Assessing the assessor: enabling cross-country comparisons in VET
By 2020, the European Union aims to support 650,000 vocational apprenticeships or traineeships abroad. However, finding out whether another country’s approach to assessment fits with your own can be a tricky task, with no simple way to compare requirements.
That is where UK NARIC, ECCTIS Ltd’s Erasmus+ project, ‘Vocational Assessor Requirements in Europe’, aims to help.
ECCTIS Ltd is a Cheltenham-based, not-for-profit company that manages a number of national agencies such as UK NARIC and Europass, as well as being the contact point for the European Credit system for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET) for England.
Alongside their partners - 3S research laboratory (Austria), Fundacja “Fundusz Współpracy” (Poland), Centre of the Republic of Slovenia for Vocational Education and Training (Slovenia) and VTCT (UK) - they aimed to catalogue existing requirements to assess vocational qualifications across Europe.
Katherine Latta, Head of European Programmes Group for UK NARIC, said: “We had previously found that UK organisations were not fully using ECVET because in the UK assessors are required to have a qualification for assessment.
"That led us to question what rules exist in different countries and it quickly became apparent that there was no easy way to find out.
“We wanted to work out what these rules were and to present this information in an accessible way.
"If you are going into a partnership and want to use ECVET, you should be able to accept assessment from another country by understanding how they do it, the requirements to be an assessor and aligning this with your own system.”
Spot the difference
Much as they expected, the partnership’s research led them to discover that there are many differences between countries in terms of assessment and assessor requirements in vocational education.
“The biggest variation is between assessing in a work-based setting and in a school. In a school, it was usually straightforward that if you are the teacher or trainer, you will be qualified to teach. In many cases across Europe, the teacher will not be separately qualified in assessment, but this is often expected in the UK.
“In terms of work-based assessment, there was a huge amount of variation depending on the system and the country. In some cases you had clear rules about who was assessing and in others you really didn’t.
The biggest variation is between assessing in a work-based setting and in a school.
“We also found variation in the types of assessment. Some systems, like ours, have periodic assessments, which could be portfolios or exams. In other systems, it is end-point assessment, often involving a panel or a committee to assess.
“In VET, there are so many different actors: the school, the training body, the workplace. There are a lot more organisations involved in the process than you may find in other educational sectors.”
From their research, the partnership created a Catalogue of Assessor Requirements, detailing the requirements to be an assessor of vocational qualifications across the EU, and a comparison tool to compare basic ‘headline’ information for three countries at a time, as well as case studies of good practice.
During the course of their research, the partnership came up against some unexpected challenges.
“People didn’t always understand what we were asking them,” Katherine explained. “'Assessment just happens', was a common response.
“Who does assessment? Under what authority? These were questions that a lot of people hadn’t considered, so it really encouraged people to reflect on that and, in turn, makes the system more transparent.
"It gives people the opportunity to look at how their system compares to other countries."
Time to reflect
The project has served as a great opportunity for the stakeholders involved to reflect on their own systems and for the sector as a whole to consider what works well across Europe.
“In Poland it kick-started a discussion about assessment as a separate competence to teaching.
"Talking about assessors competencies was alien in some countries; it was assumed that if you can teach, you can assess. The project had additional value in starting discussions about what it is to be an assessor, above and beyond being a teacher.
These topics are not commercial, but this kind of research is vital for the implementation of ECVET and to improve vocational practices across Europe
"Getting people talking about the way they think about assessment was an unintended impact.
“Improving the transparency of the sector is the most important potential benefit for VET, a lot of these aspects no-one had really considered before.
“ECVET is still evolving and assessing students abroad and accepting received assessment is something many organisations still struggle with. Our outputs should provide a starting point for those who would like to consider it.”
Going above and beyond
The original scope of the project had been simply to research and catalogue requirements for assessors in VET. However, during the process the team realised there was an opportunity to further develop their idea and display it in a more accessible format.
“We saw an opportunity to distil this information into a comparative tool, where you can look at information from three countries, much like when you compare mobile phone plans or products. It gives you a highlight and then you can read the country file to find out more.
“We hadn’t thought of that at the beginning, it goes above and beyond what we planned to do.
"You set out what you want to do, you work really hard to achieve it, but when you have that inspiration moment, where you can do something even better than you originally planned, it’s brilliant.
“We absolutely could not have done any of this work if it wasn’t for the Erasmus+ funding and support we received. These topics are not commercial, but this kind of research is vital for the implementation of ECVET and to improve vocational practices across Europe, so this is the only way to do it.”
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