A Windy Blog 2016

Well the leaves have all blown away at this time in February apart from those stuck in neighbours’ gutters and of which they are still complaining about to their local authority tree officer.

The winds of change are always blowing or should be in business so that a business remains ahead of its game. Ofqual is hardly a business but they are in the business of education and made trade wind changes that affected vocational education big time a few years ago with the introduction of the Qualification and Credit Framework (QCF). This rather changed the face of the assessment processes moving from a summative process (testing at the end of a period of learning which is traditional and high risk for students) to a formative process (conducting assessments along the learning path and using the mechanisms to assist learning called assessment for learning (AFL)). The effects, like a whirlwind, took assessment essentially into the house of the training provider and away from external examiners.

Five years down the line a storm wind brewed and QCF has been washed down the drain along with the existing rules. A monsoon followed and Ofqual were flooded with complaints related to the inflexibility of the QCF system and its assessment processes. When the storm became a light wind a new frame work emerged (Oct 2015) called the Regulatory Qualification Framework – “a single, simple system for cataloguing all qualifications regulated by Ofqual.” (Ofqual 2016) Jeremy Benson Executive Director for Vocational Qualifications states “We don’t claim it will transform the qualifications landscape, but we do hope it will help people to understand qualifications a little better and to use them more confidently”.

Ofqual will not be replacing the QCF rules with another, different set of specific rules, because prescriptive design rules are not the best way of securing validity (a qualification doing what it says it will on the tin). Awarding organisations will still have to comply with Ofqual’s General Conditions of Recognition. Ofqual states “qualification regulation needs to be flexible enough to encompass qualifications across different sectors, at different levels and with different purposes. And it’s because of this that awarding organisations need to have the freedom to design the assessments that work best for their particular qualifications”. (Ofqual Blog Aug 2015)

In the cross winds that follow any new guidance ABC indicates that for their arboricultural qualifications this means very little change. However, I am hoping for no twisters but more flexibility in how the assessment procedures are conducted because, as most of you understand, the burden of portfolio production lands on the learner (we can call you students again under this new framework) and then the assessor has to mark it all. The current level 2, 4 and 6 ABC qualifications are due for a review in 2017 with introduction in September 2017. I don’t anticipate much turbulence but a zephyr (gentle) wind favourable to maintaining the quality of qualifications that we currently have.

When I have more news on the progress of the review with ABC I will make some breezy announcements through the appropriate channels. The change of framework DOES NOT affect current students or those starting qualifications prior to September 2017, current regulations and processes will be prevailing.

On another front Tree Life has faced a headwind and some uncertainty regarding for how long we will offer, particularly, the level 6 diploma qualification. Following a recent company AGM, I can confirm the current intentions with regards to the level 6. Tree Life will be offering the level 6 qualification for a minimum of the next two years with starts in 2016 and 2017. Beyond 2017 we offer no guarantee of being in a position to offer level 6. This is due to a time when Andy and I have retirement looming in our airstream. As a conscientious training provider all students starting with us have 4 years to complete which means that in 2021 we still could be marking assignments while having got bus passes in our pockets!

Tree Life has grown over the past 18 years and increased its team year upon year. That may happen on the back of a tailwind to retirement indicating that level 6 will continue to be offered by Tree Life even when sirocco (a warm wind from the desert) retirement warmth has blown through and the dust has settled. It is my intention that level 6 shall remain a premier qualification for arboricultural consultants, tree officers and contract managers and that it will be on offer from Tree Life AC Ltd for the foreseeable future. Only the winds of time can dictate how in the future that can be made possible – but it won’t be for the lack of trying!

Dave Dowson

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General release – Professional membership of the Institute of Chartered Foresters

Due to a review undertaken by the ICF recently the old and new diplomas at level 6 in arboriculture have been devalued in points required when applying for professional membership to the ICF. Concerns regarding this situation have been raised with the awarding body ABC Awards and the ICF. As a result DR Stuart Glen, membership manager, has asked that the following information be conveyed to recent holders of the diplomas.

 I will be recommending to the Professional & Educational Standards Committee (PESC) that any person in this position should be allowed to embark on our Professional Membership Entry so allowing them an opportunity to gain chartered status. This recommendation will be presented and discussed at the next meeting of PESC in September.

