Archived entries for education

Mind the Gap

Policy Analyses of Social Injustice in Education: A comparison of the effects of poverty on Academic Attainment.

Author: Finola Gaynor (c) 2013



‘Poor students fail to make the grade at A-level. Almost three-quarters of 19-year-olds from deprived backgrounds have fewer than two A-levels’

Shepherd (2010) The Guardian Newspaper.

The media is full of statements and commentaries relating to the UK’s failure to enhance the lives of ‘poor’ children. Save the Children UK, a children’s support charity recently published the report ‘It Shouldn’t Happen Here’ Whitham (2012). The report explicitly links the affects of being poor with a child’s future life success.

This paper seeks to provide an analysis and brief examination within the policy area of inequality in education and how it aligns directly with families’ low socio-economic position (SEP) and learners’ educational attainment. Poverty Risk Factors are highly complex and are both broad and deep. The vast amount of research indicates that the influencing factor of the attainment of learners is both genetic and environmental (Saudino, 2005). In addition, the ‘nurture and nature’ theories of Rutter, Moffitt, & Caspi, (2006) notes that parental care, stress and nutrition can enhance or degrade behaviour, learning and memory. This paper focuses on a narrower set of factors related to economic deprivation in England and its impact on learning and attainment in relation to the UK Coalition Government Child Poverty Strategy (CPS), (2011) and historic and subsequent education reforms and welfare cuts. Consideration will be made to create a context of understanding within the comparatively reactionary research and reports undertaken by the Joseph Rowntree Trust JRT, and Save the Children. In addition the paper will briefly compare the United States attainment gap.

Definitions of Child Poverty

The extent to which an individual goes without resources is a good indicator of Poverty. Resources can include financial, emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical resources as well as support systems, relationships, role models, and knowledge of hidden rules. Payne (2005). It is well researched that poverty directly affects academic achievement. It has been argued that this is due to the lack of resources and opportunities available to low SES families’ for student success. The correlation between child poverty and low achievement have been well documented particularly in terms of race, disability, gender, sexual preference and discriminatory teaching (e.g. Baldwin, 1979; Freire, 1970; Du Bois; 1994, Fuller et al 2006; Boger, 2002: Andrzejewski, 1995).

The research of Feinstein (2003) clearly identifies the impact of parents’ SEP on a child’s cognitive development. Those children tested from low SEP families who failed to score well during early years stages never managed to ‘catch-up’ in later years. Unlike their peers from high SEP who when tested had performed less well in early years, then subsequently overcame cognitive attainment often exceeding their peers at later stage testing, comparatively against children from High SEPS who originally performed well in early years tests. Jerrim and Vignoles (2011) reassessment of Feinstein’s research substantiate the heart of the findings, in that children from high SES families have greater cognitive skills development.

Sally Copley of Save the Children, during an interview on the BBC explains how child poverty is defined in ‘real terms’ stating that:

‘Living on less than £350 per week for an average family of 2 adults and 2 children, means paying for all your bills including housing, taxes, food, gas and electricity bills, everything comes out of that money’ Copley (2011).

She continues, explicitly stating what a ‘low-level’ of income means in real terms:

‘The reality for children is that, children often go without things on daily basis, things that they really need’ Copley (2011).

Copley refers to how the correlation of poverty, as those children defined, who go to school hungry or those who wear either inappropriate or incorrect uniform, results in low-level academic attainment reiterating Whitham’s 2012 report.

A democratic society by definition fundamentally involves education for all; Ayers & Stovall (2009) refer to the 3 principals in terms of Equity, Activism and Social Literacy. Whereby, the encouragement of education is better for society holistically and not merely beneficial to the individual learner. Referring to a criterion of democratic change in relation to an embedded or inherited injustice, whereby, the most privileged is more able to become and be more learned. Therefore, the most privileged have inherited opportunities to exceed economically, emotionally and culturally. This inherited opportunity is thereby sustained and sustainable, whereby learners with little or no opportunity of self-enhancement, financial or otherwise are pre-determined to negate educational success.

The topology of poverty policy

UK educational policy development process has historically been both democratic and bloated whereby education policy was formed and created alongside experts, policy makers and practitioners. Influencers and commentators often determine the purpose, whether financial, societal, economical or political (for example Whitty, 2002 (a); Kogan 1975; Silver 1990).

During Conservative power in the late 1970s UK child poverty increased exponentially and by 1991 had grown to almost 30% (Cribb 2012). As in figure 1 below shows. A change in UK government power in 1997, to the Labour Party brought about significant changes to both education and benefits policies, in order to reduce the attainment gap between the ‘poor’ and the ‘rich’. Research of the previous governments reforms raised major concerns over educational equity and social justice (For example Whitty et al., 1993; Woods et al 1998). Labour legislative enactment of policy and budgetary changes provided a series of child poverty targets that emerged in the form of direct tax and entitlement benefits. Labour’s target was to half child poverty by 2010/2011 and eradicate child poverty altogether by 2020.

