of each competence area and its learning outcomes. In addition to specifying broad criteria for each domain, it may be useful to highlight to providers the kind of evidence expected to demonstrate, or be indicative of, delivering the standard.

Given that SRA don’t want to standardise the nature of the courses students take, that seems to compel some sort of standardised forms of assessment at the end of the degree.  So I suspect that despite the “bonfire” of regulations, new ones that prescribe forms of assessment are likely to spring up like weeds, particularly as unitary written qualifying exams are unlikely to be able to assess the “soft” skills.

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