A plumbing lecturer writes to HVP to express their concerns over the 'no-failure' culture seen at some training providers.

I write in response to your Star Letter from  page 14 of the April 2017 edition of HVP regarding the quality of plumbing training in the UK, and the reluctance of some colleges and training providers to allow their students to fail.

I am a plumbing lecturer, currently working in a further education (FE) college, and was inspired to discuss the recent ‘goings on’ in colleges by the aforementioned letter.

I am a time-served trained plumber, having served my four-year apprenticeship with a local plumbing contractor. I also attended a local FE college for block release and evening classes. We studied hard for our certificates, especially the ones we paid for ourselves, unlike lots of today's students who know if they merely attend, they will probably be awarded their qualification.

When I began teaching, learners had to have at least three grade C’s or above to be accepted onto a plumbing course. They had to be able to read, write, understand instruction, take orders and generally communicate with customers, managers and other trades. Nowadays, anyone is accepted, with or without qualifications.

The 'no failure' regime the Star Letter writer discusses is based upon the fact that learning establishments (LE) are now paid upon results.

Each learner is worth approx £5,000 to the LE, which receives a small portion upon recruitment and/or commencement. They then have about six weeks to decide whether or not the learner is suitable, during which time they can get rid of the student but still keep the initial payment.

If they choose to keep the learner, they get no more funding until the learner has completed most of the course, when the LE receives about 75% of the total funding.

If the learner passes the course, the LE then receives the remainder of the funding. There is no incentive to fail a learner that does not achieve the required standards because (a) the college loses money, and (b) it drops down the college league tables. A learner can virtually do anything before a LE will consider total expulsion from a course, and they know it! That is why so many of us are leaving the profession. The learner is more valuable to the LE than the educator.

Some qualifications in my opinion are relatively worthless if the students are not observed by trade-specific, qualified assessors, actually out on work placements.

Some places I have worked have faked these observations. More often than not, they got away with it, though occasionally they were caught out by examination bodies inspectors.

I recently asked a class of Level 3 learners to identify some images on a presentation – something that should have been early Level 2 or late Level 1 knowledge, but not one answer was offered. A lecturer associated with them then admitted they’d only progressed to Level 3 because of funding. If they don’t pass, the college gets no remuneration for the cost of all the work and materials involved in their training – no money, no lecturing jobs.

LE's having to abuse the system like this, will eventually devalue qualifications nationally, having a direct effect on the reputations of individual colleges and lecturers, when unskilled, 'certified tradespeople' are turned loose into society, and their inadequacies discovered.

FE funding should be based on the number of learners enrolled, and not withheld if learners fail. Plumbing doesn't suit everyone, and not everyone is capable of achieving the required standards, so learners must be allowed to fail if they don’t meet these standards.

I am proud to be a time-served plumber and want everyone in the trade to be proud of themselves and of their achievements. It sickens me that this goes on and I refuse to pass learners who do not achieve the required standards. I have in the past been asked to 'just sign' workbooks for students whose work I have not examined, to enable LE's to claim the funding, but I refused.