Normal results: an ethnographic study of the assessment of health visitor students

Gomm, Roger (1985). Normal results: an ethnographic study of the assessment of health visitor students. PhD thesis The Open University.



While there are many educametric and psychometric studies of educational assessment there are relatively few ethnographic ones which give a detailed account of how assessment is actually carried out. The current thesis contributes to what literature there is of this sort,and gives detailed attention to practices such as marking and ratifying marks,viva voce examinations and the conduct of examination board meetings. The method used is to concentrate on naturally occuring language as the medium through which social organisation is produced.

The major work on health visitor education is that of Robert Dingwall. Though in many respects his study was accurate and insightful it is argued here that his approach was overly influenced by the "professional" pretentions of health visitors and that there is much to say for viewing their assessment as not very unlike the assessment of other sorts of students.

In the thesis assessment is treated as a socially organised process of character attribution wherein the student is discovered to have certain properties and these are conveyed to her as the properties upon which the granting of a certificate is contingent: in this case the certificate is a licence to practise as a health visitor.Like man; other sorts of educational assessment this is organised around the production of "normal results". A characteristic of health visitor results is the high "pass rate". It is argued that the high pass rate relates to the fact that students represent a considerable investment by sponsoring health authorities,and that although little interactional pressure is placed on colleges to pass students,the dominant position of the health authorities has become embedded into the actuarial criteria for assessing students. Competence for staff as assessors and as teachers resides in producing normal results. In so far as it is normal for most students to pass,staff competence is discovered by producing most students as competent..

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