Letters – 30 May 2019

May 30, 2019

Assessing the future of assessment

The feature “Time to get real” asks if university assessment still passes muster and properly reflects real-world tasks (23 May). Many of us have been listening to views on assessment for a considerable number of years. In my time, I have seen views come and go. Most new ideas are little more than old thoughts repackaged and linked to other problems coming from the “new age”.

One such problem is massification. It is simply futile discussing any different assessment pattern without discussing how time-hungry and expensive it could be. Managers will support any innovative approach as long as it requires no more resources, and ideally fewer. “Ipsative” assessment, for example, requires the assessor to know the student and to remember the work. The effort required for such assessments would devour academics’ time and could lead to them just skimming the work and inventing the feedback unless extra resources are allocated.

Additionally, trying to justify linking a student’s work to an imaginary “real world”, into which they will eventually emerge, is just silly. We should stop using this phrase. Employers, collectively, cannot agree on what a skill is, let alone articulate what they want from a graduate. They may be able to offer definitions for their own purposes, but there is no common ground and no industry voice. Even if there were, training is not the brief of universities, it is the brief of businesses – and they should fund it.

Via timeshighereducation.com


For final degree classifications, a useful tool is a “capstone project” – such as the final-year project common in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects.

For these, the student spends a large amount of time in their final year working on an extended, independent piece of work with supervision from an academic. They then present that work in a “demo” and also write a report/dissertation about it, which is marked. It works well in computer science (my discipline, and I am the final-year project tutor), but I am not sure how well it would work in the humanities.

However, that does not address the issue for the entirety of a student’s career in university. As the feature states, there are in any discipline some facts that must be learned, however much you want to concentrate on interpretation of information rather than rote learning of it. We have to remember that those determining such things are those who rose to the top of the educational system as it is, and to step outside of “it worked for me” can be quite hard.

Via timeshighereducation.com

Music must play on

The Russell Group has announced that it will no longer list “facilitating subjects” – preferred subjects for A-level study, which included mathematics, English, sciences, languages, history and geography – because it has been “misinterpreted” by people who believe that these are the only subjects that top universities will consider.

The Incorporated Society of Musicians welcomes this decision. We know first-hand from music departments that the facilitating subjects list has had a devastating effect on the uptake of creative subjects at A level. This is particularly the case within A-level music, which – according to research by the Association of School and College Leaders and as shown by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education’s State of the Nation report – is the fastest disappearing subject in schools.

As the EBacc is based on the list of facilitating subjects, we now urge the government to look again at its EBacc policy, which is already failing on its own terms and has no place in a 21st-century education.

We look forward to contributing to the beta testing phase of the Russell Group’s Informed Choices website.

Deborah Annetts
Chief executive, Incorporated Society of Musicians
Founder, Bacc for the Future campaign


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