BC qualifications assessment quality

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SimonMW
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BC qualifications assessment quality

Post by SimonMW »

Are the new WW Leader and coach qualifications worth the paper they are written on?

I had been thinking about taking my leader assessment for some time now, since well before even the revision to the assessment before the current one came into place. Friends who passed in the old system not only had to log many trips in different conditions, but they (and myself when I did it) were properly tested in terms of skills and technique on their training courses, and then again properly assessed on their paddling skills during the two days of assessment. In other words, people had to actually work for the qualification, but what resulted was a safe leader.

These days, and I've noticed it going this way for a couple of years now with quite a few different candidates, but particularly recently, I'm seeing people passing who haven't lead any previous trips, people who have very unreliable rolls (some swimming when practicing flat water rolls), and assessments taking place on extremely simple stretches of river, which take an hour at most to descend, at what can only be described as 'summer levels'. Is finishing a leader assessment at 2:30pm or even before, on a totally unchallenging river, including stopping for lunch, really a proper test of a potential leader? One day assessment? Half day, surely!

The new system, which has now been reduced to a one day assessment with no true pre-requisites (other than First Aid and a WWSR), and seemingly barely anyone looking at actual paddling skills and technique from the candidates, would appear to be a bit of a safety concern from my perspective.

I realise I will likely put some people's noses out of joint with all this, particularly those who have passed the courses. But seeing how hard friends in the past had to work to bring their skills up to scratch, it would seem that the new system is producing under skilled and under prepared leaders. I realise BC wanted to remove roadblocks to progression, but that shouldn't mean waving through candidates on a whim just because they've paid.

And yes, there are people reading this who will recognise themselves and get, shall we say, annoyed, at what I've said. But from my perspective, the safety aspect takes precedence, because these people could be in charge of youth groups or other inexperienced groups that could get into trouble very easily if not managed well. When a 10 year old kid styles a simple rapid that the leader swims on, you know there's a problem!

I know decent coaches such as Chris Brain, Simon Westgarth etc will still make sure candidates are actually up to scratch in terms of skills. On the old system I remember Matt Tidy really testing candidates skills, challenging them to do all sorts of things, followed by a solid discussion with a fellow coach at the end of the day to decide who passed or not. But there seems to be a sub-set of coaches out there who are quite happy to take the money without much concern for who passes. Unlike the old system, assessments are now done by the primary coach that is being paid, whereas previously candidates were assessed on the leader day by a different coach, who was unfamiliar with the candidates, so I think that right there is another weak spot for feeling candidates should be waved through.

A friend of mine, who taught outdoors adventure sports and coached WW kayaking gave up his qualifications recently because he saw things were becoming a bit of a joke in terms of who he was seeing getting passed on such courses. I'm inclined to agree.
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Re: BC qualifications assessment quality

Post by Rae1 »

I'm sort of agreeing with you Simon. Not everyone passes, I've failed it twice, not because I cannot lead or kayak well, (I can!), but, when being assessed, I fall to pieces.
The first time was at the T, I had never met the Assessor before, and never hope to meet that person again. It's an assessment into grade 2 and 3 paddling, not one where we needed to show ourselves surfing across big waves into non existent eddies within 5 minutes of getting on the water, when we were already nervous about the day. When asked 'why are we doing that, as you would never do it on a river trip?', the reply was 'I want to see how you handle bigger water'.
Err, the day is about GD.2 and 3, not a freestyle surf wave session.It was like an interrogation, and when I eventually went upside down, I couldnt roll as I was so tense. I lost a lot of confidence on the river that day.
The second was on the Lower T,2.5 years later, with a Coach I had met many times before. I had got nervous that morning, and it went downhill rapidly. I was 2nd leading after the first potential Leader had clearly failed in his duty to protect the kayakers.
I went to pieces, and gave up after the first rapids, as I was so nervous, that I was doing stupid things. Once I said I cant carry on, it was back to normal, and I went down the rest of it without incident, inc. Bala Falls.
I have also been a 'guinea pig' for 2 other people doing their assessment. Met at Llangollen at 9am, fully expecting to do Horseshoe down to Lllangollen. But no, they chose the Lower Dee, Llan to Trevor, where the rapids would be hard to describe as grade 2, maybe 1+. This was the time I realised that some people get a really easy assessment, and others are, literally thrown in at the deep end.
It isnt consistent.
I have known others being assessed on the Severn from Newtown, another easy, grade 1/2 at most, section.
There was one person I knew had passed, who, from personal experience, I ddnt think had the skills to lead at all. They were reasonable paddlers, but their attitude to others was poor, putting people into positions that they shouldnt have been subjected to. It was totally different from encouraging others to have a go, it was more of a 'youre doing this bit now, its hard, but you'll be ok', when clearly it was above their level, and could make them worse rather than better paddlers due to their loss of confidence.
I'm not saying some of the above people didnt deserve to pass their assessment, most probably did, but, like you, I think one trip down an easy river is not enough to prove that you can keep your composure if things go wrong, and ultimately, that is what the award is about - making sure a problem is sorted without hurting anyone, and making that trip enjoyable for all involved.
SimonMW
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Re: BC qualifications assessment quality

