Quality assurance: good practice and improving quality, balance and control

How would you rate your quality assurance (QA) processes? Louise Doyle, director of Mesma, says that, in a shifting landscape, good practice allows education decision-makers to achieve great results by getting to grips with quality, balance and control. Here she shares five steps to assessing practice for employer providers and those with responsibility for training

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The value of self-assessment – and improvement planning in the face of significant change – has long been recognised as good practice by schools and colleges as they look to enter or move forward within a reformed education sector. So, with the quality agenda at the forefront of the minds of leaders and managers across the spectrum, the big question is: how do you know how good you are?
In reaching a conclusion it’s important to focus on devising key quality indicators (KQIs) that will drive improvement and to develop quality assurance tools that will help you to make better judgements about the standard of education you provide. It’s also important to have a clear and concise understanding of how these help you to make judgements against, for example, Ofsted’s Common Inspection Framework (CIF).
None of this is new or, indeed, rocket science. However, it is easy to get bogged down in excessive ‘weighing of the pig’ rather than homing in on the measures and QA activities which will actually have the greatest impact. There are five basic steps to help you to consider how good your provision is as a newcomer to the sector, or an apprenticeship provider or as someone experienced looking to find efficiencies through reviewing current practice.

  1. Understand your quality standards

A good starting point is to identify which quality standards you have to work with, the rewards for meeting those standards and the implications if you don’t. Work with your teams to document each standard that you are judging yourself against. For example, the rewards for meeting the Ofsted CIF can be enhanced reputation – which will drive higher value contracts and greater opportunities for securing future ones. It also makes you an employer of choice, attracting top talent to come and work for you, while generating a pool of learners able to achieve their goals and realise their potential.
Equally, a failing environment can be reflected in poor reputation and loss of potential students. In these circumstances not only can it be difficult to win new training contracts with employers, but the impact on staff can be deeply felt; it’s hard to retain experienced staff, or attract high calibre people, to a poorly performing school, for example.

  1. What does ‘good’ look like?

While we do not advocate that an external inspection regime should drive your entire approach to quality improvement, we do recognise the value in utilising an external framework to provide structure. A pre-existing framework can provide a good baseline on which to build your own measures, applicable in your own context.
If the standard you are using has a grade profile, as is the case with the Ofsted CIF, which indicators are relevant to each grade? Can you work with your teams to identify KQIs that allow you to measure your progress and end point against them, ensuring they are realistic as well as challenging?

  1. Involve others 

All too often, quality assurance tools are developed without the involvement of wider teams. It’s an obvious point, perhaps, that the tools need to be communicated in the context of the quality standards set, otherwise their purpose can be misinterpreted. There are many different methods for reviewing the quality of education and training; these frequently range from analysing data and carrying out audits to evaluating learner surveys and analysis of performance data, for example.
By engaging with your staff early on you are more likely to achieve buy-in when it comes to their understanding of relevance to their own performance targets, why particular tools are deployed, the remit of those involved in quality assurance activity and will inculcate a willingness to reporting findings.

  1. Develop a schedule

Fix a point in the year when you think its best to undertake certain quality assurance activities. Consider, for instance, if it is appropriate to carry out a learner survey before you undertake your self-assessment. How can you reduce the burden on those completing such a survey when taking into account what else they may be asked to do at certain points in the year? If delivering a work-based programme, this can be a useful discussion to have with the employer at the outset. A well thought out schedule delivering results at the right time will enable you to make a more accurate, up-to-date judgement.

  1. Mind the gap

After looking at the KQIs, quality assurance tools and frequency of use, map these against the standard you are judging yourself against. Are there criteria that are not covered by your scheduled activity? What else is needed? Equally, don’t lose sight of the fact that you may be doing too much.

About Mesma
Mesma are specialists in quality assurance for schools, further education and skills. They support senior leaders build a meaningful approach to self-assessment and developing robust improvement plans to drive change for the benefit of students and learners.
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