Quality of FET in the Education and Training Boards
A new report published by Quality and Qualifications Ireland provides an independent analysis of quality assurance of further education and training in the Education and Training Boards (ETB). Prepared by an independent group of international experts, the report analyses the first-ever quality assurance reviews of the 16 education and training boards (ETBs) which took place from March 2021 to May 2022.
Colleagues from across the ETB sector joined national key stakeholders at Killester College of Further Education in a morning of presentations, perspectives and discussion about the inaugural review and its findings:
- An overview of the findings in the sectoral report by the joint chairs of the sectoral report team, Frida Hengeveld and David Jones.
- The review process from the perspective of FET learners, Anna Jakobek (Sectoral Report Team), Jeremy Kennedy (Learner Reviewer GRETB & CMETB) and Vanessa da Silva (Graduate Learner - Quality Assurance Development Group, CDETB).
- David Leahy (CE GRETB) and John Fitzgibbons (Director of FET, Cork ETB) gave an insightful account of the review process from the point of view of the ETB. Whereas challenges were outlined, they both confirmed the review process to be a positive, encouraging and worthwhile experience.
- A discussion panel, chaired by former Principal of Killester College Rory O’Sullivan, consisted of key personnel from the sector:
- David Jones, Joint Chair – Sectoral Report Team
- Marie Gould, Head of Tertiary Education Monitoring and Reviews Unit, QQI
- William Beausang, Assistant Secretary, DFHERIS
- Dr Helen Murphy, Head of School of Lifelong Learning & Education, SETU
- Dearbháil Lawless, Chief Executive Officer, AONTAS
- John Fitzgibbons, Director of FET, Cork ETB
- Andrew Brownlee, Chief Executive Officer, SOLAS
The conversation focused on the main topics of the sectoral report and revealed, as one panel member noted, a “collective appetite for appropriate developments” in the sector. The discussion indicated a willingness from stakeholders to collaborate when addressing the challenges within FET highlighted in the sectoral report and, also, on the opportunities afforded by a tertiary sector. Further strengthening of learner voice in the FET sector was also strongly recommended during the discussion.
The report notes the considerable consistency in how quality assurance is managed across all 16 ETBs. Commitment to developing and improving quality assurance systems, governance and teams, learner-centred teaching and learning, meeting the needs of employers and supporting all types of learners were noted across the board.
The individual ETB reports include many examples of high-quality practice such as:
- the provision of continuing professional development for teaching staff,
- the provision of support to disadvantaged learners or those with additional needs,
- the provision of information to potential learners,
- the publication of information for external stakeholders,
- support for the recognition of prior learning and achievement.
Based on their review of all 16 quality review reports and interviews with ETB stakeholders, the sectoral report team has made five main recommendations.
ETB autonomy in relation to planning, implementing, monitoring and reviewing their approaches to quality assurance needs to be encouraged and strengthened.
To strengthen the development of a ‘quality culture’, ETBs need the resources and freedom to take ownership of their quality assurance processes. They also need to be more explicit about the quality assurance model they use to monitor and review the quality of their provision. In addition, the development of greater autonomy will require QQI to balance support for the sector with a clear understanding of what each ETB can be expected to achieve by themselves or with guidance from their representative organisation.
The quality assurance of the effectiveness of individuals’ teaching is underdeveloped and more needs to be done to improve its monitoring and evaluation.
This reflects the fundamental importance of the quality of teaching and learning to maintain and improve outcomes for learners. Irrespective of the type of performance management or monitoring system that is used (which may be developed at national or local level) its development should take account of the views of staff, learners, managers and other internal and external stakeholders.
The processes which are used to review and update programmes need to be strengthened.
The analysis of individual ETB reports highlights the lack of clarity in relation to how ETBs address the essential updating of programmes and qualifications. The reports note that programme development is a demanding task which cannot be done by full-time teaching staff as an extra responsibility. The sectoral report team recommends that QQI should initiate work with the ETB sector to clarify responsibilities, organise joint ETB programme development initiatives, and support ETBs in securing resourcing to undertake this aspect of their quality assurance function.
ETBs and the ETB sector need to make better use of quantitative data to support quality assurance.
Working with ETBs and the sector, QQI should provide clear guidance on how ETBs can develop a risk-based approach to using data. This data should be used to establish and monitor achievement against a small number of performance indicators (KPIs) and measure the impact of policy interventions on the quality of provision. This guidance should include examples of how the quality of individual centres, programmes and qualifications can be monitored and compared within an ETB and against the national average. In addition to individual ETBs setting their own quantitative targets or expectations, QQI should work with the sector to establish a small number of sector-wide quantitative targets for quality assurance which should be included in annual quality reporting.
Proposals for the organisation of the next external review of FET provision in ETBs
The inaugural review involved significant work for ETBs and QQI. The sectoral report team has reflected on possible next steps for QQI in meeting its external quality assurance responsibilities. The team believes, in the context of supporting greater autonomy and the use of data by ETBs for quality assurance purposes, that QQI should expect each ETB to use KPIs to complete an annual internal report on the effectiveness of the quality assurance of their FET provision. As set out in recommendation 3, this would be part of annual reporting to QQI. The outputs of these reports should be publicly available.
In addition to these recommendations, this report discussed a number of other considerations for improving the quality assurance of FET provision in the ETB sector:
- the importance of strengthening the learner voice in quality assurance,
- reducing the differences between learner experiences when these depend on which ETB centre provides FET,
- strengthening the quality assurance of work placements particularly through more systematic use of employer and learner feedback,
- reviewing the quality assurance approaches used in relation to blended and on-line learning,
- considering whether the provision of data through PLSS can be simplified,
- considering how to provide training and community education providers with access to an ETB’s quality assurance information,
- considering how to strengthen the ETB brand,
- considering how the sector and its representative organisation(s) can support the development of quality assurance procedures and best practice,
- considering how regional partnerships can enhance quality assurance,
- considering how ETB Boards can take oversight of the quality assurance of FET provision.