Obvious supplementary question which that raises is - what are their obligations?Also of some interest -what should their obligations be?If the obligations - or what should be the obligations - are not being met, what could and should be done about it?
NB BasicProficient – competent or skilled in doing something
Law schools should therefore have systems in place to ensure this outcome
Split them into 3 broad groupsA handful fell into the first categoryVast Majority fell into the secondHandful fell into the third
If it does, it is not saying anything very complimentary.
I have abridged the questions in order to fit them on the slide
It is being dealt with adequately. -I think it is likely that this is the case at many institutions. Given the entrance requirements and the ability of students at some institutions, it is unlikely that poor use of English will be a major issue. But there is anecdotal evidence that in some institutions it is not dealt with adequately.
This seems to lead to another clearconclusion, namely that law schools are not applying different standards to native and non-native English speakers. One could question that however. Certainly the formal policies, say that no distinction should be made. Some of the answers however revealed that informally, there may be some distinctions being made.
Respondent2 Seems to be accepted that latitude can be given to non native speakers, although this may not be possible.
Not directly discriminating in favour of non- English speakers but... Standard of English required for exams has been adjusted and at least part of the reason for this is that some students will not be writing in their native language. Is it right to lower the standard of English expected in an exam – or should the ability to write clearly while under pressure be part of the assessment?
Respondent 17I wonder if any of the other institutions that have no formal policy, have this as an informal policy?
Perhaps the two most important questions.
Quite surprising – see handout
These are but some of them.
Are law schools meeting their obligations as regards the assessment of the use of English?
Are law schools meeting their obligations as regards the assessment of the use of English on law courses?<br />Peter Breakey <br />Northumbria University<br />1<br />
Background/ What prompted this research?<br /> A personal interest in language<br />Ongoing encounters<br />A fateful (?) email<br />2<br />
From: Sarah Sent: 03 September 2009 11:52To: LA Law StaffSubject:A little drunken cheer at this miserable marking time?<br /> <br />“In the UK mergers do not have to be announced just registering them at public houses is fine.”<br /> <br /> Sarah<br />3<br />
From: Peter Breakey Sent: 04 September 2009 15:28To: Sarah [X]; LA Law StaffSubject: RE: use of English example<br /> <br /> On a similar theme - though to my mind more disconcerting than amusing - given that it is from a third or fourth year student:<br /> <br />“To improve the gray areas on the directors duties, the Parliament makes some changes, to the improve on the law and established what are the core areas should the legislation can assist the directors.”<br /> <br />4<br />
That is the end of the second paragraph of the essay. I have another 3 pages - no doubt in a similar vein - to look forward to and then I have to somehow try to ascribe a mark to it.<br /> Can it be right that our students can reach the 3rd year of a degree course with this standard of written English?<br /> <br /> Peter<br />5<br />
... was very basic:<br /> 1) An investigation of the QAA benchmarks and standards which are supposed to apply<br />2) a simple questionnaire sent to a random sample of 20 English universities<br />My research...<br />6<br />
Universities have no legal obligation to comply with QAA standards, <br />But...there is an expectation that Universities will comply<br />It would be regarded as a matter of concern if they were not complying.<br />7<br />The relationship between QAA and Universities<br />
The subject benchmarks form part of the “Academic Infrastructure”<br />The subject benchmark for law sets out:<br /> “the minimum achievementwhich a student should demonstrate before they are awarded an honours degree in law”.<br />There are three general “Areas of Performance”<br />8<br />The QAA Standards (1)<br />
Students “must show achievement in all of the... areas of performance, ... demonstrating substantially all of the abilities and competences identified in each area.”<br />One of the three areas is “Key Skills”<br />Within this is “Communication and literacy”<br />9<br />The QAA Standards (2)<br />
8.1 Both orally and in writing, a student should demonstrate a basic ability to:<br />understand and use the English language ...proficiently in relation to legal matters<br />present knowledge or an argument in a way which is comprehensible to others and which is directed at their concerns<br />read and discuss legal materials which are written in technical and complex language.<br />10<br />
