Manual Learning Autonomy in Post-16 Education: The Policy and Practice of Formative Assessment

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Assessment for learning? Thinking outside the black box. Cambridge Journal of Education 35 , — Phi Delta Kappan 89 , — Hodgson, C. A literature review of Assessment for learning in science. National Foundation for Educational Research, Husbands, C. What makes great pedagogy? Nine claims from research. Lee, C. Studying changes in the practice of two teachers developing assessment for learning. Teacher Development 9 , — Orland, M. Stiggins, R. Phi Delta Kappan 83 , — Developing Formative Assessment in the Classroom: Using action research to explore and modify theory.

Feedback Essentials

British Educational Research Journal 27 , — Andrade, H. Handbook of formative assessment. Adamson, B. Assessment reform in education: policy and practice. Clarke, S. Formative assessment in the secondary classroom. Hodder Murray, Drummond, M. David Fulton, Ecclestone, K. Learning autonomy in post education: the politics and practice of formative assessment. Transforming formative assessment in lifelong learning.

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Leat, D. Brains on the Table: Diagnostic and formative assessment through observation. The practical implications of educational aims and contexts for formative assessment. Penny, N. Know What I Mean? Teaching in Higher Education 9 , — Read, A. Education 38 , 87— Rowe, M. Journal of Teacher Education 37 , 43—50 Ruiz-Primo, M. Informal formative assessment: The role of instructional dialogues in assessing students? Studies in Educational Evaluation 37 , 15—24 RUST, C. Interpretations of criteria-based assessment and grading in higher education.

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Questioning in the primary school. Questioning in the secondary school. Engelsen, S. Assessment Literacy. Marshall, B. How teachers engage with Assessment for Learning: lessons from the classroom. Pratt, N. Neoliberalism and the internal marketisation of primary school assessment in England. British Educational Research Journal 42 , — Embedding Learning How to Learn in school policy: the challenge for leadership. Butler, D. Review of Educational Research 65 , — The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research 77 , 81— Dick, D.

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Student perceptions of classroom feedback. Gielen, S. A comparative study of peer and teacher feedback and of various peer feedback forms in a secondary school writing curriculum. British Educational Research Journal 36 , — Hargreaves, Eleanore. Inquiring into children? Oxford Review of Education 39 , — Teacher feedback strategies in primary classrooms: New evidence. Higgins, R.

Learning Autonomy in Post-16 Education: The Policy and Practice of Formative Assessment

Getting the Message Across: The problem of communicating assessment feedback. Teaching in Higher Education 6 , — Hounsell, D. Towards more sustainable feedback to students. The quality of guidance and feedback to students. Price, M. Beyond feedback: developing student capability in complex appraisal. Smith, H. Opening classroom interaction: the importance of feedback. Cambridge Journal of Education 36 , — Stern, J.

Feedback: The central process in assessment for learning. Tunstall, P. British Educational Research Journal 22 , — Van der Schaaf, M. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research 57 , — Walker, M. An investigation into written comments on assignments: do students find them usable? Weaver, M. Do students value feedback? Student perceptions of tutors?

Wiggins, G. Seven Keys to Effective Feedback. Educational Leadership 70 , 10— Effects of evaluative feedback on rate of learning and task motivation: An analogue experiment. Brookhart, S. How to give effective feedback to your students. ASCD, Behaviourist and constructivist theories of formative. Constructing GNVQ assessment policy. Constructioins of autonomy and motivation inside.


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Slipping over standards. Actions to sustain motivation. The highest achieving students. Constraints on autonomy. New forms of professionalism. Shifting values. Learning becomes more student-centred, based on negotiation of intended outcomes and how to achieve them. There is an emphasis on positive interdependence amongst learners, co-operative 38 Autonomy and motivation approaches to problem-setting and problem-solving, and negotiated processes of evaluation, review and recording of achievement. Personal autonomy therefore derives from social processes as well as individual traits and activities and from constructivist ideas about learning, discussed in the next section.

