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Role of Sponsor
The requirement for sponsorship before a prospective candidate is permitted to book their exam place came into partial use in 2016 but 2017 was the first year it fully applied.
I do support the move in principle, but I believe there are quite a lot of difficulties with it and I am not sure that we have ever been clear how much this was
  1. a "one-off stage gate" to weed out the weaker candidates early and
  2. how much it was supposed to be a continuing involvement with the student.
I also believe that April (or if deferred May) is far too early to be able to get a good view for item 1. 
Several of may candidates last year did not Pass but got a Near Miss; whereas I would obviously preferred them all to have passed, I am not in the slightest embarrassed by having signed their SDF. 
  • They did not disgrace themselves because clearly they gave papers worth marking; in the final analysis there is no real value in an exam that almost everyone passes- I would argue that whereas a Pass rate of less that 50% is certainly too low, a pass rate of more than 75% would probably also be too high for comfort.
  • Anyone can have good / bad days; illness or just a bad nights sleep just before for example.  A marginal candidate could pass if certain questions came up but not have the breadth to pass if they did not.  
  • A lot can happen between signing the SDF and the exam; the job role (if not employer) may change, a project get into a busy phase, a house move may need to happen.  In many cases these would not even be predictable to the candidate, let alone their sponsor.
  • If I am to be judged as a sponsor on the metric of how many of my students end up passing, all I can really do is to "raise the bar" to put a wodge of contingency, therefore only sponsoring those who I think should get a Credit.  This lowers my own risk but forces other candidates (some of whom frankly may NEVER be capable of such a level of performance) to look elsewhere for a sponsor. 
    If asked to judge on that basis last April I would only have sponsored ONE candidate; as it happens  they ended up deciding off their own bat not to turn up because they felt they would not be able to do themselves justice (but actually I am pretty sure that they would at least have passed). 
    If I had set a slightly lower standard then I would have sponsored TWO more, one of whom achieved a Pass an the other a Near Miss.  I actually "took a big chance" on TWO others who I barely knew at the time, both of whom had failed before.  They both subsequently put an immense amount of effort into preparation (which I judged that they would do and was indeed  the basis of my decision, because I decided to do otherwise would have been so much of a disincentive that they may then have given up the idea of ever completing the exam).  As it turned out one achieved a Pass in mod 3, the other a Near Miss in mod 5 (which actually seemed to have a globally very low pass rate this year for reasons that I do not understand). 
    In April / May based on their level of understanding and performance  there was every reason to have backed the first two horses and not to have backed the other two; the difference was what happened / did not happen in the intervening period.  Whereas the second two who had both suffered earlier failures were devoting themselves to the task of preparation, neither of the "better bets" were able to do so to anything like the same extent.  By September this had become obvious and certainly I was less surprised by the Near Miss by one of them than I was by the Near Miss amongst those "outside chances".
  • For those candidates who got Near Miss, I obviously know within quite small limits how their performance was judged.  Two of the three of them have also shard their feedback on their relative performance n the different questions.
  • However for the two who got a Pass I have no clue.  Perhaps one of them only narrowly missed a Credit, but the other actually scored a little less than 50% but on reflection the examiner decided to be charitable and knock up the score slightly to take into the ass category.  I have no idea, but surely if I am to advise these same people for 2018 then that is information which is actually very important for me to know.  Wouldn't it be a good idea to feedback to ALL candidates some indication of their level of performance in each question, just as the Near Miss candidates routinely receive?
I think that the "Sponsor conversation" in February looking at the student's Study Plan is right
Whereas last year I met with my candidates only occasionally and rather "ad hoc" (although actually because they were amongst a larger Study Group I was actually having some contact with them almost on a weekly basis), this year I am going to be more formal and have a 1-2-1 with my candidates on a monthly basis.
However that only gives me 2 months before the April deadline, 3 months before the May deferral deadline and then the  individuals then have another month before they pay. 
However there is still quite a lot of time left; whereas I don't think it is the right way to do the exam, there have been cases of people getting VERY GOOD results without having really applied themselves until after having paid at the end of June.  I don't have a problem with discouraging that approach, but we do need to reflect that a capable person with some domain experience can make a tremendous improvement between February and October; however by April it is too early days for the sponsor to be able to make an assessment of "gradient" and the "error bar" regarding extrapolation of where that might be in October is huge.  We certainly do not want to discourage that sort of person, but the sponsor loses any "control" once that SDF is signed.  It then depends on the individual and their character:
  1. some would take the view, even without any "guidance" from their sponsor that they actually weren't going to be ready and therefore say goodbye to their money, be a "no-show" and at least not give the examiners a paper which is poor and thereby waste their time,
  2. some take the view that they have nothing more to lose- they have spent their money and so even if the chances of them passing are very low they may as well incur any travel costs and the few hours on a Saturday.
As a sponsor I don't feel that decision 1 reflects badly on me at all- perhaps even the contrary, whereas decision 2 does.  I'd be happier if the sponsor had the "veto power" in September when the performance level was clearer and whether or not the Study Plan had been implemented would be known.  Without this, my decision whether or not to sponsor a "potentially high risk" candidate would actually very much depend on my gut feeling about how that individual would act when it was coming up to the exam date and they hadn't got themselves where they should be by then.

So I am now facing the decision regarding how many and who to sponsor:
  • Do I just stick with those ho have an unblemished track record?
  • Do I also support those who got a Near Miss?
  • What if anyone had Failed- again as a sponsor I do not know if they got in the low 40%s or did disastrously.  I don't know if they did two questions reasonably, but completely misunderstood the third.
  • Do I take a chance on those who I think are well away fro having the knowledge that they need, but are strong students and exam performers who could, with support, actually do pretty well by October?
  • What about those who do have plenty of knowledge and experience but really struggle in interpreting IRSE questions and /or getting their output down clearly in the time permitted?  Who knows how long it will take for them to master that- but if they do the quality of their output for all questions will take a jump.  In that case it would be wrong to limit them to just the one module (that would be a mitigation for me personally as it lowers my exposure to their potentially poor performance) because actually they could all "come good" together and if I don't sponsor for all of them now then thy have to leave the others to be at another year.
If I am struggling with all this, what is it like for any other potential sponsor most of whom have far less experience of the IRSE Exam and the range of students than I have?

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