Cribb Figure 1

Figure 1. Based upon, Cribb (2012)

Poverty measured using before housing costs incomes.

In addition the Labour Party invested an increased £30bn in education rising from 4.4 % of GDP in 1999 to 6.1% 2007 DCSF (2009). Labour also instituted the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, its major objective was to rebuild or refurbish all schools by 2020 at a cost of £50bn (National Audit Office 2009). Labours intention was to provide a ‘future proof’ education model, to move away from Victorian teaching methods and to create learning spaces to empower and enable learners and in particularly for those children in deprived areas. Labour also initiated Every Child Matters (ECM) framework (2004) and the subsequent Children’s Act was passed in November 2004. ECM identified an integrated framework of delivery, support and evaluation.

It aims was to identify the needs of all children; to minimise harm and maximise potential:

‘Working together to improve the lives of children, young people and their families. We are determined to make a step-change in the quality, accessibility and coherence of services so that every child and young person is able to fulfil their full potential and those facing particular obstacles are supported to overcome them’ ECM (2004).

Subsequently by 2010/11 an extra £18 billion in total had been given in the form child-contingent tax and benefits (Browne and Phillips 2010). However, it could be argued that failed their promise of radical reform, Chitty & Dunford (1999) argue that the Labour Party

‘has accepted much of the Conservative Government’s education agenda… the Conservative education programme has remained remarkably intact’ Chitty & Dunford (1999).

The newly elected Coalition Government consider the decrease in child poverty relative to the increase in benefit entitlements and tax credit as a narrow gauge as implied within the Child Poverty Strategy (CPS), (2011). The CPS paper argues that income, whether measured in absolute terms, is a short-term benchmark. Indicating that the1998–2010 reduction of child poverty of 1.1 million children, calculated using the ‘income before housing costs’ measuring model is distorted. Attesting that a simple increase in income will not lead to a reduction in child poverty. One of the concerns is that the previous government (The Labour Party) strategies have increased the reliance on benefits and tax entitlements, leading to a society dependant on benefits. Thereby, determining that although incomes were increased, the social mobility remained the same. Moreover, the CPS refers to a significant number of children living in poverty coming from working families, who due to the current system disable them from moving out of poverty.

As such, the Coalition Government has introduced a range of far reaching measures to reduce and cut the budgetary spend in welfare and support services. In addition, the Coalition Government states that the CPS needs to be orientated towards a long-term goal of government taxes being better spent on education or deficit reduction CPS (2011). The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) forecasts that the reduction in welfare benefits will increase child income poverty over the coming years (Cribb et al 2012). Furthermore the number of Britain’s living in poverty is increasing, as the median (average) and mean (extreme poor) lines move closer together.

In addition UNICEF has challenged the Coalition Government to rethink it CPS, stating:

‘The UK did better than many other rich countries in reducing child poverty and deprivation during the early years of the financial crisis. But the current government’s policies to reduce spending will reverse this, and more children will grow up in poverty’ (UNICEF 2012).

The Coalition Government’s commitment to deficit reduction is outlined in the governments intentions paper, The Coalition: our Programme for Government (2010) points to a host of reforms including, their second point, under the Families and Children Section to reform Tax Credits to families in order to reduce fraud and overpayments. The education intention is towards the importance of discipline as well as the quality of the teaching within schools.

While it may be true that the Coalition Government is committed to the Welfare of children, there are some contentious issues that have been raised towards the lack of support for children in low socio-economic position (SEP).

The then, opposition leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, commissioned the Social Justice Policy Group to provide policy recommendations on issues of social justice called Breakdown Britain (2006). Breakdown Britain was a political tool used to leverage provocation against the residing government the Labour Party. The language used creates a depressing and bleak picture of Britain and the future of its young people, referring to a ‘dadless’ family infrastructure being the correlational link to society’s demise. As in figure 2 below shows.


Figure 2. The systemic nature of family breakdown, Breakdown Britain (2006).

The research data collection refers to the method of ‘openness’ via the use of online forums and public hearings in major UK Cities, where young people provided personal anecdotal evidence of poverty and educational failure. In addition the research gleaned personal testimony from research gained from polling via YouGov, YouGov is a commercial market research agency co-founded by Stephan Shakespeare. The evidence was substantiated from a broad representative sample set of 40,000 people who were able to respond to the Social Justice Policy Group defined five pathways to poverty, (family breakdown, educational failure, addictions, economic inactivity and indebtedness) Breakdown Britain (2006). While it may have been true that some areas of society require more support and guidance towards better parenting et al. The evidence and data collection is questionable in terms of it’s bias, as ‘Critical friends’ and members of the Conservative Party managed and generated the final report.