Learning, non-formal and informal activities that encourage peer assessment and mentoring while ipsative targets, individualised feedback and criteria for assessing individual progress are also important.

Yet, unless personal autonomy is related to procedural and critical autonomy, it is prone to reductionist equations with procedural autonomy. In higher education, critical autonomy is seen to emerge through subject expertise, where engagement with established bodies of thought and participation in associated conversations enables people to develop their understanding beyond conventional insights and wisdom.

For some students in higher education, critical autonomy is inseparable from their social and cultural needs which demand intellectual depth and the ability to make connections between ideas. Echoing the social motivation of Fevre et al. The ability to think critically is therefore integral to critical and personal autonomy but is not synonymous with either form of autonomy. We therefore need to show more precisely where critical autonomy is integral to learning about a vocational subject, to coping with a job or life or simply a desirable, important goal within formal education.

This implies a need for closer theoretical exploration of critical autonomy, together with empirical accounts of where and how it might be fostered, and what role formative assessment practices might play in this. In addition, if critical autonomy means a critique of one's own position, to challenge or even transform situations collectively, it is important to question how far educational institutions can realistically promote learners' ability to act autonomously in these ways, either inside or outside them Fielding, op.

In addition, the particular cultures of academic or vocational subjects, professions or occupations affect whether certain forms of critical thinking and autonomy are accepted or valued. Halliday argues that it is essential to connect critical thinking within a subject and a community of practice that can debate actively what it implies and what it is for.

It is also important to recognise that critical autonomy may take many years and specialist expertise to develop and that it disappears, temporarily, when learners confront a new subject domain Candy, In many cases, as Halliday observes, people have to balance a critical approach with acquiscence. In a context of risk aversion, critical autonomy may be seen as risky or as putting others at risk. It is therefore important not to elide the types of critical thinking that students might engage in, and the aims behind them, with critical autonomy.

Confusion also makes critique that programmes do not develop critical autonomy ultimately unconvincing. The typology proposes that critical autonomy is developed through transaction and transformation which, in turn, build upon problem-solving and collaboration within a particular subject or occupational context and a belief that knowledge is dynamic, uncertain and contestable. Behaviourist and constructivist theories of formative assessment A growing body of research aims to theorise the goals and processes involved in realising the potential of formative assessment to motivate and engage learners.

The previous section suggested how formative assessment practices might relate to three types of autonomy. As a result, theoretical and practical understanding of links between formative assessment, autonomy and motivation depend on formative assessment being seen as: a moment of learning, and students have to be active in their own assessment and to picture their own learning in light of an understanding of what it means to get better. Instead, teachers need to help learners attribute achievement to effort and to encourage collaboration within a community of practice, committed, ideally, to developing everyone's potential for learning.

Constructivist models of learning encourage teachers and more expert peers amongst students and the wider community to work collaboratively with less expert learners. It is therefore necessary to use diagnostic assessment, followed by differentiated activities and feedback and remedial support. As part of their response to political injunctions to raise achievement, many colleges now use strategies such as diagnostic tests on entry to learning programmes, reviews and tutor feedback.

Unless diagnostic and formative assessment, such as the college strategies mentioned above, are incorporated into techniques for encouraging motivation and forms of autonomy, then into pedagogy linked to subject content, feedback and support, such strategies are unlikely to engage learners on a deep level.

In addition, children vary considerably in their understanding of their own role in the social rituals that surround assessment and their expected responses Torrance and Pryor, ; see also Pollard and Filer, Yet, this cultural disposition can, inadvertently, reinforce low expectations of achievement Elliott et al. So too are the particular dynamics of informal and formal learning within a community of practice which also produce feelings and responses to assessment demands.

The effects in activities outside formal learning may not necessarily be progressive since groups can create their own norms about what counts as desirable learning and marginalise peers who do not conform for example, Ecclestone and Field, Given that internalising the standard of assessment implies much more than merely knowing what it is and aiming for it, there is therefore a need to examine the social dynamics, and emotional effects, of assessment relationships.

