An article by Professor Ian Favell – Fellow of The Assessors Guild
Have you noticed that everyone today is talking about Standards?
Suddenly Standards seem to have become the new ‘must haves’ for all organisations, whether providing goods or services in the private, public or not-for-profit sectors and for all professional bodies.
Why is this?
Well of course Standards are important, as they set the base line for the quality of operations in all walks of life. I say base-line, because of course the definition of Standards is that they are a measure of the quality of the goods or services, and are the minimum requirements expected for the goods or services to be considered acceptable.
And here we meet our first potential issue – if Standards are set at too high a level or are too far reaching, encompassing everything we would wish for rather than simply the minimum acceptable, then they are likely to be unsuccessful, as they fail to be the Minimum Requirements but become a Target for excellence. Yes, we all aspire to excellent practice, but if the bar is set too high initially, then many people will give up and not even try to reach the Standard, so the Standard soon becomes elitist and fails in its main purpose – that of ensuring everyone in that field is at least working to the minimum required level.
Take Assessors for example. Many Assessors have been working successfully for many years with no formal externally-referenced quality checks or assessor qualifications. This has been very common in assessment for workplace activity, and in some educational establishments where the quality check is by peers who are simply looking to see if they agree the basic outcome. Often there are no real Standards in use (although of course ‘we all know a good learner performance when we see one’), and those Standards that are available are probably not in use by the processes of those organisations in their daily practice. Nothing wrong with that in principle, but how is consistency being maintained between different assessors, across different learners or workers and in different disciplines? How is the assessment method being checked for Validity for the purpose that the assessment intends? What criteria are being used in determining Sufficiency, and how is Consistency in this area being checked?
I know that in my own practice as a Chief EQA for an Awarding Organisation the subject of ‘word count’ for written work (Sufficiency), permitted range of assessment methods (Validity), and type, frequency and content/process of ‘standardisation meetings’ are frequent hot topics for those delivering and assessing qualifications in that awarding organisation’s approved centres. A set of formal Standards helps these organisations and individuals enormously, by stating the minimum requirements required for assessors and their assessments. This helps to ensure fairness and equality of assessment decisions, and therefore credibility of the decision with associated confidence that the learner truly ‘does know’ and ‘can do’ what is required to at least the minimum standard.
And here we meet the second of the issues with Standards – increasingly organisations are recognising the importance of Standards (good!) but then creating a set of Standards to meet what they believe to be the requirements, with the result that there is now a very confusing picture of Standards – there are too many of them!
Indeed, each Apprenticeship programme has a set of standards for apprentices in that discipline – set by a ‘trailblazer’ employment group from that specific profession or work discipline – but unfortunately often set in isolation, not calling upon (or in many cases completely in ignorance of) similar or overlapping Standards for other disciplines which could be incorporated or called upon instead of creating a new set for that area of operations.
For us in the field of Assessment, do we have a confusing picture? Well yes.
We have the National Occupational Standards for Assessors (often called ‘TAQA’ qualifications), which set out to formally qualify those working as assessors. All well and good, as I know from my own organisation’s approval and delivery of the full suite of all ten of the TAQA qualifications. But there are a number of professional Institutes that also have Standards for Assessors, and the current qualifications for Teachers (for example the Award, Certificate, Diploma in Education and Training) also have units in assessment as a required standard. Units in assessment or including assessment also feature in other qualifications such as in HR, Learning and Development. Many workplace ‘licences to operate’ (for example oil and gas operations, or highways electrical, or the General Medical Council) are assessed by assessors appointed against an industry Standard for assessment of that work area.
This confused picture has now been compounded by the advent of End Point Assessment for the increasing numbers of Apprenticeship programmes, where it is already very apparent that there is no single required Standard for EPAs. Yes, there is a qualification now available for those undertaking EPA work and this does set a Standard – but of course this is simply one awarding organisation’s thoughts for some quality checks in this field, and not a required Standard accepted or required by End Point Assessment Organisations.
In short, for assessors, as in many other disciplines, there is no Standard Standard!
Standards are important, especially for assessors – they set the benchmark to determine whether goods or services – in our case assessment activities and decisions – meet the minimum required level of Validity, Consistency and Sufficiency, are Authentic and Current, and give a basis for credibility and confidence in the processes used. However, until we have one single properly devised and nationally agreed Standard for Assessors, which we all demonstrate and apply in our daily lives as assessors, we will never be able to truly promote ourselves as Professional Assessors to the outside world.
How can we achieve this?
We need one single body to take the lead in facilitating one single set of Standards for Assessors, which incorporates the key issues in the current wide range of Standards already available, so that these new true Standards are universally accepted by everyone across the varying and different assessment contexts and situations.
Perhaps our new and valued Assessors Guild can take the lead in bringing everyone together in this vital task of harmonising Standards for assessors, so we do indeed have a true Standard. Our profession really needs this to halt and contain what I see as a current out-of-control proliferation of Standards.
Standards are not Standards if they are not Standard!
I look forward to exploring this further.
Professor Ian Favell – Fellow of The Assessors Guild
FCGI, DProf, MA, Dip Mgt, LTCL, Prof Mgr, FRSA, FCIEA, FTAG, FITOL, FSET, FInstLM, FCMI, Chartered FCIPD, AMCVA.
CEO, Accredited Training International
Thank you very much Ian, your article picks up the very real concerns of The Assessors Guild and is precisely our reason for being.
Our Professional Standards whilst not promoting a universal assessor qualification standard are designed to benchmark the expected standards of skills, knowledge and behaviours expected of a professional assessor or IQA. Additionally our Code of Conduct, CPD Framework and CPD Assured kitemark for providers of courses are there to strengthen the industry and promote quality of our members and the choices that they make.