Any holders of the level 6 (NQF) professional diploma and the new (replacement) (QCF) diploma in arboriculture who wish to join the ICF as a professional member are invited to contact Dr Stuart Glen at ICF to discuss membership.

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‘Weather’ Professional

It has come to my attention that my profession isn’t as professional as I would like it to be, or it possibly thinks it is in some aspects of arboriculture. One of these aspects is nomenclature. This issue is no little ‘storm in a tea cup’, during the last few years I have been inundated, ‘flooded’ you could say with scientific (not Latin or botanical names these days) plant, fungi and insect names written incorrectly and spelt incorrectly in learner work and professional reports. Not only that, but common names written incorrectly too! Not only can’t learners get it right but a good number of consultants can’t get it right. So should my profession be getting it right or do we stick our heads in the clouds and say it doesn’t matter in, this, a different ‘age’ of language use (Vote below!). The thing is though, scientific names are never misleading. No matter where you are in the world every plant, for example, has only one correct name, (so long as its taxonomic treatment is not in dispute) one can always recognise it when it is written out. The current rules are followed throughout the world and I don’t think it is up to my/our profession to ignore that and allow protocol to slip down the drain.

How important is the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (Melbourne Code) adopted by the Eighteenth International Botanical Congress Melbourne, Australia, July 2011 and the separate International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants. Well, maybe Kew gardens may hold the key to this, they run a one week long course on Botanical Nomenclature led by their garden specialists. This in-depth course teaches the principles of plant nomenclature according to the International Code of Nomenclature (ICN) for algae, fungi and plants. So there you have its importance – hail Kew! There are rules to this code established many moons ago and I don’t see why they should not be adhered to by professionals working with ‘plants’. So don’t give this important matter the ‘cold’ shoulder.

In use the binomial naming system (scientific name), as the name implies, uses two words to name a particular species. (derived from Latin or Greek).

The first word we use to describe a plant is the generic name (genus). The generic name must be capitalized for example Quercus. The second word we use is the specific epithet (species). The specific epithet must be in lower case for example robur. Both words must be emphasized, italicised when typed or underlined if hand written. After that cultivar names are not latin and therefore are not italicised for example, Quercus robur ‘Fastigiata’. With varieties Pinus nigra var. nigra – var is not italicised as it is not latin. No winds of change here then.

Common names are written in lower case unless at the start of a sentence or the name reflects a place or a proper noun for example London plane, Norway maple, Scots pine and English oak. However, common names can be confusing; a plane tree in England can be known as an American sycamore in the USA. The name sycamore actually derives from the Greek language συκόμορος (sūkomoros) meaning fig-mulberry (Ficus sycomorus) this is also sometimes called the sycamore fig. As confusing as the jet stream positions!
Now the mist has lifted on this topic we are just as well to know of the origin of nomenclature. It is early 17th century: from French and from Latin nomenclatura, from nomen ‘name’ + clatura ‘calling, summoning’ (from calare ‘to call’). A Nomenclator in Rome was the title of a steward whose job it was to announce visitors. The current system of using Latin to name biological organisms was developed by Carl von Linne (1707-1778), more commonly known by his pen name Linnaeus, about 250 years ago. Simply a ‘system of naming’. Linnaeus was the son of a curate and grew up in Småland, a poor region in southern Sweden and the binomial system was his lasting achievement. Binomial names were used consistently in print by Linnaeus only after the publication of the Species Plantarum in 1753.

NB. Many of us, including me, would refer to the species name as the species. Technically this is incorrect, the species name, for example, robur is the specific epithet, and Quercus robur is the species. This explains why we refer all the time to species of trees as opposed to genera of trees – now the dark clouds roll away!

Just another thought on aspects that people routinely get wrong – the abbreviations. Sp. is the abbreviation when referring to a single tree of unknown species. Spp. is the plural version and Ssp. is the abbreviation for sub-species. None of which should be italicised.
Also, sometimes in more advanced botanical writings you might come across a letter, name or abbreviation after the binomial for a species. An example would be Allium cepa L. (Allium cepa L. is the common table onion.) What does the “L.” stand for? The “L.” stands for the authority, i.e., the individual credited with assigning the binomial to the species. In this case, “L.” stands for Linnaeus. Well, when you start pumping the available research it never rains but it pours in more technicalities for a ‘simple’ system of naming! Brings tears to your eyes it does! Onion, Ok you are still with it.