As Black and Wiliam argue: beliefs about the goals of learning, about one's capacity to respond, about the risks involved in responding in various ways and about what learning should be like [all] affect the motivation to take action, the ability to choose action and commitment to it. Groups and sub-cultures will also be important, perhaps affecting individuals' willingness and ability to develop different types of motivation and autonomy within a peer group. Courses in FE colleges have many more opportunities for informal and non-formal learning than for formal learning.

These considerations all imply that the quality and use of feedback, and of relationships between teachers and students are subtle and have unpredictable effects see, for example, Tunstall and Gipps, ; Torrance and Pryor, To add further complexity, the idea of internalising a standard also has both behaviourist and constructivist dimensions. This has direct parallels with strategies to develop self and peer assessment amongst students in order to encourage this shared standard. A heartfelt perspective is offered by Graham who argues that the pressures of summative assessment destroy the type of authentic relationships between teachers and students that can allow learning to be real and genuinely empathetic see also Rogers, In addition, merging purposes and processes alters relationships between teachers and students while prioritising teacher internal assessment, also alters the relationship between government, awarding bodies and teachers see Harlen, ; Wilmut, Without this, formative assessment is little more than continuous summative assessment.

More broadly, it is possible to connect behaviourist and constructivist notions of assessment with theories of human and social capital. Behaviourist approaches to assessment therefore respond pragmatically to low expectations amongst teachers and students of shared social goals and commitments, thereby encouraging teachers and institutions to overlook their importance in assessment communities. In contrast, theories of constructivism require communal motivation, together with creation of, and commitment to, the networks and mutual development that underpins social capital.

Ideally, this requires teachers to focus on relationships and networks, both in the particular community of practice that a learning programme fosters within an institution, and in a wider community of employers, parents and peers in the institution itself. Yet, constructivist assessment is less predictable, less amenable to regulation than behaviourist assessment and therefore more risky. Seen in this light, when behaviourist models incorporate constructivist techniques and a liberal humanist discourse, they offer a comforting, low risk approach to learning.

Nevertheless, it offers a basis for conceptualising and categorising different types of autonomy and motivation.


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  • It is probably self-evident that the diverse constituencies involved in policy development and implementation will have different views about goals and processes relating to each attribute. It also enables curriculum designers, awarding bodies and teachers a way of beginning to think strategically about how teachers within particular subject disciplines and occupational areas might encourage different forms of autonomy and motivation.

    Yet, developing the potential of formative assessment techniques in order to motivate learners and make them more autonomous requires attention to the lack of understanding amongst teachers and designers of assessment models about how formative assessment translates into classroom interaction. This is compounded by a dominant summative mindset about the goals of assessment. This requires them to re-conceptualise, then practise, formative assessment in the context of everyday activities and constraints Black and Wiliam, ; Ecclestone and Swann, The complexities of motivation also highlight a need to differentiate between the effects of an assessment model, institutional and structural factors, students' dispositions to learning and their expectations of progression and achievement.

    There were also problems with retention and completion. More tellingly in terms of status and location, GNVQs made little impact in schools where few subjects were offered in small cohorts Wolf, a. A case study of Advanced GNVQs illuminates political debates surrounding the aims and claims made for autonomy and motivation in outcomebased assessment models.

    The values and missions of policy-makers, their personal and professional experiences and the particular institutional context they operate in, are essential factors in understanding the debates which surround policy Bates, b. I aimed to offset this through concerted efforts to take account of participants' comments on two draft accounts of the emerging analysis, with particular reference to the views of external constituencies.

    Analysis of data used multiple perspectives offered by Malen and Knapp , outlined in the introduction to this book. The second section focuses on the ways in which different constituencies viewed the aims of the model's designers. This sets the scene for discussion in Chapter 4 about the effects of vocational initiatives on ideas about autonomy in FE colleges and on current forms of political intervention in FE colleges. Supporters of these features claim that they encourage independence from formal time-served courses run in groups and teachers.

