'Don't dumb down national exam' editors tell NCTJ

Members of the NCTJ board


Editors and journalism trainers have agreed that the National Certificate Examination should not be "dumbed down" by lowering standards to up the pass rate.

That was the view at an NCTJ seminar at Sheffield College last week  which looked at major training issues, including the poor showing in the autumn NCE when the pass rate fell to a record low of 35 per cent.

Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell, who chaired the seminar, said: "The very clear message was that there should be no dumbing down. The NCE must continue to test the basic standards of journalism. High standards of accuracy and English, and the ability to communicate simply, must be maintained."

Satchwell said that while editors did not believe there was a need for fundamental change, they felt the exams should try to be more realistic and reflect the modern newsroom.

Some speakers called for the addition of a 15-minute telephone call to the interview test. It was suggested that videos of committee and other meetings could be used, with candidates reporting in the "normal" way.  Another suggestion was for a mock court case that could be reported by the trainees.

A call for regular exchanges of research and information between editors and journalism trainers was proposed and accepted.

A problem for some editors and trainers was the lack of feedback from examiners on failed papers. A suggestion that the actual paper should be returned, suitably marked (and paid for), was well received.

Satchwell said: "Editors made it clear they wanted much improved feedback for trainees on why they had failed."

There was criticism of some of the questions in the newspaper practice paper, as well as the thoroughness of office training and preparation, including updating on significant changes in the law.

The colleges were well represented at the seminar, and made it clear from the outset that they, too, had concerns – a strong one, about a lack of interest on the part of editors.

One problem was that of getting newspapers to enter trainees for the appropriate course at the right time. Another was the amount of checking and recording of experience of trainees on the job.

The value of the editor’s assessment of a candidate’s performance was questioned.   Everyone at the seminar appeared to accept the NCTJ’s own evaluation: "The value of the NCE over the years has been that it is recognised as a national industry-tested basic skills exam. It is the preferred qualification by most employers."

A similar seminar for editors in the south is to be held on Friday, 8 June, at the Freedom Forum in London, near Marble Arch, from 11am to 3.30pm. For details, contact the NCTJ.


By Jim Brennan and Jon Slattery

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