Many of you might deliver and assess qualifications which are certificated via an awarding organisation (AO). At some point, you will have contact with an external quality assurer (EQA) perhaps during a visit, via a remote verification, on the telephone or by e-mail. If you are not familiar with their role, hopefully you will gain some insight from this article.

External quality assurers will monitor your centre's processes and practice to ensure they meet the awarding organisation, qualification and regulatory requirements. However, the EQA role is not just about ensuring compliance, it's also about supporting centre staff, and giving advice and guidance to help them improve. Don't wait to ask your EQA any questions, or inform them of any changes until they visit, keep in touch throughout the year and build up a good working relationship.

Ofqual approves and regulates awarding organisations. AOs need to comply with their General Conditions of Recognition (2012 updated Nov 2014). This document sets out certain conditions which AOs must ensure their centres adhere to. Examples include managing conflicts of interest, identifying and managing risk, and dealing with malpractice. Unfortunately, practice does differ between AOs, however, at least this document goes some way to ensuring certain standards are maintained. If you work with several AOs, you may wonder why they differ, and why they don't standardise their practice when they expect you to.

An EQA should be up to date with the qualification content and the requirements for delivery and assessment, as well as any relevant regulations. It's also a good thing if the EQA is currently delivering and assessing the qualification themselves, so they can appreciate things from both sides.

I remember many years ago when I had my first visit from an external verifier (EVs as they were known then) I was terrified. I was concerned they would focus on what was wrong and not what was right. My manager told me to give them lots of tea and biscuits, take them out to lunch and talk to them about their holiday. This was back in the 80s (showing my age now) and to my surprise, we did more talking about other things than the qualification. Sometimes, there was no logical reason why their report asked me to do something, but I never queried it. As time progressed, I managed the college's EV visits for 98 qualifications. The practice of the EVs varied widely between awarding organisations and subjects. Over the years, I saw many changes which brought in detailed reports and clearer action points. I also became an EV myself, which opened my eyes to not only a lot of good practice, but a lot of bad practice too.

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Nowadays, taking an EQA out to lunch could be construed as a bribe. The reports are more focused and risk ratings are often used. Sanctions can be recommended if something is wrong. However, if you are given an action point that you do not feel is right, ask your EQA 'where does it say that I have to do that?' If it's not written down in the qualification specification or relevant documents, it can't be enforced. It can however be added to the report as an improvement point. Also, an EQA can only recommend a sanction if things are not right, it's the AO that has the final say.

The following list gives some aspects of the EQA role (in alphabetical order):

  • advising and supporting centre staff on an ongoing basis (not just during visits)

  • approving centres to offer qualifications,

  • communicating with centre staff and the awarding organisation on an ongoing basis

  • completing a report of what was sampled, highlighting any action and improvement points, and judging whether the centre has a low, medium or high risk rating

  • ensuring a centre's policies, procedures, systems and resources meet awarding organisation, qualification and regulatory requirements

  • ensuring centre staff interpret, understand and consistently apply the correct standards and requirements

  • ensuring centre staff standardise their practice

  • ensuring learners are registered with the awarding organisation within the required timescale (learners who are not registered will not be sampled by the EQA)

  • ensuring the accuracy and consistency of assessor and internal quality assurer decisions

  • giving guidance to centre staff regarding the qualification content and requirements

  • identifying issues and trends, for example, if all assessors are misinterpreting the same aspect of something

  • keeping accurate, full and confidential records

  • monitoring and auditing the full learner journey from commencement to completion e.g. information, advice and guidance (IAG), recruitment, initial assessment, induction, training, formative and summative assessment, decision making, feedback, support for progression opportunities

  • monitoring risk within a centre i.e. when new standards are introduced, or if there is a high staff turnover

  • observing assessment, feedback and IQA practice

  • planning what will be monitored, and communicating this beforehand to all concerned within the awarding organisation's timescales

  • recommending a sanction if there are problems

  • releasing certification rights (known as direct claims status) when they are performing satisfactorily or recommending removal of direct claims status if necessary

  • sampling assessed and internally quality assured learners' work (and records) according to a planned strategy, and making decisions based on facts

  • updating their own continuing professional development (CPD) regarding subject knowledge and EQA practice

  • using technology where relevant, for example, sampling remotely via a virtual learning environment (VLE).

Your learners, when they successfully complete a qualification, will receive a certificate with the awarding organisation's name on, as well as your centre name. Therefore, the EQA must ensure everything is in order, or their reputation, as well as your centre's, could be brought into disrepute.

Please remember, an EQA is there to help and support you. Never be afraid of asking them anything, either during their visit, or by getting in touch with them between visits.

If you wish to find out more about the EQAs role, you can take the unit: Understanding the principles and practices of externally assuring the quality of assessment. This is a knowledge based unit for anyone who wishes to know about the theory of external quality assurance. You do not need to carry out any external quality assurance activities to achieve this unit.

Ann Gravells is an author, creator of teacher training resources and an education consultant - she can be contacted via her website: www.anngravells.co.uk

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This article is adapted from Achieving Your Assessment and Quality Assurance Units by Ann Gravells http://www.anngravells.co.uk/taqa.html

The next article from Ann Gravells will be: Quality assurance in an educational or training establishment.

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