    Individuals need to manage their GNVQ assessment policy 49 own learning experiences in a manner which recognises where they tart from, their preferred styles and modes of learning and the time and opportunities they have for learning. Yet if anyone can exercise control over the process of learning, it is the individual. It is only the learner who can make sense of the diverse inputs he or she receives. Interest in outcome-based assessment resonates with two wider political and social trends. One is for more individuality and informality in everyday life.

    At the same time, increased routinisation in education and other parts of the public sector respond to calls for people to have equal treatment and for public services to be accountable. The two shifts are frequently incompatible. Although the model and its claims for autonomy were widely supported amongst many teachers in vocational education, it was both politically and educationally contentious. This challenged powerful traditions of norm-referenced, examination-based assessment, on one hand, and learning programmes or activities that did not lead to formal recognition of achievement, on the other.

    They also raised questions about the balance between teacher internal and external assessment similar to those which have dogged the National Curriculum see Wilmut, In addition, the assessment model is a telling example of the way in which two contradictory psychological traditions underpin many assessment systems, where behaviourist objectives rooted in positivist epistemology sit alongside constructivist ideas about negotiation through formative assessment over both course content and assessment evidence.

    GNVQs give you an opportunity to try out all sorts of ways of working, for example: working on your own and as part of a team; doing short projects and longer assignments; looking into processes and products, planning and organising events, designing products and services; getting work experience. Generally, you are expected to take responsibility for your own learning, for example, deciding what to do and how to go about it.

    The assessment model was overhauled three times between and , culminating in Vocational A-levels. Reasons for perceived problems inside policy processes are discussed below. As a precursor, a brief review here of each model reveals different notions of autonomy. As guidance from Gilbert Jessup, the model's architect, shows below, there are implicit resonances with ideas about internalising the criteria discussed in the assessment chapter above. Summative criteria rewarded generic skills of self-reliance, procedural autonomy and a form of personal autonomy based on knowing one's strengths and weaknesses in planning assignments, assessing strengths and weaknesses in managing work and evaluating improvements.

    Students accumulated evidence of achievement across the programme in individual portfolios. Advice emphasised regular, consistent feedback to students about their progress as essential for their motivation and the ability to plan their programme. A dependent student does not take initiatives, needs ideas and options given to them and needs advice about what to choose and why.

    This model was the basis for Vocational A-levels, introduced in September There is strong emphasis on externally-set and moderated assignments and external tests require more engagement than the simple multiple choice tests of the and models. To gain a Merit in the model, students had to meet all Pass criteria, and then the Merit ones. This does not mean that the students have to do additional tasks to get a merit or distinction grade. It means that they show increased sophistication and independence in their work, for example in the planning and organisation of their work, and their production of better-quality work which shows a deeper understanding of what they have learnt.

    Independence is therefore subject related rather than seen as a generic skill across the course. Variation appears, for example, in whether units emphasised cognitive skills, application of theory to practice, self-reliance and independence in planning, managing and evaluating one's own work. The technical minutiae of each model, and the political debates that have accompanied them, are complicated. Yet, some understanding of them is important if researchers are to evaluate the impact of a particular assessment system on learners' motivation and autonomy and to compare apparently different assessment systems such as general and vocational A-levels see Table 3.

    Constructions of autonomy and motivation inside policy The political origins of GNVQs have been analysed by Raggatt and Williams and Sharp and the debates and controversies that surrounded the development of the assessment model are discussed at length in Ecclestone b. This section uses some of this earlier analysis as the basis for drawing out issues in relation to constructs of autonomy and motivation inside policy processes. Interviews revealed aspirations heavily permeated by liberal humanism and vocational progressivism, albeit from different interests.

    Inside NCVQ, strong normative themes amongst interviewees in Gilbert Jessup's small enthusiastic team encompassed general themes of autonomy and motivation arising through more student choice: I thought [GNVQs] presented real opportunities for transference. It also related to the concept of the adult learner, the learning contract etc which philosophically I felt was really appropriate for the population that we were talking about, which was mostly. Table 3. That's very idealistic but. So that they take the time they need and they determine when they think they've got the right quality and.