In addition the use of Internet polling is problematic, as respondents answers may have been edited prior to submission. (Lyons et al 2003) and respondents would have required technical skills as well as access to equipment and the Internet. In addition, it is unlikely that where respondents indicated themselves from low SEP backgrounds that would have the means or the know how to adequately access the 2006 YouGov Poll.

Further more, bias is attached to the Co-founder of Yougov, Shakespeare, as he also the co-founder of, a ‘blog’ type website ‘dedicated to the to champion the interests of grassroots Tory members and to argue for a broad conservatism’ (2005).

The Guardian newspaper, Roberts (2007) in response to the Breakdown Britain paper reported: ‘the sense of proportion that might prove more productive to the creation of solutions is dangerously absent’. Furthermore, Roberts invites a distinct understanding and awareness of the issues raised:

‘The underclass are plagued by elements that make real choice extremely difficult to comprehend as a concept, never mind exercise – a lack of education, spare cash and qualifications plus the absence of a sense of self worth, aspiration and entitlement all render “choice” irrelevant except for the resilient few. Hence the rise of the thick middle class child (often brimming over with a sense of entitlement) and the slide of the bright working class son or daughter’ Roberts (2007).

Defining a sense of social injustice a social construct to be accepted by the affected.

JRT, Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion (2007) simultaneous report summarises:

‘Progress on child poverty has stalled at a level that is only half-way to the target set for two years ago. Tax credits may be working, but they are not enough on their own. Yet the Government’s budgetary and legislative programme set out this autumn contains no substantial new ideas about what should be done’ Kenway (2007).

The study by JRT found that in 2005/06, 11 per cent of 16 year-olds in England gained fewer than five GCSE’s, equal to the same percentage during 1999/00. In addition the percentage of children to reach 5 GCSE’s at grade C in 2005/06 was 50 per cent lower that those compared to in 1999/00. Of those 33 per cent were white, boys in receipt of Free School Meals (FSM) who didn’t achieve any GCSE’s at any level Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion (2007).

Currently, FSM acts as a proxy indicator of children from low SEPs. Children are made eligible for FSM where parents are in receipt of Employment Support Allowance or Income Support welfare benefit entitlements.


Mind the Gap


The National Pupil Database (NPD) data, formally Pupil Level Annual Schools Census (PLASC), (2009) data indicates that eligible children in receipt of FSM attending the top 10th percentile most advantaged schools gain around eight GCSEs more than those eligible children in receipt of FSM attending the bottom 10th percentile most disadvantaged schools.

In real terms the gap of attainment is quite significant in terms of actual GCSEs, whereby eligible FSM children at the lowest 10th percentile disadvantaged schools are likely to obtain two grade Ds and six grade Es out of eight GCSEs taken. This compares to eligible FSM children at the highest 10th percentile advantaged schools are likely to obtain two grade Cs and six grade Ds out the eight GCSEs taken. Therefore the average level of attainment of eligible FSM children attending the most disadvantaged schools.

Comparatively Non-FSM children attending the 10th percentile most advantaged schools achieved significantly higher grades obtaining five GCSEs at C Grade and three GCSEs at B Grade out of eight GCSEs taken. This equates to an average attainment of thirteen grades higher than those Non FSM eligible children at 10th percentile most disadvantaged schools.

Therefore, there is a trend for GCSE results to be higher in the most advantaged schools for both FSM and non-FSM eligible children. As in figure 3 below shows.

GCSE grades are still inferior for FSM eligible children in the majority of advantaged schools. However, for FSM eligible children there is a minor rise in GCSE grades in the highest disadvantaged schools. In other words, FSM eligible children in the most deprived schools tend to do better than the pendant children in schools with smaller measures of disadvantage, but not as well as those in the top 10 percentile of schools when compared with opposed school deciles.


Figure 3. Average best 8 GCSE and equivalents point score for non-FSM and FSM pupils by 10th percentiles of disadvantaged schools (high to Low).

The figures shown do not consider additional factors related to other variables related to ethnicity or social background. They are based around averages related to white, female ethnicity and prior average attainment.

The attainment gap factor differences could be further influenced by the research of by the likes of Chowdry et al (2010) whereby consideration towards the causal impact on educational outcomes and the importance on the learner and parental aspirations, attitudes, and behaviours, may substantially influence the gap factor.