As you the learners have found out Andy and I get a bit frosty when it comes to having names written correctly. High pressure? quite rightly so, at level 6 in particular! If professionals can’t get it right, who can? We should all be on a crusade to improve our fellow professionals’ presentation of plant names. The reward is that elusive pot of gold, self-esteem and satisfaction and of being a professional and of doing an excellent job.
Don’t forget to add in those little indicators x and + signs in the right place that say so much in recognition of hybrids!

One final pointer – almost everyone routinely uses a first column heading on a survey or inspection form containing the word SPECIES – but if one then only uses common names and just writes oak or cherry – that ain’t a species – it’s a genus! How’s that for a whirlwind finish?

Dave Dowson

Feel free to comment below too!





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Beware of reliance on the spellchecker!! Otherwise known as ‘tripe roof reed inn!’

In this age of reliance on technology, the old-fashioned eye deer of actually reeding threw work bee four it is handed in for a cess meant a piers two have bean widely abandoned. Learners just sit in front of there pea seas, tie pin a weigh, hitting quays sum wear close too the rite lettuce on there key bored, and leave in the spell cheque err too do the wrest. They simply weight to be tolled buy an inanimate object, weather watt they have written makes scents or knot, and wear awl the miss steaks are, witch, lets fay sit, wood be a miner mirror cull! The dock you meant is then printed out, awe saved in a phial, and in dew coarse, handed inn four sum won too marque.

Personally, be fore submitting anything for screw tinny, eye wood rather cheque it myself to make shore that wen pea pull reed it, it does come a cross prop err lea. Aye no it makes four an easier life, butt two weight for a machine to point out mist aches, seams tummy two be rather lazy; oar may bee eye have bin miss lead in the passed? The problem of cores, off on a rises wen the words are oak hay, butt the con text is a drift. It maybe that own ley won letter is wrung, butt the machine dozen no, bee cores it still seams wright two a devise with no a billy tea to thin kit threw.

Air knee weigh, eye just thawed I wood share a phew of my favourite spell cheque mow mints with ewe; they do make watt can bee a rather tedious job slight lea more bare able. I hope the contributors (who shall remain anonymous, but will probably know who they are) will four give me for including psalm pulls of there work. Be a shored that they awl helped to Brighton up my other whys sum watt boar ring daze.

Apparently, one of the worst times of year you can prune a tree is at “bird burst”: I can understand that would be a problem. Constantly being splattered with pieces of exploding pigeon when you’re trying to just get on with your work would be truly irritating; not to mention all the health and safety issues connected with rapidly dispersing feathers and entrails!

Exploding birds in trees would be particularly annoying to anyone below who happened to be making use of the “procreation zone”, which apparently exists around the base of a tree!! I never even knew there was such a thing, but having now been told that tree work often takes place next to a “pubic highway”, it all starts to make sense.

I wonder if there is any link with a “tree feeling licence”?  Now I come to think of it, perhaps the nearby “free-standing missionary wall” is somehow linked. From the word go there seems to be an endemic problem; there is apparently even a link between well planted trees and ‘low morality’.

Moving away from the seedier side of trees for a moment, it would appear that some trees have “habitat fetchers”; I suppose if you can’t move about yourself, it makes sense to get someone to bring things to you! They are apparently particularly important when it comes to “endangered spices”; who would have thought that certain exotic flavours were close to extinction? Even more worrying is that certain “protected spices” are more difficult to find in winter, just when you could do with a nice warm. I have obviously always underestimated the importance of sculpture in the past; it would appear that wildlife has legal protection “under certain statues”: I suppose if it applies to those that decorate the statues from above, it’s only fair that it applies to those beneath as well.

On the odd occasions when those who damage or destroy protected wildlife are taken to task, it is rare for them to actually be prosecuted, let alone ‘persecuted’; although that idea does have a certain appeal.

