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Driving Forward Quality Discussed at ALP Conference

“What technology would we need in 20 years to make war?”

So began a calm, measured and emphatic workshop entitled “QIA ““ The Way Forward”, headed up by an assured Andrew Thomson, Chief Executive of the Quality Improvement Agency (QIA) for Lifelong Learning. As though needing reminding of the escalating threat of a completely unskilled labour market, he used a peculiar comparison to striking effect: “The UK example ““ we own 50% of the wind energy in Europe, but there is no training to further develop wind farms, so we end up having to outsource to places like Germany and Holland.”

Compounding the argument with a disheartening set of statistics, he continued: “About 17 million adults cannot do Maths and English to the same standard as the average 11 year old. What we have to do is find out what skills we really need.” Though obvious, the point needed stressing: “To make more productivity, we need functional skills such as numeracy, literacy and Information Technology.” Pondering on a curious idiosyncrasy within IT, he commented: “The prevailing generation know less about IT than the upcoming generation.”

A Clear Message

Yet his message was clear: increase excellence across the board and the results will shine. “Our partners are critical for the economy. Tomorrow’s world will help to sustain the standard of living because we”re in a globalised world,” he said, giving the assembled delegates their fix of that buzzword “globalised”. But reciting an old Bill Clinton phrase, he quoted: “Globalisation is a fact, not a policy.” As for Lord Leitch, Mr. Thompson said: “The Leitch proposition is to have a competitive economy. Firstly, it is about high quality, in terms of excellence and employability. We don”t have the answer to a very important education question”. Which is? “What is the point of education?”

Failing to answer that, Mr Thomson did unveil the propositions behind the formulation of the new agency the QIA, which seemed straightforward enough. “We need to enable people to respond to reforms; generate enthusiasm for bettering themselves; and ultimately accelerate improvements.” On this theme of excellence: “If we want everyone to be excellent, we need to ask questions. Let’s be more the dynamic forward. We will fail if we think quality belongs to us and if we think we can tell people how to do their jobs.”


Outlining his organisation’s vision, Mr. Thompson said: “The QIA’s best role is to enable self-improvement. We need to get away from a “me and my organisation” mentality, and into “me and my sector”. We must promote the sharing of good ideas, because the answers for different areas come from different sources.” As though to drive home the point of self-improvement, Mr Thomson was compassionate and benevolent in his tone, clearly exemplifying his love of the sector: “We need to get people to stop thinking quality improvement belongs to a manager and into thinking that quality improvement belongs to themselves.”

When asked on the issue of better resource management, he responded enthusiastically: “Good ideas have a habit of taking a very long time to come about. Everyone is interested in how to do a better job, and the great thing is the desire is there to do better.” And mismanagement would be? “The least productive thing to do is to send people out on courses!” To which he received what can be termed a raucous response. “Inspection has to be about judging and shaping. The QIA needs to be a learning organisation,” he continued.

To bring down the curtain on the discussion he turned to the question of differential funding for better providers, saying, admirably: “There is the feeling that excellence is its own reward. The way forward is to readjust spending from poorly achieving and poorly managed providers to better quality, because essentially, you get more bang for your buck. Those thriving organisations are those that feel they could actually contribute to the overall picture, and that is what we want to encourage.”

Vijay Pattni

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