Poverty and Attainment in a Global Landscape


Comparative to the UK the gap in educational attainment between low and high SEPs in the United States (US) are substantial (Rowan et al., 2004). Research by the US Department of Education (US, DOE) (2001) indicates that children who live in poverty are significantly disadvantaged compared to their counterparts. The research was conducted across 71 disadvantaged schools looking into the gap in attainment. The US, DOE study shows that children of low SEP scored well below average in all levels and grades tested. Whereby, children living 50 per cent below poverty line consistently scored 7 to 12 grade points lower that the norm (Smith et al., 1997). In addition, low SEPs children scored consistently low regardless of ethnicity or race (Bergeson, 2006).

In 2001 the United State Act of Congress reauthorized the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) in an attempt to close the attainment gap for low Sep children in the US. Hailed as a flagship support program its intention was to raise the educational standards, aspirations and goals to improve education. Ten years after the policy’s introduction, studies measuring the impact of the policy indicate NCLBs failure of academic achievement or attainment.

Strauss (2012) commenting on the policy failure states:

‘Because of it’s misguided reliance on one-size-fits-all testing, labeling and sanctioning schools; it has undermined many education reform effects. Many schools particularly those serving low income students, have become little more that test-preparation programs’ Strauss (2012).

However, NCLB policy impact studies Phillips and Flashman (2007) found the quality of teachers and teaching increased. Teachers were given time to effectively prepare as well as extend extra-curricular activities. However, the researched indicated that teachers continued professional development was inadequate and that the school environment and class sizes had changed very little.



An attempt to reduce Child Poverty has fallen by the wayside and is set to increase with the imminent cuts to welfare benefits and entitlements. While the Children’s Act 2004 went some way to reduce child poverty in the UK the target to reduce the percent by half 2010/11 fell short. It is also unlikely that the eradication of child poverty by 2020 will not exceed. Children from low SEPs will still continue to attend schools of higher deprivation and consequently score lower at GCSE level. The factors affecting children’s low achievement are directly related to lack of opportunity, support and resources correlated to low family income, whether measured by absolute or relative value indicators. Moreover, the educational attainment gap between low SEP and high SEP is evident. However it is important to recognize that government policy can help to reduce the attainment gap for low SEP children by providing appropriate resources and support.













‘Assessment is Textured and Finely Grained’.

Robinson, K. (2009):

A Critical Commentary of Assessment in Art and Design Higher Education.

Author: Finola Gaynor (C) 2013



This paper provides a critical commentary on a subset of assessment, focusing on the synthesis of assessment within studio practice units, as opposed to personal professional development or the written element of a programme, of Level 4 Graphic Design students at a UK Creative Arts University, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) Code of Practice and the QAA, Art and Design Subject Benchmarks. For the purposes of anonymity the University will be identified as ‘Ottimo University’.

In order to identify assessment, there is a requirement to understand the current assessment frameworks. The QAA Code of practice is not mandatory, but documents recommended actions, institutional structures and polices related to the quality and standards in higher education. In addition the QAA, Framework for Higher Education (FHEQ)

‘enables higher education providers to communicate to employers; schools; parents; prospective students; professional, statutory and regulatory bodies (PSRBs); and other stakeholders the achievements and attributes represented by the typical higher education qualification titles’. (ENQA, 2008).

The QAA also provides a specific Subject Benchmarks Statement for Art and Design QAA (2008).

‘which provides a means for the academic community to describe the nature and characteristics of programmes in a specific subject or subject area’ (QAA, 2008).

This paper will explore the generic model of assessment as outlined within the QAA guidelines from the assessment policy and practice at Ottimo University.

The paper draws on a broad body of literature and research to examine the practice of assessment within an undergraduate academic framework. The researcher will also refer to the detailed knowledge and experience of Ottimo lecturers taken from open-ended discussions held at Ottimo. From this data, the paper intends to highlight key assessment practices and identify the quality of learning through assessment practices through the use generic learning outcomes and assessment criteria of Ottimo University. It is hoped that the understanding gained from the paper will enable future research.



I have worked within design practice and education for a number of years and like most design educationists practitioners’; my teaching came from the historic relationship of teacher-practitioners in art and design Higher Education (HE). Unlike that of more traditional text-based courses, this mode of practice has been commonplace since the Royal College of Arts (RCA) began delivering a specialised design portfolio of courses in the 1930-40s (RCA 2011). The RCA considered it appropriate that all staff were engaged in industry practice as well as fulfilling their teaching roles. In addition the Higher Education Academy (HEA) notes, that often art and design academics would:

‘Work part-time as a practitioner while simultaneously fulfilling management and academic roles’ (Rees, 2006).

More recently the teacher-practitioners’ role has emerged towards a professional educationalists position:

‘This culture of learning through practice has persisted and teacher-practitioners today represent a significant number of those delivering and developing the undergraduate curriculum’ (Clews and Mallinder, 2010).

