Contributing to improving the quality of technical education globally
In the early days of mesma, before our software application insightQ became an all-singing quality assurance management solution, we started life focused solely on organisational self assessment reporting and quality improvement planning.
Our business has evolved since then to not only supporting individual education providers, but also non-education businesses with apprenticeship provision and in recent years government agencies who oversee multiple providers with their forward-thinking quality improvement models. Throughout that time, we’ve stayed true to those self assessment roots.
Our goal is to contribute towards improving the quality of technical and vocational education globally. At the beginning, we may not have been quite so ambitious but the importance of making a meaningful difference was very much at our core. In simple terms the emphasis was on every education provider being the master of their own destiny, by having a clear line of sight to strengths and areas for improvement and where needed, taking action that has a positive impact on learners or service users.
Those principles of effective self evaluation have remained with us; supporting practitioners, teams and organisations to ask themselves what are we doing well? What isn’t going as well? How can we work collaboratively not only within our own organisation but with other like-minded organisations to share good practice and improve together?
It will come as no surprise to you that the name of the software aligns closely with Bolton’s definition of reflective practice; ‘paying critical attention to the practical values and theories which inform everyday actions, by examining practice reflectively and reflexively. This leads to developmental insight’. insightQ is named because of its insight into quality.
Self assess for yourself; not for inspection
Our mantra is to self assest first and foremost for your own learners, not for an external body. If you do the latter, you’ll bend it to suit that purpose and run the risk of losing some of the truthfulness that is needed for it to be useful.
Recently, it was encouraging (and slightly surprising!) to have so many people join us for our webinar looking at data in self assessment, using apprenticeships as an example.
Why this, why now?
I used a slide called ‘Why this, why now?’. I was referring to why we need to talk about self assessment and more specifically, why focus on it during this challenging time.
Based on reviewing hundreds of self assessment reports, I’ve summarised the six reasons why we need to talk about self assessment below…
- Sometimes, self assessment reports do not fully articulate clear strengths and weaknesses based on sound evidence
- Self assessment reports are often too long with more narrative than evaluation
- We are collecting too much data without using it to drive improvement
- Improvement plans are very often not clear enough on the impact actions are intended to have on learners
- The purpose of undertaking self assessment is too focused on the perceived requirements of an inspection/audit regime
- Self assessment can be labour intensive and a bit dull when not part of a culture that encourages meaningful self evaluation.
And five reasons why now…
- We are in an extreme situation where many of us are learning new knowledge and skills daily as we respond to this challenging way of working. Let’s capture that learning before we forget about it.
- In England, there is a helpful shift that my colleague Chris Jones referred to in our recent webinar as moving from the ‘archaeological dig’ of the Ofsted Common Inspection Framework to the Education Inspection Framework. It is an extremely helpful tool for improvement if used effectively. Providers are understandably still getting to grips with how to use it well.
- The need for good governance – holding people to account, building capacity and strategic direction setting – is increasingly in the spotlight in technical education. Self assessment plays a key role in all three.
- The cessation of Apprenticeship Frameworks with the wholesale move to Apprenticeship Standards in England will still be new for some people, teams or providers.
- Changes in provision are very likely as we emerge from the pandemic and therefore the need to develop capacity and capability to deliver it well.
What will we learn as we emerge from the pandemic?
I’ve recently found myself returning to research the role self evaluation plays in education internationally. The first reason for this is because we are working with a government agency to develop their countrywide quality assurance model of technical education. The second reason is, my own reflection on the current situation we are all living through and in England for example, the potential impact of a quality assurance system that is heavily reliant on external inspection.
The principles and requirement for self assessment feature in many quality assurance systems around the world. There are differences in the emphasis that is placed on both the process and any resulting formal report. I’m left wondering if those systems that have a greater focus on supporting provider-led quality assurance and a lesser focus on external inspection or audit will weather the storm better. Only time will tell.