The Judges Competency Framework – 1 year on

Having read the various articles on the JCF in recent editions of Our Dogs and the latest JCF Guidance document issued by the KC, I am more convinced than ever that it is neither radical nor innovative.

A, A2/3, B and C Lists have been swapped for Levels 4, 3, 2 and 1. Breed Seminars have been rebadged as Breed Appreciation Days. Hands-on sessions at these seminars have been rebadged as mentoring. “Observed judging” replaces ringside A2 assessments. The final Breed Assessment is no different to what many breeds currently do, except they will be “arranged” under the auspices of the KC.

The 92% pass rate reported in the pilot breed multiple choice exams may or may not be “impressive” depending on the design and rigour of the papers. David Cavill has previously discussed how careful design of these exam papers is critical to avoid them being either an obvious tick-box choice or a memory test.

Mandatory mentoring is indeed different to the current system but will that really be the factor that leads to more competent judges? Ronnie Irving has already asked, in his column, where these mentors are going to come from. My question is; will they be prepared to put in writing their thoughts on candidates who don’t measure up, particularly when we are considering personal interpretations of Breed Standards? If they aren’t, we’ll end up with little more than cosy chats. Having run numerous A2 Assessment events, I am all too aware of the abuse and challenges that have been directed at Assessors by candidates who failed. It has certainly put off some excellent Assessors from doing this again. They are all volunteers and don’t need the grief that sometimes comes with the role.

The compulsory education and assessments to get on the JCF entry level make sense. Nobody should step into the ring without knowing the rules and regulations or being able to demonstrate a basic understanding of the points of a dog and conformation/movement. Quite why these people aren’t required to attend a Breed-specific Seminar (sorry, Breed Appreciation Day) is hard to understand.

The requirement for experience as a steward has been reduced from current levels, as has any hands-on judging with a minimum number of dogs. The total abandonment of what has been called “the numbers game” must surely be a worry to those breeds that attract large entries at Championship Shows. Of course, for the numerically smaller breeds, it was necessary to do something, as the ability of judges to get hands-on experience had become very restricted. However, now it is quite possible that some new judges may well be faced with their first ever classes of 10 or more when they award their first set of CCs. Admittedly, that may also be the case under the current system, but the risk is we will be taken down the route of the “lowest common denominator” with new judges having inadequate hands-on experience.

It has also been pointed out that the end of the requirement for a geographic spread of appointments/experience could well have an adverse effect on open show entries and may lead to yet more societies appointing non-specialists who can “do” multiple breeds.

The power of the Breed Education Coordinator and a few mentors and observers in a breed may also be a point of concern. If there were problems with a lack of democracy and breed club judging sub-committees creating “closed shops” with people unable to get on judging lists or even to be allowed to attend seminars, what evidence is there that the new BECs, mentors and observers are going to resolve that problem?

Despite how its proponents want to dress it up, the JCF is little more than “smoke and mirrors”. It is the wrong solution to the wrong problem. Its successes, so far, have been to alienate a whole swathe of Breed Specialist judges and to confuse people (the existence of 81 FAQs might give you a big clue).

It is great that the “pilot” breeds are running seminars and offering the written exams, and that the participants are enjoying these. No doubt they are learning something, too. A more fundamental question is; were these breeds running seminars, exams, assessments and mentoring prior to the JCF and, if not, why not?

The JCF may well make judge training and approval more transparent and that is a good thing. If it eliminates the current opaque system whereby a KC Sub-committee could turn down CC and A2 approvals of people who met every Breed Club criterion yet approve people who Breed Clubs objected to, then that will be a big step forward. Whether it’s worth investing £500k in these changes is more debatable.

The recently published JCF Guidance document certainly provides clarity on what the new system involves and how people will be affected. It is concise and a lot of good work has gone into its presentation. It is evident from this publication that the JCF is indeed the fait accompli many of us suspected it would be, when it was announced last year. I’m sure we can all agree that it is a framework for competency. However, I have yet to see evidence that the JCF introduces much that will increase the competency of judges and that goes to the root of what exhibitors want.

Emperor’s New Clothes anyone?

Read my critique of the JCF from 2017.


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