Obviously wildlife value can be an important consideration when purchasing new trees for planting. One nursery seems to have taken that to almost unbelievable lengths and is apparently supplying trees with “crows already established at the correct height above ground level”

With habitat potential in mind, it would appear that “cornet cuts” are the flavour of the month; I’m afraid I can’t resist the thought that there must be some kind of link with topping! When it comes to removing a tree completely, the prevailing wind can certainly be used to one’s advantage; at least I presume that’s what ‘whole sail felling’ refers to. Once the tree is down it’s always reassuring to know that you have “good quality timbre”; sounds good to me! If the tree felling is taking place in a long established woodland, there might even be a link with the “ancient tubas” below ground.

In climatic terms different trees definitely have their preferences when it comes to light and shade, but the fact that some trees do well in ‘fun sun’ was a new one on me; it must be down to all those happy little sunbeams bouncing off the leaves!

As well as physiological and mechanical implications, damage to trees also has financial implications; a concept that it is reassuring to see highlighted in relation to “dear damage”. Of course, protection can be provided for a number of hazardous situations; I’m sure there must be worse ways of spending the coldest months of the year than “overwintering in a lass house”.

When it comes to planting containerised stock, I am familiar with the practice of teasing roots, but to suggest that stakes should also be “tantalised”, elevates the degree of tree planting mischief to a whole new level. I realise not everyone takes a pride in their work, but suggesting it is acceptable to protect newly planted trees with a ‘wire mess’ is not really portraying arboriculture at its best. Slightly more disturbing was the suggestion that “pants” should be planted in woodland; no indication was given of the source, quantity or condition of the garments, or indeed the purpose of such an exercise: perhaps that’s another understory altogether? There may or may not be a link with another suggestion that I think I’ll leave everyone to interpret in their own way; namely that all “arsing should be removed from site”.

I understand the importance of maturity in a woodland, but I had never even considered the other end of the spectrum, until someone suggested that when planting you should use ‘naïve’ trees; I suppose they all have to start somewhere, but I’m afraid the preceding recommendations suggest their innocence will be short-lived! In terms of woodland management, record keeping is obviously important, but I was unaware that you could keep an entire ‘filed layer’. Looking after the trees is obviously important. Perhaps that’s where using “trees of local providence” comes into its own. There is obviously value in choosing people with just the right name to help with your woodland management; grants are apparently payable ‘per hector’.

Many of our ancient and veteran trees have historic significance, which is sometimes conveniently displayed on signs for visitors, but it is somewhat disturbing to hear that a tree has been found with a “plague attached”. Equally important are the many associated rare and endangered species of invertebrate, which deserve our care and respect; particularly the ‘venerable’ ones.

In addition to tree maintenance obviously other vegetation also needs to be controlled to a greater or lesser degree. I have always been aware of mowers and strimmers, and the sickles and scythes they replaced, but had never heard of a “long grass sword”; sounds like something that would have all sorts of health and safety implications! The wielder of the sword would no doubt work up a thirst; I can only assume ‘pour workmanship’ refers to some kind of tea-break.

On occasions trees do cause damage to our properties: one way of dealing with direct damage to a structure is apparently to ‘feel the tree’; whether that is in a physical or transcendental sense, it would certainly be preferable to removing it. Obviously such an intrusion on a tree’s personal space is correctly controlled through a licencing system, as was pointed out earlier. A suggested solution for indirect damage was to install a ‘rot barrier’; I wonder if that would entail 1, 2, 3 or 4 walls? Such a barrier seems to be at odds with the suggestion that cuttings should be placed in a ‘rotting medium.’ As well as speaking to young plants we need obviously need to listen to them as well: ‘sings of disease’ is an interesting diagnostic concept.

If one is unsure of anything, it is always advisable to consult the works of those amongst us who are particularly learned; there is apparently a very clever chap out there somewhere called ‘Claus Hatcheck’, but I have yet to find any of his work.

All in all, an interesting collection of slips and trips on the path to imperfection; a route I have taken myself on more than one occasion. We all have at our disposal a wealth of words, a veritably vibrant vocabulary, and an almost endless exuberance of excellent expressions; perhaps it is that very complexity, which whilst it can be used to uplift, can also determine our downfall.

