Tuesday, June 10, 2008

British Universities `inflate degrees' to boost status

UNIVERSITY academics claim they are under pressure to upgrade degrees to at least a 2:1 to boost their institutions' position in league tables. Liverpool was named as one of the alleged culprits by one leading academic, while another senior don claims league tables were "a key factor" in increasing the numbers of firsts and 2:1s awarded at one of Britain's top 10 universities.

Other lecturers said they were also coming under strong pressure to upgrade degrees from students paying tuition fees who were worried that their career prospects would be blighted if they failed to achieve a 2:1.

Jonathan Bate, professor of English at Warwick University, said that before he left his previous job at Liverpool in 2003 he was told that improving the university's league table position depended on increasing the number of firsts and upper second class degrees awarded.

In The Sunday Times University Guide league table about 10% of a university's score depends on its proportion of top degrees. Rankings can have a strong effect on, for example, the calibre of applicants to universities.

Bate, speaking in today's News Review, says: "There are universities where instructions go round to staff reminding them that awarding more top-class degrees will push their institution up both the national and international league tables. When I was a professor at Liverpool University heads of departments were given exactly this message."

Universities have complained repeatedly about "grade inflation" at A-level making it increasingly difficult to choose between candidates with three As, but new figures show that the same phenomenon has occurred with degrees. At Liverpool the proportion of firsts and 2:1s has risen from 50% to 73% during the past decade. Since 2000, the university's ranking has risen from 35th to 27th.

In the past decade only one of the top 30 universities - Cambridge - has reduced the proportion of firsts and 2:1s. Liverpool University denied pressure had been exerted to lower marking standards. Bill Rammell, the higher education minister, has warned universities against introducing "tests for tests' sake" in case they harm the prospects of pupils from poor schools.


Australia: Another Leftist attack on school discipline

Teachers warned for 'shouting'

TEACHERS have launched legal action against the NSW Education Department after being put under scrutiny for shouting while trying to control students. NSW Education Department officials are investigating teachers for shouting at students to "put that down'', "leave him alone'', "sit down'' or "pick up those papers'' and demanding to know, "who told you that you could go there?''

The Sunday Telegraph has obtained letters sent from the department to teachers, asking them to explain their actions. One letter stated: "It is alleged that while you were employed as a teacher you engaged in unreasonable conduct towards students, contrary to the Code of Conduct 2004, in that on unspecified occasions in class you unnecessarily yelled at students''.

Teachers have launched legal action against the department, claiming the investigations are eroding their authority and affecting discipline. The situation has resulted in 750 school principals signing statements of concern. Teachers Federation deputy president Bob Lipscombe said the investigations were a consequence of a decision by the department in December last year to cut back on the number of investigators who hold teaching qualifications.

"A number of teachers have been investigated for yelling in the classroom,'' he said. "These sorts of investigations can undermine their capacity to maintain reasonable discipline in their classes and the prolonged investigations often cause significant harm to teachers' wellbeing.''

Independent Education Union secretary Dick Shearman said the problem was a result of over-zealousness, with some teachers being accused of abuse after raising their voice. "It's been a battle to distinguish between what might be normal discipline or genuine psychological abuse,'' he said. "In some schools, there's overzealousness of this approach. If someone raises their voice on one occasion, this can be interpreted as child abuse. "You can harm a child without physically harming them. "It's not the notion we have a problem with, it's the interpretation of it. "We're not criticising child-protection legislation.''

Despite the letters ordering teachers to explain why they yelled at students, the department denies it investigates them for shouting. "A teacher raising their voice at a student will not prompt an investigation by the department,'' a department spokesman said in a statement. "The Employee Performance and Conduct Unit investigates staff for serious misconduct and poor performance.'' Almost 1000 teachers and other staff are currently listed on the department's not-to-be-employed list.

Opposition education spokesman Andrew Stoner said teachers were left to deal with ill-behaved children who were not being disciplined at home. "I certainly got the cane at school a lot because I was a little bugger,'' he said. "I don't suggest we bring it back, but let's say discipline was a lot tougher in former years. "The Government has taken away a lot of teachers' powers to discipline children in the classroom. It's no wonder teachers sometimes end up yelling at unruly and difficult students.''

Sarah Redfern public school principal Cheryl McBride said the investigations had resulted in an erosion of discipline. "A normal disciplinary action to prevent dangerous or threatening behaviour is being interpreted as something that needs to be reported as a child-protection incident ... whereas that might be very appropriate discipline for the child,'' Ms McBride said."


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