Most of my academic work has been focused on the practice of learning, teaching and assessment within the subject of graphic design. For this paper I will also draw on my experience as an assessor in order to better extrapolate comparisons of assessment practice.

The most recent influences to assessment in higher education was the introduction of the Bologna Process; one of its principal aims is to provide a comparable, consistent and compatible European educational framework. Consequently the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) was defined and is currently made up of 47 countries (International Unit 2012). The EHEA educational framework is made up of three cycles, Bachelor, Master and PhD. Each cycle contains generic descriptors of typical abilities and achievements associated with completion of that cycle (EHEA 2010). Please see figure 1.


Figure 1. First Cycle, Bachelor, Qualification Framework Descriptors (Bologna Process, 2009).

Following the Bologna process the Quality Assurance of Student Assessment Working Group was formed and the UK QAA joined in 2007, its brief was to explore the subject of quality assurance of student assessment practices in HE. The result was the European Association for Quality Assurance (EAQA published report The Assessment Matters, (2008). The report concluded a number of key generic points directly related to assessment:

  • emphasis needs to be placed on the careful design of assessments, in particular in terms of validity and reliability.
  • assessment must be aimed at showing achievement of specific learning outcomes
  • assessment should be undertaken within an holistic framework that does not miss or ‘ hide’ the achievement of other, non-explicit outcomes.
  • assessment should be designed to ensure that appropriate links are made between the assessment of a module and the overall learning outcomes of the programme.
  • assessment practices should be kept under review in order to ensure that the impact of new learning environments is recognised (p6).

In 2008 the QAA incorporated the key action points into the FHEQ (2008) qualification descriptors. The FHEQ divides the qualification descriptors in to 2 discrete areas of subject knowledge, and generic skills.

Ottimo University directly maps Its academic infrastructure and assessment regime against FHEQ Level 4 (Certificate in Higher Education). Please see figure 1 and 2. Each Unit refers to Learning Outcomes (LO’s) that map against the QAA Code of Practice and FHEQ. This university has generic learning outcomes for every course of study For example, if a student is taking Fine Art or Graphic Design, the LO remains the same, what distinguishes the programme is the introduction of course-specific unit project briefs. Please see figure 3

The QAA Art and Design Subject Benchmark define the subject principles acknowledging the complexity and diversity within the discipline as described

‘The outcomes of engagement with these characteristics are equally varied in art and in design, but both require the development of particular cognitive attributes. The role of imagination in the creative process is essential in developing the capacities to observe and visualise, in the identifying and solving of problems, and in the making of critical and reflective judgements. While convergent forms of thinking, which involve rational and analytical skills, are developed in art and design, they are not the only conceptual skills within the repertoire employed by artists and designers. More divergent forms of thinking, which involve generating alternatives, and in which the notion of being ‘correct’ gives way to broader issues of value, are characteristic of the creative process QAA’ (2008 p. 3 2.3).

Ottimo University’s model of synthesise with QAA ensures the internal quality of the education framework and its assessment process for the learner, the educator and the university. Please see figure 4.


Figure 4. Visual framework of qualitative assessment Gaynor (2013)

In theory, given the transferable and generic nature of the framework any university could replicate Ottimo’s academic infrastructure. However, the intellectual scaffolding in reference to the purposes of assessment methods need to be identified. Why are we assessing?


The Importance of Assessment

Assessment and the understanding of assessment is important to both the educator and the student, there is plenty of research in the quality of student learning. The research undertaken by the likes of Marton, Saljo and Dahlgren (1976 and 1984) provide a concept model concerned with the learning approach of students’ based on the outcomes produced.

Within a phenomenographic perspective, this concept of learning refers to ‘deep’, ’surface’ and ‘strategic’ learning approaches. This is where the student may adopt a multi-modal approach to their learning, either ‘deep’ intrinsic or ‘surface’ extrinsic. Further studies since, elaborated by Ramsden (1992), Biggs (1987, 1993), Entwistle (1997) expand on the notion of deep and surface learning, indicating that during deep learning, the learning intention indicates a requirement of rich understanding, whereby the learning approach focus is ‘signified’, and the learner makes connections to previous knowledge with new knowledge. Whereas, surface learning relates directly to the specific completion of the task, defining the learning focus as ‘signs’. This refers to discrete elements of requirements, rote learning and assessment procedures. A strategic learning approach is a derivative of surface learning, whereby the learner is motivated by marks, and organizes their learning towards the expectations of the process and that of their tutor.

Please see figure 5.

Figure 2. Defining features of approaches to learning (Entwistle 1997 Ch1. p19).


Entwistle (1998) concludes that the learner’s approach critically impacts on their (students) level of understanding, therefore, demonstrating that students’ outcomes, relate directly to the students learning approach, whether surface, deep, strategic or a combination of all three.

