Standards of Judging

 The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

It is important to remember that educational software, like textbooks, is only one tool in the learning process. Neither can be a substitute for well-trained teachers and leadership – Keith Krueger (CEO of the Consortium for School Networking in the USA)

I began my teaching career in 1963 and taught from the first year to the sixth form (years 7-12) in large comprehensive schools for over 26 years.  My role for four of those years was to chair the school’s teachers’ committee which advised on and appraised new syllabuses.  There are often a number of different syllabuses provided by examination boards in a particular subject each leading to a GCSE ‘O’ Level in a specific subject.  There are several different examination boards too, each of which have different syllabuses leading to the qualification.  It was the role of the Syllabus Committee to take decisions as to which would be most suitable for the school’s pupils (things have changed – there is much more direction given to schools by the Department of Education these days although some choices still remain).

Let me give you a couple of examples.  The school at which I taught was very near a large army base and almost 25% of our people intake came from the base.  Army personnel often have to move so it was important that core subjects such as English, Mathematics and Science were at least similar in content to schools near other army bases.  At the same time the school’s Mathematics Department was strongly in favour of a syllabus which concentrated on Calculus and Coordinate Geometry rather than the more traditional mathematics syllabuses so it was decided that both courses should be offered (possible in a 11 stream comprehensive school).  We also took decisions about foreign languages because many of our pupils had been taught in Germany or might be taught in Germany in the future, so both German and French were taught on the recommendations of the Syllabus Committee.

It meant that there was intensive discussion of many subjects ranging from music to biology (should pupils up to GCSE level study a combined science course or would it be advantageous for them to take physics, chemistry and biology separately?)  and although I did not teach many of those subjects, my position gave me a unique insight into the way in which syllabuses were constructed by examining boards and delivered by teaching staff.  Although I retired from teaching in 1986 I still teach adults through the Animal Care College so my involvement in education continues:I think 15 years’ experience allows me to comment on education in general and syllabuses and examinations in particular.

Educating judges

In 1980 I created the syllabus and wrote the Judging Diploma course.  I had given tickets by then but could not be considered experienced – but I did know about teaching and creating effective syllabuses and I had learned much from Joe Cartledge and had a great deal of help and advice from my friends and colleagues in the project, Pamela Cross Stern, Wendy Boorer, Peter Larkin and Les Crawley.

Throughout the 1980s and the 1990s we were responsible for guiding hundreds of judges (who also guided us with their comments and suggestions for improvement too, incidentally) many of whom are now highly regarded – at least 10 have judged Groups at Crufts for instance and others give tickets in numerous breeds.  Completing the course required a great deal of hard work over many months but almost all those who took it will tell you that it was both stimulating and useful in increasing their understanding of the theory and practice of judging.

I am delighted to say that the syllabus is still current, emphasising, as it always has, the importance of temperament, health and soundness as prime considerations in assessing dogs.  It also introduced the idea of comparative analysis which all those who use it say is still by far the best way of understanding and assessing breed type.

During those two decades, the idea of judges training and seminars took off and resulted in the Kennel Club bringing together a small group to decide how best to train judges in the future.  Terry Thorn, Ronnie Irving, Anne Arch and I (better to have him inside the tent!) met over two years to develop the foundations of what is now in place and must be completed before anyone may award challenge certificates in Britain.  We were later joined by Hector Heathcote and Eleanor Bothwell and we continued to tweak the material until the Kennel Club Training Board was established.   The principles have been further revised and altered over the years but, frankly, the core material has always been very basic.  You do not improve the quality of education by making the process more complicated: you must focus on the standards.

GCSE grade G – D

The Department of Education has created an Accredited Qualifications Framework which divides courses into a range of ‘Levels’ ranging from the lowest (Entry Level) to the highest (Level 8 – equivalent to a PhD).  The Judging Diploma has been independently assessed at being at Level 4 which means the standard of work required to complete the course successfully is equivalent to that required for the first year of a degree course.  I estimate that the current requirements for judges are equivalent to a Level 1 i.e. GCSE grades G-D.  This low level is mitigated by the fact that there is a certain amount of practical experience required in that those wishing to be passed for CCs must have stewarded on at least 12 occasions and must have judged enough dogs to fulfil the requirements of breed clubsHowever, the numbers vary widely and for some breeds it is sufficient to have judged 30 dogs while other breeds demand 200.  This reflects the numbers of dogs regularly shown in the breed, of course, but it is hardly a level playing field and means it is much easier to get passed for some breeds than others.

At the same time, the element of breed assessments both through JDP seminars and through the breed clubs has been very uneven and has continually emphasised the flaws in the tick box/examination approach which is usually adopted.  This is seen in the way in which the Training Board has continually had to tinker with the process and resulted in the launch the Kennel Club Academy to provide a cohesive syllabus.  The Academy is an exciting and forward-looking innovation which is designed to develop expertise in judging, breeding and training dogs and it is an initiative which I personally support.

I hope the foregoing emphasises that I fully realise how much time and work goes into developing any sort of educational provision.  The resources required in time, money, technical expertise and administration are enormous but there is no point in making such an effort if the results are as dire as many of those who have fully completed their KCAI Instructors programme believe which we featured on our front page last week.  I know many of the signatories and Chris Bloomfield, who is quoted in the article, is a friend whose analysis I know and can trust.

The difference between ‘education’ and ‘training’

It might help if we try to distinguish between education and training.  They are often coupled together as if they were the same but this is absolutely not the case.  There is no doubt that people can be ‘trained’ (as they currently are )in, say, the regulations regarding dog shows using multiple-choice questions. They should then be able to officiate without making any serious errors of process.  But this is not the same as ‘education’.

‘Education’ should provide background and context. Why do we have dogs of pedigree?  Why does the person in the ring want to judge?  What is the objective of placing dogs in order and awarding a best of breed?  What pressures are experienced by a judge when those in the ring are friends, enemies, relations, competitors or able to offer something in exchange for winning?

These are just a very few of the vitally important questions which, despite the beautifully produced and thoughtful publication of standards of judging which contains much very sensible guidance, educating judges to understand the implications of taking on an appointment have been virtually ignored.  This is definitely not something that can be learned by ticking boxes.  These ideas, the ‘philosophy’ if you will, needs to be thought through over time, it needs to be researched, debated, questioned and tested against the ideas of others.  It should provide a foundation on which skills can be built.

When the then government launched the Youth Training Scheme back in the 1980s (I was there in the thick of it having helped the Manpower Services Commission create the Lead Industry Body for Animal Care) there was great emphasis on ensuring that the young people on the scheme could ‘do’ things.  If they could carry out a practical task such as ‘cleaning a kennel’ or ‘clipping a dog’s nails’ they needed to do no more.  Despite advice, ‘knowledge’ was ignored for several years until it was realised that just being able to do a series of tasks was not enough – to be able to relate one task to another and so to progress from one level to another: they needed to be educated, they need to have knowledge and context (and determination and motivation) as well as expertise if they were going to succeed in the long term.

The same applies to our trainers and behaviourists as well as our judges.  Although I am not a trainer, I have been involved in providing suitable courses for KCAI since its inception and the emphasis has always been on education as well as knowledge.  Students need ‘signposts’ leading to personal research, not textbooks from which they can copy the answers or tick boxes which narrowly focus on rote learning.  It is all too easy to be seduced by the wide range of e-learning platforms that promise to reduce administration and may be ultimately less expensive to deliver but such platforms are just tools they are not education.


Explore posts in the same categories: pedigree dogs

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