Actors, Networks and Assessment: An Actor-Network Critique of Quality Assurance in Higher Education In England

Actors, Networks and Assessment: An Actor-Network Critique of Quality Assurance in Higher Education In England

Jonathan Tummons
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-197-3.ch012
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This chapter is an exploration of one particular form of non-traditional provision of higher education (HE) in England, known as higher education in further education: the provision of HE courses that are offered on a franchise basis in one or more colleges of further education (FE colleges). Focussing on assessment on one teacher-training course, this chapter offers ways of conceptualising the responses of FE colleges where the course is run to the quality assurance systems and procedures established by the university that provides the course. Assessment has been chosen as the specific focus of this paper for several reasons: it is an activity that must be performed in certain ways and must conform to particular outcomes that are standardised across colleges; it is an established focus of research; and it is a focus of specific traceable activities across both the university and the colleges. Drawing on data collected over a three-year period, the chapter suggests that the ways in which assessment processes are regulated and ordered are characterised by complexities for which actor-network theory provides an appropriate conceptual framework.
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Widening Participation Through Higher Education In Further Education

Holgate University is a university in the north of England with a history of training teachers for the further education (FE) sector in England, that stretches back forty years. For much of this time, the university has delivered its teacher-training courses on a collaborative basis with a large number of further education (FE) colleges. FE colleges predominantly cater for students aged 16-19 who are following technical or vocational programmes of study. On completion of their courses, most students will enter employment although some will progress to university. FE colleges offer a range of programmes for adults, some of whom may be returning to learning after a protracted period away from formal education and training and some of whom may be returning to college to update or refresh existing skills. FE colleges also provide basic skills courses in literacy and numeracy to adults.

The vast majority of teachers in the FE sector enter the profession on the basis of their vocational or technical qualifications, rather than whether or not they have a teaching qualification. For example, a new lecturer in electrical installation would be expected to have appropriate and up-to-date trade qualifications or endorsements. After being appointed, s/he would then study for a teaching qualification on a part-time, in-service basis, and the course would therefore take two years to complete. Over four-fifths of teacher training for practitioners in the FE sector is carried out in this way; the remainder rests on a model that is more akin to schools-based training (that is, a full-time course with a teaching placement, completed within one year). The course is available as a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) to graduates, or as a certificate in education (Cert Ed) to non-graduates, who are teaching either part-time or full-time in post-compulsory education. These teaching contexts include FE colleges (the majority of students on the course), accredited adult education, and higher education. The course is endorsed by both Lifelong Learning UK (the body responsible for professional standards in teaching in the further education sector in England and Wales) and the Higher Education Academy (the body that holds equivalent responsibility for the higher education sector). It takes two years to complete on a part-time in-service basis. Throughout this chapter, the course will be referred to as the PGCE/CertEd.

A little over half of all of the students on the course take the Cert Ed route: for these students, this teacher-training course represents a first experience of higher education (HE). Consequently, this aspect of the provision can be seen as being one of a number of methods through which wider participation in HE more generally can be offered (Parry et. al., 2003; Parry and Thompson, 2002; Thomas, 2001). Such provision of higher education courses within further education institutions is generally referred to as Higher Education in Further Education (HE in FE) provision, and has expanded considerably over recent years (Bird and Crawley, 1994; Connolly et al., 2007; Hilborne, 1996; West, 2006).

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