In a shifting landscape, good practices allow education decision makers to stay in control while improving quality, balance and control.

The value of self-assessment and improvement planning in the face of significant change has long been recognised as good practice by colleges as they look to enter or move forward within a reformed further education market. 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 initiate quality assurance tools that will help you to make better judgements about the standard of education and training you provide. It’s also important to have a clear and concise understanding of how these help you make judgements against, for example, the Ofsted Common Inspection Framework.

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 honing in on the measures and QA activity, which actually have the greatest impact. There are five basic steps to help you to consider how good your provision is, either as a newcomer to the sector as an apprenticeship provider or as someone experienced looking to find efficiencies through reviewing current practice.

  • Understand your quality standards

A good starting point is to identify which quality standards you have to work with, the rewards for meeting the standard, 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 Common Inspection Framework can be enhanced reputation that drives 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 content learners able to achieve their goals and realise their potential.

But equally, a failing environment can be reflected by a poor reputation and loss of business. It can not only be difficult to win new training contracts with employers but the impact on staff can be deeply felt: it always hard to retain experienced staff while attracting high calibre people to poorly performing college, for example.

  • 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 be a good baseline on which to build your own measures, applicable in your own context.

If the standard has a grade profile, as is the case with the Ofsted Common Inspection framework, what indicators are relevant to each grade? Can you work with your teams to identify key quality indicators that allow you to measure your progress and end point against them, ensuring they are realistic as well as challenging?

  • 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 the purpose of them can be misinterpreted. There are many different methods for reviewing the quality of education and training taking place. These frequently range from analysing data, 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 the relevance to their own performance targets, why particular tools are deployed, the remit of those involved in quality assurance activity, and a willingness to reporting findings.

  • 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, it 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.

  • Mind the gap

After looking at the key quality indicators, quality assurance tools and frequency of use, map these against the standard you are judging yourself against.  Do you have 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.

Louise Doyle, director of quality assurance experts Mesma

Mesma has developed a downladable template which to help colleges, independent training providers and schools consider their approach to using quality improvement tools.

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