    We didn't say it was a free-for-all and the students are in charge. You decide how much you need to teach them, how much they can learn for themselves and you decide on the route they are going to take. You've got to decide on the basis of each individual in each group of students and you are constrained by the economics and all the other things that constrain you but that's your job, that's what being a professional teacher is.

    Whether anybody could actually do that I don't know, but that's the theory. This is a meritocratic view of autonomy: If you judge people on how well they meet a series of outcomes regardless of how they got there, that is really important for enabling open access and things. I've thought a lot about outcomes and I thought about them in terms of people internalising, seeing what they needed for an outcome, and then trying to match that to their own feelings of how they were doing.

    But when you get working with the outcome in one hand and the learner's own perception on the other, with no intermediary, it can be a big problem. They aren't going to change overnight to become inspirational. Improve teachers by all means but there must be other means. From these perspectives, self-regulation of procedures precedes engagement with subject content. When asked directly whether the aim of using assessment to develop autonomy and motivation was discussed or communicated, both inside policy and to external constituencies, every interviewee believed that it was left implicit.

    Each awarding body took overall responsibility for a particular subject area e. The pressures were extreme: We didn't have a master plan. We never did. I think the most you could say is we had an idea about what it would look like and we could recognise when it wasn't there. It didn't seem there were lots of things you could borrow from.

    But keeping a tight rein on it rapidly became impossible. Instead of a mainstream initiative with coherent underpinning principles, a piecemeal process of bidding to the Employment Department to fund each stage led to a model constructed by an unprecedented array of constituencies from diverse subjects, educational and assessment cultures.

    Learning Autonomy in Post-16 Education : The Policy and Practice of Formative Assessment

    As new political imperatives arose, or new problems were seen, the NCVQ had to bolt-on additional features of assessment or change parts of the model frequently and at great speed. Criticisms of:. In this light, their production seems particularly chaotic and contentious in GNVQs. Confusion over the ambitious remit adopted by NCVQ placed unfamiliar pressures on relationships and responsibilities between government departments, NCVQ as a regulatory or accrediting body and commercial awarding bodies: [by ] the whole bandwagon was rolling.

    So the whole thing had shifted and. I always felt. The kind of nightmare scenario of each individual pursuing a slightly different programme and having to access support in a slightly different way, just didn't seem to ring true. OFSTED's criticism of students accumulating evidence mechanistically, without gaining autonomy within a cognitive base of a subject resonated with civil servants and Ministers who were becoming concerned about modular A-levels Tim Boswell, interview May What does autonomy mean in isolation?

    It is also about applying it, it's to do with styles of learning and giving a young person greater responsibility, if you like, but it also has to achieve something, and our concern in the early days of GNVQs was that actually achieving some kind of knowledge, as well as vague ideas of competence. What is the knowledge element in this, because we always felt that there was something missing in GNVQs.

    For them, parity of esteem would only arise if GNVQs showed the public that they had this foundation: otherwise, the quality of students' work would always be seen as inferior to A-levels. This view was powerfully illustrated by the way that critics used questions from external tests in GNVQs to raise concerns with ministers and through the media about rigour see Ecclestone, b. In the light of the typology in Chapter 2, these critics saw procedural and personal autonomy as poor substitutes for autonomy derived from command of subject knowledge. This aim places a premium on the ability of assessment to discriminate validly between satisfactory and unsatisfactory performance.

    In theory, by achieving high levels of validity, Jessup hoped the model would deliver reliability see Jessup, ; Wolf, ; West, for discussion. Inspectors were also conscious that, in contrast to schools, FE colleges had experienced a series of vocational initiatives and were also experiencing major restructuring. These factors are discussed in the next chapter. So don't make waves about what you are doing for parity or equivalence'.

    Nobody ever said that, it's not written down anywhere, but it's my impression that that's what the sticking point came to. A much cooler, more rational tone appears in interview data: We increasingly felt it would be an acid test of the viability of this thing that we had to provide a progression route into higher education.