The QAA Code of practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education, Section 6: Assessment of students (2006), corroborates a phenomenographic viewpoint, generically stating the importance of learning outcomes in promoting student learning, to improving performance, evaluating knowledge and promoting the understanding of abilities or skills (QAA 2006, p4.)

Further research indicates that it is the design of courses (learning outcomes and assessment criteria) and teaching methodology that encourages or dispels this learning approach (surface or deep) of students. Bowden (1990 cited by Bowden and Marton 1998) suggests that attributes of course design in HE compel students to adopt the surface approach.  For example, the lack of formative feedback, mark-only feedback, timely feedback and disconnected learning units would encourage a surface learning approach as an unintended consequence of the course design. Which in turn prevents the student using the deep learning approach. It could be argued that the creation of assessment criteria that instrumentalises learning and prioritizes specific areas of assessment may be only for the purposes academic integrity. For example, the excessive adherence to particular reference styles, teacher omniscience and disproportionate assessment within a module.

‘I suspect that referencing has become a shibboleth for ulterior reasons. It is one of the few respects in which a submission primarily on the practice of teaching can be “correct” or “incorrect”, so it becomes where the academic credibility of the work resides when confidence has been lost in passing professional judgement. The Harvard system of course is correct/incorrect because it is a wholly artificial (but nevertheless sensible and effective) system. Practice is much more muddy’. Atherton (2011).

The QAA Code of practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education, Section 6: Assessment of students (2006), correlates a phenomenographic view point, generically stating the importance of learning outcomes to promote student learning, to improve performance, evaluate knowledge and understand abilities or skills (QAA 2006, p4.)

There is limited research specific to the level of learning and learning outcomes within the field of art and design. Dahlgren’s (1978) case studies define the categorization and analyses of learning outcomes did not include the subject of art and design.

Furthermore, Biggs and Collis (1982) general taxonomy describes a generic structure to levels of learning outcome called SOLO (Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome).

‘In the SOLO taxonomy five levels of learning outcome can be distinguished, of increasing complexity:

  1. Prestructural no evidence of anything learned.
  2. Unistructural one correct and relevant element is present.
  3. Multistructural several relevant elements are present but in an unrelated way, often-in list form.
  4. Relational the relevant elements are integrated into a generalised structure; there is evidence of induction.
  5. Extended: abstract the structure of elements is related to other relevant domains of knowledge; answers are not bounded by the question.’

Biggs and Collis (1982)

Despite the general category applicability of the SOLO’s taxonomy, Gibbs (1993) invites the notion that the formulation creates issues in assessing the learning outcomes for students within the subject of art and design. Gibbs concludes that as the taxonomy is constructed verbally or in writing then the assessment process asserts an outcome in the shape of a written report or similar.

Conversely, Ottimo University references Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom 1956) throughout its academic infrastructure and pedagogic development. Bloom’s taxonomy refers to cognitive learning in order to classify levels and forms of learning. Three domains of learning are identified, each domain is organised as series of hierarchical or ‘progressive’ levels. The suggestion is that the learner cannot effectively address higher levels until those lower down have been assimilated. Please see figure 6. For example, during first-aid training the learner may only be concerned at that point with the domains of Knowledge, Comprehension and Application, whereas a junior doctor would also be concerned with Synthesis and Evaluation.

Figure 6: Blooms Taxonomy diagram (Based on Bloom 1956).

The revision of Blooms Taxonomy by Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) introduced a change in the syntax and the meaning through changing the nouns to verbs, and replacing ‘evaluation’ with ‘creating’, explicitly identifying the notion of creating new knowledge. Please see figure 7.

Figure 6: Revised taxonomy of the cognitive domain
following Anderson and Krathwohl (2001).

Ottimo University’s use of Bloom’s Taxonomy provides a clear framework and terms of reference for academic staff to use as an aid in promoting the six categories of learning, knowledge, comprehension application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. The Ottimo guide to assessment and feedback

(Ottimo 2012) articulates directly with the level descriptors as well as a discrete link to their learning outcomes and assessment feedback.

Initially the use of a taxonomy at Ottimo, caused great debate amongst academics in relation to its definition and how it might be applied. The academic staff had to reach an agreement as to whether the taxonomy was relevant to the discipline and then to its application within the context of teaching, learning and assessment.

Ottimo in a conversation with the Pro Vice-Chancellor (PVC) on 6 Jan 2013, they stated that:

‘The use of a taxonomy has proven fundamentally important in creating a meaningful conceptual framework for the delivery of teaching, learning and assessment for art and design at Ottima. Within the context of our academic infrastructure, a taxonomy provided a starting point for debate and an opportunity to forge a broad academic agreement around language, meaning and intentionality that came to shape the curriculum and the staff/student experience.’  (PVC, Ottimo 2013).

