A risky business…? Observations on quality assuring the Skills Post-16 project

Practitioners and managers are familiar with principles and systems of effective quality assurance in organisations.  We routinely work with internal and external QA scrutiny and with each institution’s ‘take’ on how theories such as ‘Total Quality Management’ or process improvement can be applied to various contexts.  But there are particular challenges in devising and implementing a QA strategy that works for a team of consultants delivering a publicly funded and externally scrutinised, pan-Wales project with national reach and impact.

The content and aim of the project from the outset were integral to the way that the QA strategy was established and further developed. Essentially, the team devised a programme – complete with modular structure and associated resources – to support FE, WBL and ACL practitioners in their implementation of the new GCSE, Welsh Baccalaureate and Essential Skills qualifications. Training sessions with sector staff were central to creating a task force of skilled staff to take the programme forward and ensure its sustainability in all sectors.

From the start of the project, our QA aims were to ensure

  • Effective identification and management of risk
  • Maintenance of standards
  • Consistency of delivery
  • Measurement of impact

At this level of national engagement, compiling and regularly updating a project level Risk Register proved vital.  Anticipating and reviewing risks related to roles and responsibilities, finance, quality and achieving deadlines were valued agenda items at all team meetings.  Any project of this nature and at this level must assess and resolve risk formally and collectively.

The team worked together with colleagues in three regional groups to create resources and deliver training sessions: all of which were quality assured.  New resources and materials were quality assured before use and a representative sample of sessions were subject to observer evaluation.  Impartiality was a challenge though the team enhanced this by developing better documentation and focusing more on future sustainability.

Consistent delivery was achieved by regular scrutiny of participant feedback (collected and collated electronically) and its correlation with observer evaluation data.  As with any online system, there were glitches but successive improvements meant better and more meaningful analyses and reports were available when needed.

Measurement of overall impact was a challenge – quantitative data was retrieved from project records and progress reports identified key milestones, but sometimes it was the less tangible and more qualitative indicators that were the most compelling… We focussed on how these could be captured: testimonial evidence from staff at all levels, powerful statements in feedback, inputs from practitioners at events will all feature large in our summary dissemination conference!

In conclusion, QA of the project was very different yet very similar to systems and practice you probably have in your own organisation. It was subject to all too familiar stresses on compliance caused by pressures on time and available resources. Ensuring that success was documented and challenges resolved was central, together with focussing on the project legacy – practitioners who are well-informed, confident and empowered with resources to meet the challenges of the new qualifications.

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About LlinosThomas

llinos.thomas [a] colegaucymru.ac.uk
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