A student should not be obtaining a law degree unless they have demonstrated that they can understand and use the English language proficiently in relation to legal matters<br />11<br />To cut a long story short:<br />
You should have a copy in front of you.<br />5 substantive questions<br />The response from Law Schools<br />a) tone<br />b) content<br />The questionnaire<br />12<br />
Helpful <br />Constructive<br />Thoughtful<br />Jovial<br />Dilatory<br />Defensive<br />Laconic<br />Obfuscatory <br />Abrupt<br />Brusque<br />Evasive<br />Pompous<br />Condescending<br />Rude<br />Cantankerous<br />Hostile<br />Irate<br />Belligerent/<br />Bellicose?<br />The tone of the responses<br />13<br />
People are busy<br />Not the most important issue<br />Not something people wish to look into closely because it raises awkward questions?<br />14<br />Why such a negative response?<br />
Does it tell us something about the state of Law schools today?<br />15<br />Does the tone matter?<br />
Question 6: Have there been any formal discussions over the last 3 years to consider the assessment of the use of English?<br />18/20 respondents said No.<br />Some possible reasons...<br />17<br />
It is being dealt with adequately<br />It is not something people want to deal with?<br />Why not ? <br />It may raise some awkward questions and difficulties and there may be financial considerations?<br />Possible reasons for not considering this issue?<br />18<br />
Any policy on applying different standards to students whose first language is not English? <br />18/20 respondents said No.<br />19<br />
Any policy on applying different standards to students whose first language is not English? <br />No formal policy although, informally, more latitude would be given to students whose first language was not English –although with anonymous marking in place they may not be identifiable<br />20<br />
Any policy on applying different standards to students whose first language is not English? <br />“...In examinations, however, due to the difficulty of writing under pressure and, for some students, in a foreign language, the same standards of English are not expected. ...”<br />21<br />
Any policy on applying different standards to students whose first language is not English? <br />International students are not given express special consideration in the marking of scripts, although in practice it is commonly evident from the script that the student is writing in a language other than his/her mother tongue and examiners will bear this in mind in the overall assessment of the script as a matter of academic judgment.<br />22<br />
Q.1 Does your school / department have any formal policies on how the quality of grammar or spelling or of the quality of the use of English generally should affect the assessment of students? <br />23<br />
Q.9. Please can you describe what specific steps, if any, in terms of assessment criteria, your School/Department takes to ensure compliance with the QAA undergraduate level subject benchmark relating to Communication and Literacy?<br />24<br />
Do you have any policies on how the use of English should affect assessment?<br />Q1 (Paraphrased)<br />25<br />
How do your assessment criteria, ensure compliance with the QAA undergraduate benchmark relating to Communication and Literacy?<br />Q9 (Paraphrased)<br />26<br />
15/20 respondents said No.<br />27<br />Do you have any policies on how the use of English should affect assessment?<br />
Compliance with this benchmark is not an issue which seems to have been a matter of great concern to Law Schools over recent years.<br />Law Schools do not seem particularly keen to discuss/ investigate this question.<br />Many Law schools are using assessment criteria which they seem to think ensure compliance with the benchmark, when in fact they do not.<br />28<br />Some tentative conclusions<br />
There are no obligations? – so substitute “the QAA standards”<br />Some students are graduating who cannot fairly be described as proficient in English.<br />Most of the assessment procedures are defective in terms of assuring that the relevant benchmark is met.<br />29<br />Are law schools meeting their obligations as regards the assessment of the use of English on law courses?<br />
Report to QAA<br />Further research/investigation <br />The role of externals<br />A wider and continuing debate on this topic<br />30<br />What should happen now?<br />
Standards on other programmes, particularly masters courses<br />What constitutes proficiency?<br />How is the ability to discuss legal matters assessed?<br />Distinguish exams/coursework<br />How important is style?<br />31<br />Many further questions to consider<br />