The Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) is well established across Britain. In the words of Ofqual, the body that administers the framework, it aims to provide ‘a simple yet flexible’ qualifications system that is ‘inclusive, responsive, accessible [and] non-bureaucratic’.
What does it have to do with interpretation, you wonder? That’s simple: it’s another way of engaging audiences…deliver public benefits….use heritage more widely and more effectively. And yes, make a bit of money too.
These are all matters of huge importance to most heritage organisations these days, and definitely the publicly funded ones. At my site – a true regeneration heritage project run by a Local Authority – they’re practically written down as performance indicators.
The QCF offers real opportunities for us here. In idealistic terms it seeks to recognise practical learning and give it accreditation in the form of awards, certificates and diplomas. Put more realistically, it seeks to provide routes of learning better suited to those that don’t thrive in the more formal education system. Schools in particular are really interest in QCF for this very reason, but it also works for organisations supporting people to get (back) into work.
It is at this point that QCF is perfect for programmes at heritage sites and museums. We don’t actually have to change anything about our approach: Practical, flexible and accessible learning may just as well be terms gleaned from a 21st century book on interpretation. The interpretive mantra of using the resources (read: practices, remains, objects) that are there to facilitate people’s engagement with heritage values is basically the radical rethinking of learning that the QCF wants to promote.
There is an element of rigour in this, however, that might be unnatural to some interpreters. In order to get accreditation for your programme, you have to think about creating evidence of the learning that participants have achieved. I don’t mind this at all. When I put together our first QCF programme recently, I felt that it’s quite similar to writing objectives into a more traditional interpretive medium (and I’m a firm believer in establishing objectives). So in a way, a QCF programme simply has the evaluation built in from the start – perfect!
But, you may say, is this not education, rather than interpretation? I’ve actually blogged about this over a year ago here, and I’d like to highlight an example I gave in that post. The example is also a great argument for why it should be interpreters doing this (at heritage sites) rather than teachers (who would be the more natural choice if this were in fact ‘education’): the Learning Officer that worked with me at the time was by profession a primary school teacher. The ‘programmes’ they developed for schools were soundly rejected by teachers. The teachers said that they could do this themselves in the classroom – there was no reason why they should bring their students to us.
My colleague had not applied (how could they?) any interpretive principles that would have made the programmes relevant to their target audience of teachers, their students, and their particular (learning) needs. The teachers wanted to bring the children on site to interact with the environment and engage in a more active, practical way of learning than what they could provide in the classroom.
Interpreters can do that. They can create precisely the types of flexible, accessible and engaging programmes that QCF is looking for. QCF is not about education – it’s an alternative to education. Perhaps ‘learning’ is the right term for this, and in fact, QCF calls participants ‘learners’. It is a tiny step from a live interpretive programme to a QCF course. But it places interpretation right at the centre of current organisational and policy objectives. I say, let’s embrace that. Let’s claim that key role and communicate to our line managers and funders: we can do this because we’re professional interpreters. It’s an interpreter you need for the job.