My last article was based on the role of external quality assurers, this month I'll talk about quality assurance with a focus on internal quality assurance.
Quality assurance can be defined as a system to monitor and evaluate a product or a service. It should identify and recommend measures to make improvements to standards and performance, or at least maintain the status quo if everything is working well. Quality assurance is different to quality control which seeks to find problems. Quality assurance seeks to avoid problems, stabilise, and improve products and services.
Quality assurance should take place in education and training establishments to ensure the products and services are the best they can be. The product is the programme or qualification that the learner is working towards. The service is everything which underpins the product and supports the learner. If quality assurance does not take place, there are risks to the accuracy, consistency and fairness of training and assessment practice, which might disadvantage learners. Quality assurance should be a continual process with the aim of maintaining and improving the products and services offered.
Internal quality assurance (IQA) relates to monitoring the full process learners go through. This is in addition to quality assurance which should take place to monitor other aspects besides the learning process. IQA monitors the whole process from when a learner commences to when they finish i.e. the full learner journey. It can also take place prior to the learner commencing i.e. monitoring the application and interview process, to after they have left i.e. following up on progression.
Internal quality assurers are often supervisors or managers and are naturally responsible for staff, systems and procedures. Some are still working as assessors and performing both roles. That's absolutely fine as long as they don't IQA their own assessment decisions, as that would be a conflict of interest. Some smaller organisations might only have one assessor and one internal quality assurer, which again is fine providing they remain fully objective when carrying out their role. Some small teams, i.e. one assessor and one internal quality assurer can swap roles and IQA each other's assessment decisions. Again, it's not a problem unless the awarding organisation deems it is. It could be considered a good way of standardising practice, as they will be monitoring each other regularly to ensure consistency.
As a minimum, an internal quality assurer should:
- plan what will be monitored, from whom and when
- observe trainer and assessor performance and provide developmental feedback
- sample assessment records, learners' work and assessor decisions
- meet with learners and others, for example, witnesses from the workplace
- facilitate the standardisation of assessor practice
- support assessors.
Internal quality assurance cycle
Depending upon the subject, the IQA cycle will usually be followed as in the diagram below. The cycle will continue to ensure the training and assessment process is constantly monitored and improved if necessary.