Ottimo’s PVC expanded to the importance of a shared understanding towards the overall student experience within assessment, assessment feedback and learning outcomes.

‘The importance of a semantic consensus in designing curricula is all too often overlooked in scouring the minutiae of criteria, weightings and outcomes at the expense of a more holistic vision of a start, middle and endgame for learning within the context of a three-year undergraduate degree.’ (PVC, Ottimo 2013).

Therefore it is necessary that the students’ experience of learning is clear, motivated and achievable.

The National Union of Students’ Student Experience Report (2008) found that their assessment feedback expectations were not met, with only a quarter of students receiving effective feedback:

‘only 25 per cent of students receive individual verbal feedback on their assessments, compared with 71 per cent who want individual verbal feedback. A quarter (25 per cent) of students have to wait more than five weeks for feedback on their coursework.’ (NUS 2008).

Similarly, Williams and Kane (2008) notes the need for timeliness of assessment feedback. Williams and Kane (2008) evidences that student’s value assessment feedback, not only as a measure attainment and progression, but in order to inform their future work:

‘If tutors could give students feedback on the assignments sooner it would help because students could take that feedback advice when completing later assignments’. BCU, LHDS, 2007.” Williams and Kane (2008).

Summarising that all student’s value to the timeliness and quality of assessment feedback. Therefore, reflective and verbal communicative practices towards the enhancement of meaning and understanding are crucial to effective course design and its assessment practices.

Art and Design Assessment in Practice.

Nichol’s (2008) research raises concerns that the way art and design academics assess could be the cause of negative results related to assessment and feedback in National Students’ Survey (NSS), (Jul 2012) within the discipline of art and design. Nichol presents the concept that ‘better’ feedback is crucial to successful student learning.

‘To achieve this (effective feedback), students must be actively involved in the processes of assessment, in the different components of the assessment cycle.  In other words, assessment is a partnership, which depends as much on what the student does as what we do as teachers.’ (Nicol, 2008; Nicol, in press).

As an internal moderator observing the assessment process of academics to level 6 (Year 3, undergraduate) my experience was the notion of an ‘academic relationship’. Whereby, the academic relationship is that the lecturer and the student had a shared understanding of what the student had learned and what knowledge and skills have been acquired and demonstrated for the purposes of final mark. Orr (2012) asserts:

‘Lecturers in my studies shared the view that student identities, their artistic practices and their artworks are enmeshed. Art and design assessment practices are premised on this assumption.’ Orr (2012).

Orr (2012) continues stating that any disagreement in relation to marks would be deferred to the lecturer ‘who might know the student’ Orr (2012). Furthermore she reiterates that ‘any attempts to dislocate the student from the work are problematic’.

Within art and design, formative assessment manifests itself during group critiques and one-to-one tutorials. As student’s identify and develop a self-awareness and confidence within a ‘real worklife’ scenario. Students identify themselves as ‘the designer’ and the lecturer as ‘the creative director’ receiving peer feedback from ‘other designers’. Blair (2001) alludes to this stating ‘Students also found the group crit environment supportive to their learning experience’ Blair and Orr (2007). Often this practice of assessment is combined where both summative and peer assessment occurs simultaneously. However, the issue of inevitable variables occur depending on the quality and purpose, consequently causing varying quality to the encouragement of learning and learning outcomes.


There is evidence that current assessment practices in art and design in higher education has evolved into the practices of encouraging learning or learning outcomes. Essentially, assessment is usually centred on the holistic quality of the design outcome.

‘assessment in art and design might be best understood as an artful social practice’ Orr (2012).

Moreover there is a growing interest in this kind of assessment practice in more traditional ‘text-based’ courses for example, Doolan and Morris (2010) Dialogic Assessment and Feedback (DAF) project based upon a socialist constructivist pedagogical approach, whereby, the feedback process is co-constructed between the tutor –student, student–student and the student–tutor.  The DAF project was presented in the form of a learning activity workshop during the ALT Conference 2010. Richards (2012) suggests the academic relationship creates a shared ownership within the assessment process, whereby this is not best-defined as ‘feedback’ but is a dialogic process. This socially-constructed paradigm shift requires lecturers to be explicit about the assessment purpose and process, otherwise students are not able to make the link. As the] may define assessment as an end point and fail to recognise that assessment feedback is transferable to their learning.

Currently dialogic assessment normally refers to formative assessment; this method of assessment is, and has been, embedded in art and design assessment practice since the 16th century.  The potential for dialogic approaches and understanding with traditional text-based courses needs to be researched further as the evidence suggests that both staff and students agree that the dialogic approaches help forge a shared language and understanding of purposes and benefits of assessment function, Thus broadening the student’s powers of critical evaluation.