    It also symbolises something which had grown unexpectedly and problematically, important. So the thing to simplify the assessment. Change was therefore politically expedient for creating an image of reliable standards. New symbolism appears over competing notions of standards embedded in the new model. Nevertheless, analysis here suggests that it was an image of reliability, rather than any robust measure of it, which eventually dominated assessment policy for GNVQs. Drawing on moderation processes associated with A-levels, regional grading exercises and postal moderation were designed to standardise teachers' grading decisions in line with the criteria.

    They were accompanied by analysis in the NCVQ of statistical discrepancies in grades between centres and subjects. This produces dissent and confusion over whether assessment should be a norm-referenced measure of consistent but selective achievement in order to promote reliable assessment decisions or a criterion-referenced measure of attainment to produce valid, authentic decisions. As a result, technical issues are extremely complex even before political considerations are added to them.

    Yet, debate around standards in GNVQs also illustrates a deep-rooted ideological disagreement about which type of assessment should have higher social status see Young, As Raymond Williams argues, certain words embody practices and institutions embedded within culture and society at any given time. This image is particularly apposite in the case of political and organisational feuds over standards in GNVQs! It is clear that each of the three meanings discussed above was used implicitly or overtly to attack or defend a particular stance in assessment policy.

    At the same time, each notion also underpins a sophisticated technological armoury of testing, monitoring and moderation methods that are enormously complicated to the uninitiated. The overall effect is to create an ideological, political and epistemological quagmire around the notion of standards, compounded by its technical complexity in an outcome-based model.

    Yet, a standardising approach to reliability seems to dominate thinking inside the DfEE, winning out over validity and strict criterion-referenced grading in GNVQs promoted by the ex-Employment department or old-style forms of cohort referencing see also Raggatt and Williams, ; West, Interview data showed the extent to which organisational frustration, rivalry and political dissent started to dominate attributions of blame for problems, displacing the early visionary aspirations. To put it vulgarly and slightly unfairly, as a sort of battering ram on NCVQ. Never in a million years'.

    As I argued above, apart from some acrimonious arguments in the General Policy Committee over standards, no concerted discussion took place outside the NCVQ's GNVQ team over either the technical issues or the political ones. Throughout its tortuous political development, the GNVQ assessment model was dogged with the image that its technical complexity was only understandable by specialists in competence and outcome-based assessment see also Raggatt and Williams, This added further defensiveness, confusion and political disingenuity to the debate, especially for external constituencies lacking in-depth technical and political expertise in assessment.

    Discussion here, together with research by Baird et al. The cumulative effect of problems and dissent is that GNVQ developments set precedents for high levels of political intervention and new powers for QCA as a regulatory body. One civil servant believes that stronger control by the DfEE is now based on more robust specialist knowledge and understanding about assessment amongst civil servants and Ministers: I think it was the DfE that really made the difference because people like [name of civil servant 3] were instrumental in this and developed a lot of internal expertise.

    We just got expertise from outside. We realised that you couldn't deal with the issues [in GNVQs] unless we had a lot of internal expertise. Tim Boswell developed a lot of knowledge and understanding and was able to challenge. This again implies the need for external constituencies, including researchers in assessment policy and practice, to understand something of these technical processes and groups. Tim Boswell We were working to a pretty tight timescale, for perfectly reasonable policy reasons.

    In coding and analysing data, a focus on the period after the formation of the QCA shows how different constituencies rationalised, retrospectively, the sequence of events, their consequences and the personal performances of individuals. Yet, the use of organisational, normative and symbolic perspectives in policy analysis reveals the mayhem underneath. These multiple aims set up huge, if not impossible, demands for the assessment model which had to, simultaneously:.

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    Colleges are under extreme pressures to motivate and retain more learners and now deal with more young people and adults whose motivation for being in further education is complex and often fragile. A series of vocational initiatives came to set great store by outcome-based assessment as a key feature to address these challenges, culminating in GNVQs.

    In addition, and despite some good opportunities through TVEI and CPVE for staff development, theoretical analysis and academic critiques have rarely informed FE teachers' insights about assessment over the past twenty years. This fragmentation is reinforced by lack of general understanding about the principles and purposes of assessment throughout schools Black and Wiliam, a and the further and adult education sectors Ecclestone, a, a.