Post by SimonMW »

I’m pretty sure that under the older system the horseshoe section of the Dee down to MEM wasn’t really eligible as a leader assessment venue? If some coaches are using the Llan to Trevor section, that’s even worse and needs to be called out.

Fully understand about the pressure issues. Although I would argue that being able to demonstrate some skill above the grade is fairly important. I would expect a leader on G3 water to be able to own it and be confident in any move on it. I would certainly expect a reliable roll at the very least.

The lack of consistency is likely down to a very lax amount of guidance from BC. Looking at the current assessment guidelines it seems very open to interpretation as to the assessment venue. I’m pretty sure the old system guidance gave a minimum length of trip and that the river should genuinely be of the grade (2-3). But maybe I’m misremembering. Either way it is ridiculous that some people get assessed on the lower Tryweryn (which does pose some actual challenges for leaders of inexperienced paddlers) while some get assessed on a section that is mostly flat water (the Dee)!

Over the last few years I’ve seen ‘leaders’ who wobble their way ferrying across G1 riffles, can barely make their way down CIWW on a 4 cumec release even though they were training as a ww coach (so badly that when I was stood at the side watching, staff came up to me to ask who the hell passed his leader assessment). There’s been many more, but the trouble is that due to the small size of the community those who pass people so easily are unlikely to be called out. I wouldn’t want anyone’s livelihood to be curtailed, but I think there should be firmer guidance in place to ensure that the standard of one leader is as good as the next one.

To me, the wildly varying standards going on makes a mockery of the whole thing. If anyone tells me they’re a WW leader these days, my internal response is to groan.
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Re: BC qualifications assessment quality

Post by stonercanoe »

Standards on assessment always seemed to vary massively.
I did my flat water level 2 canoe coach assessment back in the day on a grade 2 river in flood.........
Always thought any leadership assessment should take place on a venue the candidates don't know. This would test real skills and leadership. How can real leadership be assessed on a venue candidates know inside out?
I know water levels, costs, getting guinea pigs together etc is never easy.
Assessment in an area you have never paddled in before would be an accurate test.
Jason
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Re: BC qualifications assessment quality

Post by Rae1 »

"I’m pretty sure that under the older system the horseshoe section of the Dee down to MEM wasn’t really eligible as a leader assessment venue?"

Andy Turton said to me one day that if that section is chosen, the guinea pigs must not be allowed to go down Serpents, as it is out of remit (though I'd say it was very much a grade 3 at normal levels). If anyone of those being assessed did go down it, then it could be classed as too risky for the assessment level, so they would be failed. I suppose if they get the guinea pigs below the feature by walking down the bank, then someone has to keep an eye on them at all times, so it wouldnt be possible to go back to do it, and watch them at the same time.
MikeALCC
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Re: BC qualifications assessment quality

Post by MikeALCC »

WW leader / old school (pre UKCC) L3, have always had vary variable passing standards.

Some L3's / WW leaders I wonder how they passed as their personal skills are so bad that they can just get down upper T (never mind work the river well)

Some I have seen just have a gung ho "You can do it", approach and showed little empathy for weaker paddlers. Think old school British Army training methods, ie just get stuck in, bit of bravado

I have seen assessments were candidates were marked down for things they didn't even do, ie "Your rescue work with the throw rope was poor" said to someone whom had never got their throw rope out of a boat all assessment

Assessments in conditions that were clearly not conducive to creating a positive environment, but cancelling would have led to refunds / costs to organisers etc.

