22 SES 02 C, Reforms, Rankings & Quality Assurance
Quality Assurance (QA) in Higher Education (HE) is increasingly characterised by variety and dynamism; innovative approaches are being developed to adapt rapidly to changing policy and economic contexts (ENQA, 2012:5). In their third investigation into QA practices in HE, the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) sought information about innovation ‘in the processes (measures, contents, methods, approaches, tools), in the object (new areas of interest, new social groups) or in the context (adaptation or improvement on the current conditions, starting-up new networks)’ (ENQA, 2012:17). We report on an investigation into an innovative collaborative QA process based on a combination of all three elements, but particularly the development of a network of HE award providers. Although this group of providers were competing in an open market for students, they are developing a collaborative QA process based peer review.
The investigation was carried out in the spirit of an Appreciative Enquiry (Cooperrider and Srivastva, 1987), framed by Activity Theory and our research questions were shaped by the six nodes of Engeström's Activity Theory model (Engeström,1987,1999) namely:
Who is involved? What are their roles? What are the intended outcomes and purposes of the QA process? What is involved in the QA process? Who else is interested in the Provider Group's work? What values support the work? What makes the work more difficult?
The policy context for this Award is important in motivating the development of the QA network – referred to here as the 'Provider Group’. In 2009 it became law that all new Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCos) SENCos should gain a National Award for Special Educational Needs Coordination. Statutory Guidance (DfE 2015) outlines the responsibilities of SENCos working in schools as strategic leaders for SEN. The Award training is designed to address the strategic and leadership aspects of the SENCo role, and is a 60-credit qualification, undertaken at Master’s level.
Quality assurance of the Award was initially overseen by a national body which undertook a number of two-day inspections. Award providers also reported directly to the government’s Department for Education on a regular basis, and the Department also carried out financial audits. Private providers had to link with a Higher Education Institution (HEI) to validate the Award. This changed in 2014 when the government ended the system of national provider accreditation, thereby opening up Award training to the market and allowing new providers to offer training without the formal recognition previously granted by government agencies.
In response to these developments, HEIs offering the Award took the unusual step of forming a voluntary collaborative network through which they aim to maintain the integrity and enhance the quality of the Award training. Through this process providers, who were in essence in competition to attract students to undertake the Award at their own institutions, worked together to design a set of processes to monitor the quality of the Award and ensure it remains responsive and relevant to classroom practice and children’s needs. The Provider Group developed a ‘Quality Standards Framework’ to capture their understandings of quality and devised peer-monitoring processes to implement this framework.
Our analysis has drawn on research into HEI quality assurance and quality enhancement as a continuum (Elassy, 2015) but with different developmental trajectories shaped by differences in approaches to quality (Green 1994). Mindful of research findings of a performative/gaming approach to quality by academics (e,g Anderson (2006) we were also prompted to look at the role of values and motivation in the Provider Group members' decision to work together on Award quality, and the role of the particular policy context that brought the group together.
The research was conducted in the spirit of an Appreciative Enquiry, which seeks to engage stakeholders who are open to the possibility of self-determined change (Cooperrider and Srivastva,1987). We also drew on Developmental Work Research, which is based on the contributions and insights of those involved in the work and is an established methodology for investigating processes in changing, complex environments. (Engeström, 1999; 1987). Data collection activities included two focus group interviews with members of the Central Working Group. In the first we asked the five participants to describe the QA process in detail, using prompts based on our research questions. Activity theory provided the framework for the interview schedules. We then analysed the data before returning for a second focus group interview with members of the central Working Group. This time we spoke to six participants, two of whom had participated in the first meeting. During this interview we clarified issues raised within the data and discussed ways in which the process might operate in the future. In the next phase we carried out one focus group interview with five participants from the wider Provider Group, using the prompts listed above. This was informed by the data collected from the first focus group with members of the central Working Group. Finally we carried out telephone interviews with ten members of the Provider Group (two of whom were members of the Working Group), again using the same interview schedule and informed by the first focus group interview with Working Group members.
Our analysis concluded that QA process clearly works well, in that it provides the rigour and checks that the Provider Group were seeking, although we identified several factors needed to support the continuation of peer review process. Furthermore our focus groups and interviews with providers revealed a genuine motivation to maintain and indeed enhance the quality of the Award. This was not a performative exercise to ‘tick a box’ on QA, but an activity undertaken voluntarily, and without payment, to nurture an Award about which providers clearly felt proud and protective. We consider the implications of this commitment to quality for other quality assurance procedures.
Anderson, G. (2006), “Assuring quality/resisting quality assurance: academics’ responses to “quality” in some Australian universities”, Quality in Higher Education, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 161-173. Cooperrider, D.L. and Srivastva, S. (1987) Appreciative Inquiry in organizational life . Research in Organizational Change and Development, Vol.1, pages 129-169. Department for Education / Department of Health (2015) Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years: Statutory guidance for organisations which work with and support children and young people who have special educational needs or disabilities, p.108, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/398815/SEND_Code_of_Practice_January_2015.pdf Elassy, N. (2015) "The concepts of quality, quality assurance and quality enhancement", Quality Assurance in Education, Vol. 23 Issue: 3, pp.250-261, https://doi.org/10.1108/QAE-11-2012-0046 Engeström, Y. (1987) Learning by expanding: An activity theoretical approach to developmental research. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit Oy.Green, D. (1994), What is Quality in Higher Education?, 1st ed., The Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University press, Buckingham. Engestrom Y. (1999) Innovative learning in work teams: analysing cycles of knowledge creation in practice. In Y. Engestrom R. Miettinen, & R.-L. Punamaki (Eds.), Perspectives on activity theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ENQA (European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (2012) Quality Procedures in the European Higher Education Area and Beyond Visions for the Future, Third ENQA Survey, ENQA Occasional Papers, No. 18; Available at http://www.enqa.eu/index.php/publications/papers-reports/occasional-papers/page/2/ Georgeson, J. and Passy, R., (2017) Review of the National Award for Special Educational Needs Coordination Provider Quality Assurance Process. Report for the Department for Education Green, D. (1994), What is Quality in Higher Education?, 1st ed., The Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University press, Buckingham.
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