There is little doubt that the synthesis of assessment process and practices at Ottimo University with QAA’s Code of Practice, FHEQ and Art and Design Subject Benchmarks are both evident and successful; moreover Ottimo’s academic framework provides a robust institutional educational infrastructure that explicitly contributes to students learning. A further research towards the demystification of art and design assessment practices would assist the student learning of traditional ‘text’ based subjects. As academics consider the context towards new methods of assessment, one must also consider the purpose of the assessment, in other words one needs to identify what skills or knowledge is being assessed. It is established that the closer the connection between teaching, learning outcomes and assessment the more effective the learning is for the student. If the focus of the assessment is related more to what is defined in the learning outcome, than to the ease of how to assess, where is the learning?


Ottimo University Definitions (2012)

Course Definition: A validated combination of units (see below) which leads to a designated award.

Learning Outcomes (LO) Definition: That which has been learned or which a student is able to do as a result of study or training.

Level Definition: The level of study for undergraduate and postgraduate courses, as defined by the UK Quality Code. This describes the relative academic complexity of, and intellectual challenge, depth of learning and degree of learner autonomy required to attain, the Learning Outcomes associated with course units.

The Generic Descriptors are, derived from the UK Quality Code, articulate the general characteristics associated with each level and provide a template against which units may be aligned. The general ‘fit’ of units against these descriptions allows them to be ascribed to a particular level, assisting the planning of course routes.

Year 1 BA/BSc undergraduate (QAA FHEQ Level 4 – Certificate of Higher Education)?Work at this level will enable students to have a sound knowledge of the underlying concepts and principles associated with their area of study and an ability to evaluate and interpret these within the context of that area of study. Students will be able to present, evaluate and interpret qualitative and quantitative data, to develop lines of argument and make sound judgments in accordance with basic theories and relevant concepts. Typically students will gain the qualities needed for employment requiring the exercise of some personal responsibility.



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The intelligence2 debate – Stephen Fry (unedited)

The Intelligence² Debate – Stephen Fry (Unedited)
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SVA > Exhibition > Milton Glaser’s SVA: A Legacy of Graphic Design

Milton Glaser Exhibition Image at SVA New York

(c) PR office SVA

SVA > Exhibition > Milton Glaser’s SVA: A Legacy of Graphic Design.

Rhizome | Means of Production: Fabbing and Digital Art

Rhizome | Means of Production: Fabbing and Digital Art.EXTERN_0000.jpg

By Greg J. Smith on Wednesday, March 4th, 2009 at 2:35 pm.

Image: Zaha Hadid & Parrish | Rash, Kartal Pendik Masterplan Installation, 2008. (photo: Bettina Johae)

Several years ago, while making the lecture circuit rounds, American architect William Massie described a key goal within his practice as moving towards a more direct translation between bits and atoms. Architecture has always thrived on the tension between representation and material assemblages and what he was addressing with this comment was the dawning of an era characterized by a new proximity between digital models and physical output. In selected contexts, artists, architects, and designers have been exploring these accelerated development cycles for a decade but the involved technologies are descending in price so quickly that, for example, 3D printers are now cheaper than laser printers were in 1985. A key question: how does the looming ubiquity of these tools and workflows apply to the production and display of new media art? This article will explore digital fabrication (aka fabbing) at a variety of scales which include the curatorial questions raised by these new hybrid industrial design/sculpture objects as well as the implications on the practice of individual artists. Before delving into either of these milieus it would be useful to acknowledge some common language and terminology associated with fabrication and recognize some important precedents.

Ten ways to use LinkedIn

When Guy Kawasaki blogged about the Ten Ways to Use LinkedIn, LinkedIn had 8.5 million users in 130 industries. Since then we’ve grown to over 12 million users covering 147 industries, but many of Guy’s suggestions on using LinkedIn (see below), still remain a great way for professionals to strengthen their online brand reputation and leverage their professional network. Happy Reading!

Employer Engagement Conference


Employer engagement is now regarded as an integral element of the student experience in Higher Education, and the aim of this ‘swap-shop’ is to showcase examples of best practice in using employer engagement to enhance learning and teaching.

The focus of the event is on the demonstrable utilisation of employer engagement in indicative areas such as learning and teaching, module design, work placement, work-based learning, guest speakers, research and consultancy, and assessment.

The aim is to showcase a range of practical examples and therefore sessions will be limited to a maximum of 15 minutes. A provisional programme for the conference is outlined below.

graphic design from the beach

With my first week complete at the University of Chichester I felt both excited and a little apprehensive. The people and the building are fabulous, the problem is how to convince students that it is worth completing their degree with us. It’s not London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds*

*Not in order of preference