Office work key to big shake-up of NCTJ exams

The most revolutionary change in examinations for trainee journalists for 50 years is planned by the National Council for the Training of Journalists.

Trainees will be assessed for the first time on their in-office work as well as their results from the National Certificate Examination. The aim is to bring more formality to on-the-job training before trainees take the exam.

A new NCTJ logbook of trainees’ schedules and experience is launched this week after almost two years of consultation with editors, trainers and trainees. From spring 2004, all examination candidates will be required to submit a completed logbook before their final exams. It will be marked by the NCTJ alongside the speech, interview and newspaper practice sections.

It will carry the same 60 per cent pass rate and candidates whose logbooks fail to make the grade will have to resubmit them at a later date. They will not get a certificate until their logbooks reach the required standard – even if they have passed the other papers.

Lack of in-office supervision was thought to have contributed to many years of poor NCE pass rates and when these hit an all-time low of 35 per cent

in autumn 2000, the council’s Newspaper Journalism Board decided to seek the views of editors and trainers.

Delegates at seminars in London and Sheffield insisted that there should be no dumbing down of the NCE and called for radical measures to improve workplace training. The two-part logbook is the result.

The mandatory section lists 17 jobs – ‘Key Tasks’ – for every trainee, ranging from simple hand-out rewrites to coverage of major incidents. Candidates must submit two examples of original copy together with published cuttings.

The other part of the logbook consists of three-monthly assessment papers to be completed by the editor or trainer and endorsed by the trainee. This section is not compulsory but it could be taken into consideration in the 15 marks given for overall presentation of the logbook.

Trainees get the logbook free. Additional copies for editors cost £10.

The Newspaper Journalism Board has also looked at ways in which the NCTJ can give candidates additional help – particularly those in smaller newspaper offices. It is hoped that employers will send trainees to two one-day NCTJ workshops during their training where they will get one-to-one tuition.

If this is not possible, a ‘telephone tutor’ will be available to give occasional advice and answer problems for a one-off fee of £50.

Newspaper Journalism Board chairman Mike Woods said: "Some trainees are extremely good, some are not so good and some are pretty awful.

"We are trying to take the fear out of the NCE. We hope employers are prepared to spend a little more money to send trainees to the one-day workshops in which they would get one or two tasters of what the NCE is like, so that when it comes to it they know what to expect."

By Jean Morgan

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