Similarly choice of river. Lower T is truthfully a challenging environment for the first ww leader assessment, blind bends / line of sight, longer rapids etc to think about compared to big wider rivers such as the Dee.

The list go on.
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Re: BC qualifications assessment quality

Post by SimonMW »

Andy Turton said to me one day that if that section is chosen, the guinea pigs must not be allowed to go down Serpents, as it is out of remit (though I'd say it was very much a grade 3 at normal levels). If anyone of those being assessed did go down it, then it could be classed as too risky for the assessment level
It is out of remit, but the course assessor can lead the group down it and is free to delegate to the candidates to test their skills.
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Re: BC qualifications assessment quality

Post by GaryM »

Having been out of paddling for a number of years, I and a friend volunteered to be guinea pigs for an assessment on the lower Tryweryn.
All I can say is all the candidates were very capable (and passed), and the assessors very fair and friendly.
They even did spend a bit of time "out of assessment" so we could play around during the day.
Felt sorry for our candidates, as we didn't capsize once all day, so at the finish, below Bala Mill Falls, which they could run out of assessment, they had to capsize and be rescued by each other.
I suppose there are some venues which are less suitable, but with the lack of good year round sections of water to work with then these may be called into play if required.

Would you complain if you had a lenient driving examiner who passed you when you thought you should have failed??
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Re: BC qualifications assessment quality

Post by cathalferris »

"Would you complain if you had a lenient driving examiner who passed you when you thought you should have failed??"

Maybe not, but the inquest into the death of someone (under the care of someone that got their qualification in this year's box of lucky bags) that should not have died had the skill level and appropriate training of the leader/instructor been appropriately assessed in the past, could be an interesting place to be a fly on the wall. A competent assessor for the qualifications under question should be absolutely ruthless but absolutely fair, with good pointers to learn and practice to ensure a better chance of passing thje next time. Too many people literally put their lives in the hands of those with these qualifications to let the standards slip to a death-causing level.

The overarching purpose of these qualifications - especially (like these BC qualifications) the self-regulated ones that are not audited by a third party - is to prove that competency is appropriately noted, and to show that everyone that holds that qualification is of an equivalent and tested standard. The fact that there are any questions about the standard of those being qualified these days - as per this thread's existence - brings that qualification into disrepute and lowers the perceived standard of those that actually earned it in the past. This dilution will have knock-on effects if and when an incident happens, and the fall-out should be far-reaching.

It really sounds as though there needs to be a proper and truly independent review of things, as it appears on the surface that under-skilled people are now being given qualifications in a sport where poor training is more likely to have people involved in unnecessary situations, situations that would have not likely occurred if those in charge did in fact actually earn that qualification and not get given it too easily.

Does the BC not assess the assessors? If it does, why are the questions being asked in this thread exist? If it doesn't it'll be only a matter of time before that lack of oversight and responsibility comes back to haunt the decision makers.

Certainly looks like these awards are going the same way as UK A-levels, getting easier and easier to get the grade to pass - and this is *not* a good route to take.
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Re: BC qualifications assessment quality

Post by richb250 »

This seems to be a perennial debate - I can remember people questioning the robustness of BC quals at all levels ever since I started paddling! Clearly a return the the old proficiency awards is the way forward...

More seriously, I do have some sympathy to BC's approach to removing barriers to qualifications, as it makes a real difference to volunteer coaches and leaders, especially those with strong skills and/or good access to informal development. I've avoided coach quals for many years due to the number of hoops I'd have to jump through, but am now seriously contemplating working up to assesment.

The integrity of the awards, especially leadership quals, remains important. Over the years, I've observed that this seems to improve with increasing level of award. I've often heard of soft 3* assessments, but rarely of soft 5*s /Advanced leader assessments. The group of assessors for advanced leader awards is small, and they tend to be practitioners at a reasonably high level. I've not been near a WW leader assesment for many years, but on the sea, the leader qual still seems to have a reasonable degree of respect. I guess it's important to be mindful of the limited environment that those awards are meant to cover. Interestingly, I've heard some assessors say that a one-day assesment may be more demanding, as there will be less chance to give candidates a second chance to demonstrate things which they do imperfectly first time.