The material for this linguistic lament is literally down to a lack of literacy. However, there is also a link to the lousy luck of lots of long, lonely evenings spent labouring in limbo; looking at layer after layer of lifeless, lacklustre letters, leaves and links (articles, books and websites), when one would prefer to be lubricating one’s larynx and liberating one’s liver, in the lap of luxury, with the landlord of the local. However, there is also sometimes a lack of listening in lectures, a lapse into literary laziness, and a little languishing in lethargy! So how does one achieve liberation from this loathsome legacy? – ‘Life-long Learning’!!

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New Year Snow Blog Jan 23rd 2013

As many of you know the assessment process for the new qualifications on the new Qualification and Credit Framework (QCF) is by assessment of portfolios of evidence. Why portfolios you might ask, well – maybe one of the reasons, is that it spreads assessment over time and doesn’t end in lengthy final examinations, but that would be too simple an explanation wouldn’t it?

Those of you doing them (ploughing through the work) I’m sure have seen the amount of evidence required snowball since that start of the programme of learning. So what is a portfolio?  The answer according to one definition by educationalist D Baume is that it is “a structured collection of evidence and critical analysis designed to support and document learning and development towards the intended learning outcomes of the course, to be used as a vehicle for assessing attainment during the course”. Sounds a good definition to me for our level 4 and 6 qualifications, in other words there is nothing soft and fluffy about it.

Portfolios are not new to our industry and have been used with National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) for many years. Maybe they can resolve some of the current issues in assessment e.g. replacement of high stakes final examinations which tend to send shivers down a student’s spine at their mere mention, examinations that only test a narrow range of knowledge and abilities, a lack of testing the skills and knowledge that are actually required for the real world, the lack of using assessment in the learning processes and not allowing for students and teachers to adopt new teaching approaches that can widen participation of all. Most importantly, any employer worth their salt wants to know what a potential employee knows and can do – portfolios provide that evidence.

Educationally, I and the powers that be (ABC Awards in our case) need to know if portfolios can be assessed reliably and that the assessment methodologies are valid.  Is a portfolio just about assessment? If it was I would think that to be to flaky a reason for using them.

Portfolios can be used for learning whilst the evidence is being collected, or after collection, the learner can analyse and review the evidence. Through this analysis, the learner can make further sense of the work they have done, analysing and interrogating it. They can also argue as to what the evidence shows about what they have learned; what capabilities they have developed; perhaps how far they have moved towards attaining the learning outcomes of the course. Before the learner presents a portfolio for assessment, they can offer sections of the portfolio for formative assessment, and for feedback from tutor or peers – that’s a powerful benefit. The learner can use this feedback, and their own reflection and analysis, to identify gaps in their evidence and in their learning. To a degree the learner is in control of what they learn, and not frozen out of gaining more knowledge by the sole need to pass an exam. In the process the teacher takes on a role of facilitator and guide.

Specifically to me the use of portfolios in this framework can demonstrate good validity (does the portfolio test what it sets out to test) because it measures evidence against set learning outcomes and assessment criteria. Assessment by portfolio offers good reliability (can the assessment process be repeated time and time again and produce the same results) within our organisation as we standard set between assessors, internally verify assessment results and benchmark results against an external moderator. Although subjective, fairness in the assessment process can be achieved because it allows a learner to present their own work, their own analysis, their own experience, their own work authenticated by them and over a period of time (extended time in some cases!). Educationalists’ argue that portfolios are an effective form of professional development when at the ‘core’ of a qualification.

What of the slippery slope of portfolio use? Their use certainly has implications for the learner and the assessor due to the avalanche of information out there. Conceivably there is empathy to be had for each other at this stage, as the production of the portfolio can take many long hours as can the role of marking them. The learner needs to understand why and how they are used if the benefits are to be realised, this is because the use of them signifies a major shift from traditional examinations to an assessment process that focuses on learning. This current approach is foreign to most learners who are not young enough to have experienced portfolios in school or at NVQ level.