    As Chapter 2 suggested, changing teachers' ideas and practices at a deep level, as opposed to securing their conformity to policy injunctions, is really only possible by working intensively with teachers facing problems that are meaningful to them in their everyday teaching contexts see, for example, Black et al. A barrier to this possibility is that since incorporation of colleges in , professional development in all aspects of pedagogy and assessment has been poor and under-funded FEFC, d.

    At the same time, political intervention in vocational education has grown, alongside upheaval in funding, quality assurance and institutional restructuring in colleges since incorporation in As a prelude to discussion of students' and teachers' experience of the Advanced GNVQ assessment model, this chapter explores the changing landscape in FE colleges.

    The second section evaluates how political intervention through vocational initiatives began to reshape professional perspectives about change in curricula, institutional structures and quality assurance. In , this was split 34 per cent in school sixth forms, 35 per cent between FE and sixth form colleges and a further 7 per cent in employment training schemes and 8 per cent in part-time education.

    The total participation rate in education and training of 85 per cent at 16 drops to 77 per cent at 17 FEFC, a. In the north-east, where research for this book was carried out, participation in post education and training is about 71 per cent, with 62 per cent in full-time education while participation in training dropped from A series of initiatives to respond to mass youth unemployment began in In schools, the raising of the school leaving age in led to an alternative curriculum for those not entered for examinations at 16 and to GCSEs in It began an ad hoc series of attempts to engage growing numbers of young people who would not otherwise choose FE see Table 4.

    The emerging new curriculum gave teachers and supervisors scope to negotiate a programme covering diverse social, political, personal, leisure pursuits and work-related issues. Yet, meaningful summative assessment was not part of initial responses to mass youth unemployment. Nor was diagnosis of needs, action planning or recording of achievement.

    And while such curricula were often relevant, interesting and genuinely experiential, they rarely prepared young people formally for progression to employment or FE or saw their work experience as a serious focus for learning. Changing FE colleges 85 Absence of summative assessment and scope for teachers' own interpretations of SLS and general studies were challenged by a large-scale incursion of general vocational preparation into schools and colleges that began through the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative TVEI.

    Also evident is the reshaping of general education both in goals, content and organisational structures. In the early s, the notion of Assessment and Accreditation of Prior Learning emerged from the margins of access and adult education programmes into NVQs and some university credit systems. There was much technical and ideological promise in the air that these forms of assessment could motivate adults and widen access by accrediting diverse achievements and giving them status in credit frameworks see Jessup, ; McNair, There were also moves in the early s to extend assessment to non-accredited provision and this debate is re-emerging as organisations like the Workers' Educational Association and LEAs providing adult education consider their curriculum under the new Learning and Skills Councils LSCs.

    It is important for understanding how GNVQ teachers in this book responded to goals of autonomy embedded within the assessment model to review themes of autonomy in vocational education during the s and s. Progressivism has also been associated with antipathy to summative assessment amongst many youth workers and the new pedagogues on unemployment schemes in FE during the s, seen as the cause of failure, stigmatisation and demotivation for young people on schemes and vocational preparation courses. It is not therefore surprising that notions of autonomy embedded within GNVQ were bland and vague: they had to address competing commitments without being seen to promote one over others.

    Emphasis on formative assessment in Records of Achievement and portfolios accompanied the demise of commitment to liberal studies and general education in vocational courses see Pring, ; Yeomans, BTEC abandoned a separate general studies curriculum in its National Diplomas in , merging notions of personal development and general education with vocational preparation and work-related personal skills. This reinforced a polarisation between progressive vocational teachers supporting personal development and those Changing FE colleges 93 committed to a critical curriculum. Indeed, the history of the post curriculum as a whole is characterised by absence of any serious professional and political debate about what it should comprise and why Bloomer, They also reinforced divisions between general, academic and vocational traditions that have characterised the English education system from the nineteenth century see for example, Edwards et al.