Ultimately, as a leader, I'm very aware that the buck stops with me should anything go wrong. I don't think it's reasonable (or defensible in a court) to blame an inadequate assessment of my leadership award. I choose what level of conditions / river grade I take my group on - and I should be factoring my current level of competence into that decision. I guess that mindset is crucial for me as an advanced sea leader (the remit is open-ended, and leading to anything approaching what some would consider the top-end of it would be terrifying...), but I know '4*' leaders who choose to stay well below the limits of their theoretical remit too. As such, I've tried to seek out excellent coaching to improve my skills. Whilst I haven't consciously signed up to 'soft' or 'hard' assessments, I'm well aware that false confidence from passing a weak assesment wouldn't serve me at all well. I can't see why an aspirant leader, who is about to take on personal responsibility for a group in a demanding environment, would want to take a fast and minimal effort route to being signed off, if such were available.

My personal experience has been that training for and being assessed for leadership and advanced leadership awards on both WW and sea was an extremely worthwhile experience that developed my competence and confidence. I hope aspirant leaders can still get that from the latest evolution of the system.
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Re: BC qualifications assessment quality

Post by MikeALCC »

richb250 wrote:
Wed May 11, 2022 11:35 am
I can't see why an aspirant leader, who is about to take on personal responsibility for a group in a demanding environment, would want to take a fast and minimal effort route to being signed off, if such were available.
So they can start charging and making a living / topping up their wages sooner?
SimonMW
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Re: BC qualifications assessment quality

Post by SimonMW »

Some really thoughtful replies here.
Does the BC not assess the assessors? If it does, why are the questions being asked in this thread exist? If it doesn't it'll be only a matter of time before that lack of oversight and responsibility comes back to haunt the decision makers.
AFAIK coaches are encouraged to go for refreshers and updates to keep themselves current. However I don't think this can be said of all coaches. One thing I would like to know is whether an old 4* or 5* has to be updated to the new system in order to continue handing out awards or whether they have grandfather rights to continue doing so?

Regardless there does seem to be varying quality, and as Mike mentions, this isn't a new problem. I know of a few people under the old system who quite often required rescuing more themselves than members of the group they were supposed to be leading. To the point where one of them used to brief his group on what to do if he swam! Although I think it seems to be more common that people are being rushed through now due to the pre-requisites being drastically reduced.
Would you complain if you had a lenient driving examiner who passed you when you thought you should have failed??
No, but I would expect that I had been tested properly. To use your analogy in relation to the discussion, it would be like being passed on that driving test for simply being able to drive the car in a straight line for 100yds and being deemed safe to go on the roads.

I can understand that if an assessment is in the calendar and a river like the Tryweryn isn't running and there's no rain, there's a temptation to run the assessment anyway to avoid disappointment and not potentially lose money. But really such assessments should be deferred and re-scheduled.
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Re: BC qualifications assessment quality

Post by MikeALCC »

SimonMW wrote:
Fri May 13, 2022 9:36 am
To use your analogy in relation to the discussion, it would be like being passed on that driving test for simply being able to drive the car in a straight line for 100yds and being deemed safe to go on the roads.
LOL, many years ago a colleague was successful in obtaining a visa for his wife to join him in the UK from India.

He stressed to her the importance of being able to drive in the UK, so told her to pass her test in India before she arrived.

She duly took a lesson and then applied for her test - get in the car, drive 100yrds, stop - congratulations!

The truth was that he was a bit tight, so he knew that if she passed her test in India, she could then drive in the UK on an international driving license and gain experience for free before applying for a UK test.
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Re: BC qualifications assessment quality

Post by gp.girl »

richb250 wrote:
Wed May 11, 2022 11:35 am
The integrity of the awards, especially leadership quals, remains important. Over the years, I've observed that this seems to improve with increasing level of award. I've often heard of soft 3* assessments.
We got sent down the Dart Loop for our 3* canoe. It was a bit of a swimfest.....

Then again I had one coach protest about video of me rolling in the bottom hole/wave at LV to get my 3* kayak. He didn't say a thing against doing a practice roll in very gently moving water to cover rolling on the river to get your 3* :(
I can roll :)
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