To finish, as a training centre we are taking the lead in establishing a learning community with our learners – we hail a classroom where the learners are partners and collaboration is viewed as beneficial. Portfolios are here to stick on the ground for the present in this framework and are gaining increasing use in education because of the benefits to the learning process.

Learners’, when portfolios are the means to a great qualification you have just got to grit your teeth, stay ice cool and get on with the compilation of them and not allow the work rate to slide or you to melt and turn into slush!

By Dave Dowson

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New qualifications end of year one F1 blog

The chequered flag has fallen on the first year of the new qualifications for us at Tree Life. It has been a race for all learners and assessors to get work completed in the one year at level 4. The year has been ‘exhausting’ for all of us but nonetheless a good one considering this is the first time of coming to the new grid. The scrutineer otherwise known as the moderator has been to examine our vehicle of operations and passed us fit for purpose. The learners work has also been scrutinised and declared fit for a podium place. We now await official confirmation of the results from the big chiefs at ABC but expect to be wearing winners garlands, holding a trophy and spraying the champagne very soon.

We have learned a lot about these new qualifications having been round the circuit lots of times with different learners (drivers). Some have stayed on track whilst others have taken corners rather more slowly and some have gone into gravel traps along the way. A few have retired from the event altogether citing all sorts of mechanical and electrical reasons. A majority have stayed the course and completed all the laps (assignments) with the assistance of the marshals’ (tutors). A great aspect of the qualification framework is that it allows for learners to go at their own pace to a large extent without grid penalties.

In the pre-season testing we have been in the wind tunnel affectionately called July modifying some components of our assessment methodologies to make them more efficient. We have used a type of DRS (Drag Reduction System) to reduce the drag to learners and assessors alike of some of the assignments. We have also extended the season to provide a longer opportunity for laps to be completed satisfactorily. There are no significant rule changes coming from ABC or the governing body (Ofqual), indeed Ofqual appear to be pre-occupied with another racing incident in a race series called GCSE!

The Tree Life engine has increased its cubic capacity (cc) by appointing a sub-contractor to deliver one of our classes. Darren Blunt is an experienced teacher and holder of the professional diploma and will be a good addition to our team. The pit crew from last year remains the same with Keely remaining team principal. Apart from one class all of our planned classes are full.

It has been apparent from the very first lap that the learners have to stay up to speed with delivery of work in order to get to the end. This is the penalty for no final high stake examinations or testing. Those that have finished I’m convinced have been right on the verge at times of going off and hitting a wall however, they have kept on course through all the troubles and are now able to give post-race interviews with a smile on their faces. For all those that have been successful I hope you have utilised your KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System).

For the podium places there has been a question over what post-nominals may be used. We at Tree Life have been campaigning for several months for a resolution to this question and finally we have an answer. The Arboricultural Association, ABC and hopefully the Royal Forestry Society will launch the new post-nominals soon however, I can give you a sneek preview from under the covers.

The accepted convention will be as follows:

Level 2:

Cert Arb L2 (ABC)

Level 4:

Cert Arb L4 (ABC)

Dip Arb L4 (ABC)

Level 6:

Cert Arb L6 (ABC)

Dip Arb L6 (ABC)

We hope that this meets with everyone’s approval, for me it says what the qualification is, at what level it has been attained and who the awarding body is. This should prevent confusion in the future with other similarly named qualifications.

It was definitely a long season and already the new one has begun, Andy was in pole position last week and hopefully the ‘lights came on’ amongst the learners as he introduced the qualification at level 4. New comers to the grid at level 6 started their engines on Tuesday this week sliding into existing courses from the pit lane with plant health taking the focus at the first corner. We look forward to being able to send out certificates as soon as ABC supply us with the goods and to popping the corks!


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Level 4 and 6 Diploma in Arboriculture Spring Blog

The day light is getting longer, we are 7 months in with the QCF, and how’s it shaping up I hear you cry. To be honest it’s damned hard work for all concerned! The principles of the scheme are holding up well under the weight of assessment criteria (AC). However, learners and I took some solace from the Easter bunny in chocolate comfort for at least 4 days over the recent holiday period.  Those with any sense at all disappeared out of the country to states of sunshine. Not myself or Andy though, but we did put down our marking pen and pencil.

