4.2 Defining Professional Functions and Standards in Archaeology

Occupational Standards are a concept that was first introduced in a 1986 Government White Paper Working Together - Education and Training (DE and DES 1986). This paper concluded that nationally recognised Occupational Standards and vocational qualifications were to be the key element in securing a competent and adaptable workforce for the United Kingdom. Since then occupational standards have been developed across many industry-wide sectors in the UK.

Occupational standards are agreed statements that define individual competence in terms of the successful outcome of work activity. They are therefore concerned with what individuals can DO rather than with what they KNOW. They represent what people should achieve in the workplace to demonstrate competence.

They are the foundation on which National and Scottish Vocational Qualifications (N/SVQs) are based. However, they can be used for much more than the establishment of these qualifications; CICSC (1998, drawing on Mansfield and Mitchell 1996) identify 88 separate uses of occupational standards, which can be conflated into eleven categories (supplementary text from Carter and Robertson 2002a):

  1. Recruitment and Selection - the preparation of job and work role specifications.
  2. Job design and Evaluation - developing the skills mix within a team to provide professional archaeological services and also as a method for auditing teams to establish there are sufficient skills to deliver programmes.
  3. Assurance of product and service delivery - where standards are certificated, being able to prove that individuals and teams have achieved the necessary standards to deliver the services promised.
  4. Identifying individual and organisational training needs - used as a framework for job and/or team appraisal, being able to identify where there is a need for training and development.
  5. Structuring learning programmes - the knowledge and skills specifications provide a framework for course design, whether academically or skills based.
  6. Delivering and evaluating learning programmes - the knowledge and skills specifications are a checklist against which training inputs can be judged and the evidence specifications and evidence rules set out the requirements for what evidence of learning must be provided.
  7. Careers guidance and counselling - by looking at what skills and aptitudes an individual has and matching these against the competences required of an archaeologist it is helpful to see where the match is close and opportunities might lie. Conversely, the framework helps individuals see what it is necessary to learn in order to pursue their chosen career.
  8. Assessing achievement - the overall standards framework provides a complete specification for a range of assessment schemes.
  9. Development of publicly funded training programmes - increasingly, funding bodies are requiring providers to demonstrate how training proposals deliver learning to specifications set by trades and professions. In the UK, the National Occupational Standards are the primary benchmark.
  10. Management information - knowing the 'inventory' of skills within an organisation is very important in personnel planning. It is a sound basis for recruitment planning and training investment plans.
  11. Regulating professional activities and providing criteria for entry to grades of professional membership - National Occupational Standards are widely used as a basis for setting up registration schemes where performance is central to the provision of specialist and safety critical services. They are also used as a framework (sometimes an alternative framework) both for membership entry, progression and CPD achievement.

As it was recognised that the establishment of occupational standards for archaeology (and their subsequent recognition by the QCA to formalise their status as National Occupational Standards) would have many benefits, not least as a vital step in linking archaeology's training requirements to governmental initiatives, and thus to publicly funded training programmes (point 9 above), the Archaeology Training Forum (on behalf of English Heritage, QCA and SQA [as elements of PSAG]) commissioned IFA and CHNTO to manage a project to establish occupational standards, and more - Defining Professional Functions and Standards in Archaeology. The actual work was outsourced to an expert standards development consultancy, Q-West Consultants, working with an archaeological consultant at Headland Archaeology.

The work to set occupational standards began in March 2001 and was a lengthy process, with a great deal of consultation and interaction with practitioners within professional archaeology. The work was carried out with a Working Group made up of archaeologists from a variety of backgrounds, and subsequent expert workshops around the UK. The occupational standards were developed through the process of functional analysis, which involved identifying the 'key purpose' of the archaeology sector and progressively working top-down to identify what functions need to be carried out to achieve the sector's purpose. This involved identifying functional areas, which could then be subdivided into smaller units which represented the required functions of individuals, for which an occupational standard could be set - or in some cases adopted from pre-existing standards in cultural heritage (museums), building conservation or generic management.

The 'key purpose' statement for archaeological practice is a wide-ranging and inclusive statement into which all archaeological work can be fitted.

"Provide and manage archaeological services to standards of best practice for the recording, research, interpretation, conservation and presentation of the material remains of past communities to promote understanding and for the lasting benefit of local people, the wider community, economic, cultural, professional and educational interests, and for future generations"
(Carter and Robertson 2002b).

The work involved in the establishment of the standards showed that this had to be a wide-ranging statement, as the occupational standards that have been assembled 'encompass an exceptional range of occupations ... the suite of occupational standards that has emerged is two to three times as large as for equivalent professions' (Chitty forthcoming). In total, 168 separate (but related and interlinking) occupational standards have come out of this project. While some of these were pre-existing standards, a significant number are new and archaeologically specific.

The occupational standards have been grouped into ten areas of practice:

A. Provide guidance and set policies for the investigation, recording, management and conservation of the historic environment
B. Plan, specify and agree requirements for the investigation, recording, management, conservation and presentation of the historic environment
C. Recover data from the historic environment
D. Interpret and test findings from investigations
E. Conserve material evidence of past communities
F. Manage information on the material remains of past communities
G. Manage archaeological collections
H. Promote an understanding of the historic environment
J. Manage the archaeological organisation
K. Define and control quality and professional standards

As an example, C - Recover data from the historic environment relates to the recovery of primary data, and is thus very archaeologically specific. This is made up of seven units, further subdivided into 22 occupational standards.

Within the text for each occupational standard, the Performance Required is set out, with the Occupational Context within which this working role will take place. Each standard also specifies the Knowledge Requirements and Required Skills to undertake the role. Also set out are the Evidence Required with the associated Evidence Rules - these will only become relevant if an individual is being tested on their abilities in order to receive a vocational qualification of some sort.

Within area C, a subdivision of Unit AC3, 'Contribute to non-intrusive investigations', is occupational standard AC3.2, Observe and Record Measurements. This occupational standard might be used to define the performance required by a person working on an archaeological survey, in an assisting role. The exact nature of this role can be varied - such as using a dumpy level to record heights, using a resistivity meter on geophysical survey, making taped measurements from a baseline on a building survey - but the standard is designed to cover all such roles.

This example shows how the role of carrying out observations and recording measurements, while contributing to a non-intrusive investigation has been precisely defined in an occupational context. Because the standard describes and defines the circumstances a person has to consider, and the actions they might take while carrying out that role, rather than the technical details of instrumentation that might be used, the standard remains applicable to all the types of survey set out in the Occupational Context and is effectively 'future-proof'.

This is just one example - of 168 - that can be used to define much of what should go into a training course - perhaps in 'Elementary Surveying' - and what the learning outcomes from that course should be. It is likely that the providers of such courses, relating directly to the occupational standards, will be able to apply to the IFA for some form of validation in the near future, potentially using a model similar to that used by CHNTO. This standard could also be used (in part) to define what the job description for a 'Survey Assistant' might be; it could be part of an organisation's quality assurance statement, making it clear that all the non-intrusive survey work they do meets these requirements - and all of the standards can be used in these ways, and in all of the eleven general ways set out above.

The occupational standards will initially be hosted on the CHNTO website. Assessment of the standards will be a continuous process, with the ATF receiving comments on the standards and their usefulness, with the ultimate aim being a full review in approximately three to five years time. Immediately, over the period to Spring 2003, the IFA will be (on behalf of the ATF) leading a programme of discussion and dissemination, taking the principles and the details of the standards to archaeologists, explaining how they will be able to use the standards as the foundations onto which the profession can build its skills-base.


Last updated: Tue Sep 10 2002

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