CIEA: A look forward to 2019

As we enter another year, it is always dangerous to predict what issues will bubble to the surface and create controversy in our sector over the next twelve months. I’ll risk it by suggesting two that will command many a column inch in the press and online – teacher workload and the T Level initiative. Frankly, both are nothing new to those of us who have been around for a while. But as in other fields, old issues raise their heads in new and different guises.


For schools, the national focus on reducing teachers’ workload seems likely to continue, given the heat it generates in debates about recruitment to and retention in the profession and the widespread view that ‘workload’ is created largely by an overly complicated national accountability and reporting system.

The Working Group led by Professor Becky Allen has made several recommendations, which the Secretary of State has supported in full. The DfE has now issued further advice on how to tackle workload issues (see In assessment terms, that means looking carefully at the number and frequency of assessment points as well as the amount and format of data collected.

As the CIEA, we continue to believe that our training courses (Chartered Educational Assessor and Excellence in Assessment) can help teachers and schools get to grips with these issues in practical ways. Our starting point is that assessment processes must support, not get in the way of, teaching and learning. All the evidence suggests that where staff and senior managers are clear about what is being done, how and for what purpose, they can focus time on the essential requirements needed to support students and report on progress.

We look forward to supporting more teachers and schools in 2019 to put in place effective assessment and data collection processes which staff feel help rather than get in the way of quality teaching and learning.

T Levels

Looking at the published information about T Levels left me with a strong feeling of déjà vu. When the announcement of the proposed new qualifications was made, there were some very familiar themes: concern about the low uptake of vocational and technical qualifications in the UK compared to other countries; widespread confusion over the number of existing qualifications of this type available; the worrying absence of esteem for vocational and technical routes compared to GCSE and A levels. All very familiar to those who lived through the last twenty-five years of qualifications reform. In fact, the exact same issues that led to the introduction of GNVQs in the 1990s and The Diplomas in the 2000s.

So, looking at the detail now emerging on the T Levels, my overriding concern is: have the right lessons from the last twenty-five years been learned by the DfE and Ofqual? Have those now overseeing the development of T Levels looked closely at the rise and fall of GNVQs and the Diplomas? Both initiatives were championed at the outset as offering genuine alternatives to general qualifications, and the politicians overseeing the developments talked warmly of the need to ensure ‘parity of esteem’ for the newcomers alongside the well-established GCSEs and GCEs. And of course, it goes without saying that substantial sums of public money were invested in each, to help establish them on a sound basis in schools and colleges.

But as we know, warm words and some welcome ‘seed corn money’ were not enough. Both qualifications (particularly the Diplomas) suffered from an overly-complex initial design, which created problems for delivery and assessment. In both cases, too many of the schools and colleges offering the qualifications lacked access to relevant vocational expertise and resources to provide students with genuine vocational courses.  Neither GNVQs nor Diplomas were given time to get firmly established and fulfil the original objectives. The initial intentions in assessment terms, of offering largely centre-assessed courses reflecting local circumstances and employment options were systematically undermined in a fruitless quest to demonstrate ‘parity’ with existing qualifications. And inevitably when the political winds changed, support was pulled. Students were soon left with qualifications few employers or universities understood or remembered.

In terms of assessment, ensuring the success of the new qualification requires putting in place assessment regimes that are fit for purpose for the nature of the qualifications. That will inevitably mean significant use of local assessments– not simply replicating the assessment used in GCSEs and A Levels. The key lesson must surely be to avoid repeating the error of the recent past – which was emasculating the ‘genuine alternative’ until it effectively becomes a pale imitation of the general qualifications.

Other countries have well-established high quality, high status general vocational courses. A major characteristic of those systems is reliance on teachers, lecturers and workplace supervisors to carry out assessments on their learners’ performance. And that relies on trusting the professionals’ assessment judgements, underpinned by fit-for-purpose quality assurance arrangements.

As we head into 2019 and the final stages of developing the T Levels, let’s hope the ‘genuine alternative’ turns out to be just that, rather than another over-complex pale imitation. If it isn’t, the lesson of recent history is all too clear.

Moving forward

CIEA can look ahead to contributing positively in both areas with confidence.  I also know that our partnership with the University of Hertfordshire provides us with solid foundations to move forward. We feel we now have a suite of training courses that can support staff in schools to deal effectively with the delicate workload/accountability balance that everyone is seeking. With T Levels, we are equally well-placed to support staff in colleges, training providers and workplaces to put in place robust assessment processes that will be essential to ensure the success of these much-needed qualifications. In this way CIEA can play a major role in ensuring the credibility of these vital new qualifications and thereby help instil the public and employer confidence on which success depends.

Happy New Year.

Simon Sharp, Chair, CIEA