The learners tell me that learning is definitely taking place despite the hard work of completing assignments one after another and very often simultaneously, I guess the real enjoyment will only be appreciated once all the work is in and passed as attaining the standard required. The motivation being, (I assume) no final examinations, either theory or the dreaded management exercise day in the Autumn rain.

As the training provider we are slowly refining our approach and unfurling the creases. It has been a big learning curve for all concerned. The learners have had to learn that AC do not have to be met first time around and that it is perfectly acceptable to have to re-submit work – that is all a part of the learning process. A new phrase for them has sprung up and entered their vocabulary – ‘Assessment for Learning’. In this concept the feedback each individual gets is very important and allows learning to develop and progress towards achieving the standards as required by the AC. The assignments set should not be perceived as assessment but as a medium for learning, as many of the budding qualification holders would now paraphrase ‘it’s all about the learning’.

In some respects as this is an entirely new system for many of the learners, we have had to teach them to learn. Historically we are all mainly tuned in to traditional final high stakes examinations and rote learning often just to pass an exam. The QCF is a very different species and for many the system is very foreign, we are not familiar with a system that allows assessment in which the product does not have to be at a pass level. Consequently this can be seen as a failure when work comes back to a learner requiring improvements however, it mustn’t be looked upon in that frosty manner. That message has taken time to sink in and bear fruit.

The vast majority of work produced by the learners is not meeting the AC first time around however, a large proportion meets the AC second time around. A minority of work goes around the system a few times more, but hey that’s perfectly ok – some learners take a little longer to learn. I am perfectly happy that because the work has to be completed in full to meet the AC, the learner is getting a better learning experience than before and the employer will have at the end of the day when the sun goes down a more competent employee – that should put a spring in their step! That is the essence of the QCF system.

As the training provider we are not getting everything right first time but hopefully improving as we go along in a second flush. We have to write every one of the assessment methodologies and sometimes this needs refining. So far we have kept up with the marking – just! Tree Life started with 104 learners each producing work on a fortnightly basis to be marked on a fortnightly basis. Substantial quantities of first and second submissions have to be marked every two weeks – anywhere up to 300+ items of work bursting our collection boxes. We have two first class individuals both Professional Diploma holders, one engaged in education, assisting us with marking and that relationship has grown well under our supervision.

Tree Life has paid to have an advisory visit (optional visit) from an experienced lead moderator working on behalf of the awarding body ABC prior to our first real moderation in August. The purpose of the visit, which occurred very recently, is to seek guidance and advice related to all the issues of the moderation process which include assessment of learner work, internal moderation, administration procedures and recording systems. The visit has gone well; we are not green when it comes to moderation processes however, as a result of the visit we have tweaks and extension growth to make to our administration systems and methods of presenting some information for the moderator. We are 85% of the way there to fulfilling our responsibilities as a training provider. 85% would be a distinction under the old system, but as our learners’ know, we have to achieve 100% these days! Tree Life will be making the necessary adjustments in the next few weeks and we will be ready for what we hope will be a rigorous moderation process.

There has been a small fall out rate from our starting numbers due to the usual reasons such as illness, change of circumstances, work pressures etc but also I think, in some part, due to the work load of the qualification. For anyone contemplating undertaking the qualifications with us in the future make sure you talk to us re the work load and commitment to deadlines that is required. We are recruiting now for a September start with level 4 Diploma and an October start for level 6 Diploma. Level 6 learners will join classes half way through the Diploma qualification and will be have to attend a mandatory introduction day on 9th October 2012.

I am very optimistic that level 4 learners are going to achieve the Diploma qualification this year despite the work load, we have another year to wait and see if the level 6 learners can see the light and produce the potential energy to complete incremental growth of themselves in degree level arboriculture. Finally Andy and I look forward to receiving the outstanding work from current learners and to a break in marking with attendance at the AA trade show (15-16th June), we will be there with our usual fungi competition won by Ted Green last year, someone suggested he should be banned for this year, however I suggest you come along and upstage him, should he be present.

This year we are going to be displaying arb equipment, tools, chanisaws, books and clothing from yesteryear and I hope you will come and join in our trip down memory lane.


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