Quality Assurance Versus Quality Improvement

We recently sent out a paper to our schools called “Achieving Excellence.” The original Achieving Excellence paper was devised five years ago and set out how the authority would go about its review of schools. A key principle of the process was the notion of the authority providing “support and challenge”. The new version has moved away from the “support and challenge” to “support and validate” – we reckon that the jobs provides enough of a challenge – in fact to be a professional means that the challenge comes from within!

We believe that the key to school improvement is rigorous self-evaluation. If such a process can be developed then the role of the authority become very clear i.e. the validation of the school’s own judgements.

What’s been interesting in this process is how people are still locked into certain perspectives – no matter how many times one might try to demonstrate that a new outlook pervades the system.

As I’ve explored elsewhere the local authority is obliged to develop school review procedures and has to “review the quality of education which the school provides” Standards in Scotland’s Scools Act 2000. Many other authorities have gone for a quality assurance procedure, i.e. check the end point. My own philosophy is directly opposed to this point of view , i.e. it’s too late to find out that the widgets coming off the line are faulty – we need to move quality control into the hands of the practitioners – move things “upstream” In such a perspective the judgement of the practitioner is vital in the cycle of improvement – the role of the local authority in such a system becomes self-evident – we need to validate internal judgements.

What has been interesting in reading responses to the paper -which suggests such things as Quality Improvement Officer visits to classrooms; discussions with teachers and pupils; attendance at senior management team meetings are seen by some as being “inspectorial”. I need to keep reminding myself that people’s opinions have been shaped by what they know – their experience. It’s going to take some time to convince people that what we are seeking to do is to create new model – a model of partnership – where we trust schools and they trust us. To that end the role of Quality Improvement Officer is identical to the critical friend:

A critical friend is someone who:

  • has a license to help’
  • is external to the situation
  • builds and maintains a relationship of trust
  • brings a breadth and depth of relevant knowledge and experience, to a specific situation which he or she seeks to understand
  • establishes, and adheres to, clear foci and boundaries for the task in hand
  • balances friendship and critique, through personal support and professional challenge
  • motivates and reassures
  • is facilitative rather than directive, operating particularly through asking questions and providing feedback
  • has a well developed understanding of the complexities of change processes;
  • is an advocate for the success of the work
  • is concerned for the outcomes and effectiveness of the work, and its effect on a whole range of people
  • seeks to enable those he or she works with to become more self-sufficient and skilled at self improvement
  • from a transactional analysis viewpoint, seeks to operate with adult-adult relationships
  • can be viewed as an educational connoisseur and critic.

The overall aim of a critical friendship is to support improvement through empowerment, by demonstrating a positive regard for people, and providing an informed critique of processes and practices.
Sue Swaffield 2003

It’s not surprising that some of the words in the document “achieving excellence” have put the “willies” up some folk, e.g. “moderator”, “monitor” – maybe we need to explore new words if “old” words carry such negative connotations from what people have known in the past.