RSGB Syllabus Review – Proposed Foundation Changes

Foundation OMS SheetThe RSGB has just released a draft of the new exam syllabus for Foundation, Intermediate and Full. The draft document states that this is for examinations held after 1 July 2018.

At 86 pages, this document contains a lot to review, and you have until the 21st of July 2017 to have your say on the proposed changes.

One of Essex Ham’s guiding missions is to help get new people into amateur radio, and so I’ve read the new syllabus to see how this will potentially affect new entrants to the hobby. In places, it’s quite a change, with a lot of material moving from Intermediate to Foundation.

To save you wading through 86 pages, I’ve condensed the changes into the following summary. My notes are added at the end of each section.

If you have any thoughts, feel free to add them to the comments section of this page, but to have your say, please complete the RSGB’s survey – Go to rsgb.org/syllabus_review

You have until 21st of July 2017 to tell the RSGB what you think.

Pete M0PSX

Foundation Online Course Coordinator

 

Section 0 – Prior Knowledge

A new section that explicitly states required knowledge of basics maths, fractions & decimals, units and basic algebra (e.g V=IxR). Two new requirements added:

  • Addition of “micro” and “Giga” to the units 
  • Decimal and exponent notation and conversion of numbers from 10-6 to 109 to/from decimal.

Section 1 -Licensing Conditions

No significant changes here – just some tidying up. Additions to this section include:

  • Adds the need to recall the optional /A, /P, /M and /MM suffixes {Was Intermediate}. Oddly, the new Foundation syllabus mentions the need to recall them, they don’t need to know what they mean until Intermediate (!)
  • Adds “Vessel at Sea” and Aircraft conditions  {Was Intermediate}
  • Adds that station tests are required “from time to time” {Was Intermediate}
  • Adds that foreign countries do not routinely recognise Foundation  {Was Intermediate}
  • Updates “Recall the requirements for ID” to include the need to ID on change of operator or supervisor (which isn’t in the licence). Interestingly, there’s no mention of “as frequently as practicable” (which is in the licence)
  • Adds a definition of “broadcasting”

Section 2 – Technical Aspects

A significant increase here, notably:

  • Introduces parallel and series circuits {Was Intermediate}. Requires candidates to:
    • Understand that current in all parts of a series circuit has the same value and that the potential differences across items in parallel are the same.
    • Recall that when resistors are connected in series, the total resistance is equal to the sum of the values of the individual resistors.
    • Recall that when two resistors of equal value are connected in parallel, the total resistance is equal to 1/2 the value of each individual resistor
    • Understand that the sum of the voltages across a number of resistors in series equals the supply voltage.
    • Understand that where a supply feeds more than one component or device the total current is the sum of the currents in the individual items.
  • Adds more on resistors, including that a current through a resistor results in conversion of electrical energy to heat energy. {Was Intermediate}
  • Adds content on rechargeable vs non-rechargable batteries
  • Adds more on sine waves, what they mean and that the start of a sine wave is at zero amplitude and the 90 degree point is the positive maximum
  • Adds Analogue to Digital Convertor (ADC) and Digital to Analogue Convertor (DAC), plus definition of digital signals, and sampling rates
  • Adds LEDs  {Was Intermediate}
An increase from 20 items, to 44 items, and I can’t see a reason why any of the new proposed material needs to be here. Intermediate introduces circuits (with practicals), and use of multimeters to test the theory. To me, that’s where much of this belongs. Construction and resistors is still very much an Intermediate thing, so how useful is loading Foundation with extra electronics theory? This is a lot of extra content to throw at a newcomer who has potentially no technical, electronics or construction experience at this level.

Section 3 – Transmitters and Receivers

Some additions here:

  • Introduces Sidebands (“amplitude modulated signals contain two sidebands and the carrier”), and concept of SSB {Was Intermediate}
  • More on loads and matching
  • Introduces Software Defined Radio receivers and transmitters
  • Introduces Digital Voice and that different DV (incompatible) systems exist
  • Adds two new block diagrams to remember:
Two new proposed box diagrams from the draft Foundation syllabus
Two new proposed box diagrams from the draft Foundation syllabus
The lack of any mention of SSB at Foundation was always a puzzle, so it’s good that this is added. Block diagrams are a constant problem, and the addition of two new (unnecessary?) diagrams is not going to be popular with students. A-to-D, D-to-A and SDRs will increase complexity for volunteer trainers.

Section 4 – Feeders and Antennas

Some significant additions here, on a section that some Foundation candidates already struggle with, especially those with no existing RF knowledge:

  • Adds “Waveguide” as the third type of feeder.
  • More on feeder, including loss, 50Ω impedance, RF energy being converted to heat, and greater loss at higher frequency
  • Adds antenna radiation patterns. Candidates need to be able to identify the polar diagrams for the half wave dipole and Yagi, and identify the directions of maximum and minimum radiation. {Was Intermediate}
  • More on antenna gain and ERP. Requires candidates to calculate ERP given antenna input power and antenna gain (a dB conversion table will apparently be provided, but is omitted from the draft) {Was Intermediate}
  • Adds “feed point” impedance, mismatch and reflection {Was Intermediate}
  • Adds N and SMA plugs (in addition to BNC and PL259), plus the SO239 socket. Mentions that these will appear in Table 2, but they’re not in the draft.
Previously, there were 18 examinable items in this section. The proposed change takes this to 40 items! A lot of extra material moved en masse from Intermediate, making this a much more complex module. I wonder how much of this is truly helpful at Foundation…

Section 5 – Propagation

Largely unchanged, but some material on the Ionosphere brought down from Intermediate:

  • Adds more on Ionosphere: D, E, F1 and F2 layers and their order, and that refraction from the F2 layer is the main mode of long distance HF propagation. {Was Intermediate}
  • Adds Sporadic E for VHF {Was Intermediate}
The layers are only properly explained in the Intermediate syllabus, so not clear why the layers  are introduced  (but not explained) at this level

Section 6 – Electro Magnetic Compatibility (EMC)

Largely unchanged, but lots of EMC material added for radios fitted to cars, including requirements for candidates to recall the following:

  • Candidates should recall that they need to refer to the vehicle manufacturer’s handbook for advice on EMC (At Intermediate, they need to “understand” this, not “recall” it)
  • Mobile radio equipment should have its own DC power fused positive lead wired back to the battery and the negative lead connected to the chassis
  • 12V power sockets should not be used.
  • RF can cause interference to vehicle electronic circuits, including audio systems, navigation systems, remote locking, alarms and engine fuel management systems
  • Vehicle ignition and battery charging systems can cause RF interference
The addition of in-car advisories makes sense.

Section 7 – Operating Practices and Procedures

Largely unchanged and some tidying, but a few extra bits for candidates to remember, notably codes previously out-of-scope

  • Adds: information on what data should be recorded in a log, and why UTC is used
  • Candidates need to know meaning and the reason for using the following: QRZ, QSL, QSO, QSY, QTH, QRT, QSB. {Was Intermediate}
  • Candidates need to know meaning and the reason for using the following: CQ, DE, DX, RST, KN, CW, K, SK. {Was Intermediate}
  • Adds compatibility of digital voice (DV) and digital data (DD) modes 
  • Adds that users of Digital Voice (DV) should check that the channel is not in use by other modes.
  • Adds requirement to know that Special Event Stations have callsigns starting with “GB”.
  • Oddly, “no transmission on beacon frequencies” and “no terrestrial contacts on satellite frequencies” is in the Intermediate syllabus, so apparently doesn’t need to be taught at Foundation. This was not part of the current Foundation syllabus, so is not a change, but it’s an interesting oddity.
Codes such as QTH and QSO really should have been introduced in Foundation, so the move makes sense, but it’s 15 codes that a newbie now has to memorise, which isn’t ideal. With band plans, repeater setup, data modes and satellite ops in the section already, adding 15 codes and DV will load this section with a lot of material that a newbie would self-learn on the job anyway.

Section 8 – Safety

A considerable increase here, with material largely being moved from Intermediate:

  • Voltages over 33V AC and 70V DC are hazardous but that an electric shock may be experienced at lower voltages.
  • More on fuses (structure, purpose, requirement to work out why one has blown)
  • Adds RCD protection  {Was Intermediate}
  • Adds risks associated with rechargeable batteries (high current, lithium batteries can cause fire and explode) and charging requirements
  • Tool Safety: Lots here, including eye protection, swarf and hand tool care.  {Was Intermediate}
  • Soldering: Splashing, stands and ventilation  {Was Intermediate}
  • Ladders: Ratio (4:1 height-to-base ratio), overreach, toolbelt, hard hat   {Was Intermediate}
  • Exposure to radiation: body tissue and eyes, sources for safe levels of RF radiation and  dangers of microwave frequency waveguide / high-gain antennas  {Was Intermediate}
  • Safety at temporary premises and on field events (damp ground, risk assessment, cable routing, protection, correct fusing, use of RCDs, etc)
A lot of material has been moved from Intermediate. It’s hard to fault the addition of extra safety advice, but it increases the amount of teaching / learning. With no construction and only 10 watts at Foundation, some could argue that some of the new material is of limited use this early on.

Section 10 – Practical Assessments

The main practicals are unchanged. The only change here is that there is an alternative to the Morse practical. Candidates must either do the existing “Morse appreciation or a data mode using an SDR. The exact wording of the data mode practical is:

“10B2: Demonstrate how to set up a Software Defined Radio (SDR) (such as the ICOM 7300 or any other SD radio) with additional software interfacing and make a QSO via a digital mode (PSK, JT65, JT9 or WSPR)”

It’s good to have an alternative to Morse, and adding data modes is great – however, why mandate only an SDR for data? Do all clubs and trainers possess £1,200 SDR transceivers and software interfaces? With a class of 10 students, how practical is it to get all 10 students to set up an Icom 7300 from scratch, set up the interface and software, the various macros and have a QSO? With JT QSOs taking 9 minutes each, is this viable for classroom courses?

Also, why no SSTV? Can you have a QSO on WSPR? 

 

Summary

My understanding of the syllabus review, was that Intermediate would get slightly more difficult, to make the jump from Intermediate to Full a little easier. 93% of people passed Intermediate in 2015, compared to 68% passing Full, so I see the logic in adding more to Intermediate.

Given that we need to do all we can to get people into the hobby, I can’t see what’s to gain from significantly increasing the complexity of Foundation.

The last published numbers show that 15% of people taking Foundation… fail. To me, it seems that the proposed changes to the Foundation syllabus will increase that failure rate, involve a significant re-think of Foundation training material, increase the course length to accommodate the new material, and result in less newcomers entering the hobby.

At this time, it’s not clear whether it’s Ofcom asking for this significant toughening of Foundation, or the RSGB…

If you have any thoughts, feel free to add them to the comments section of this page, but to have your say, please complete the RSGB’s survey by the 21st of July – Go to rsgb.org/syllabus_review 

Pete M0PSX

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