In 2007 an interesting Leonardo project was completed by the ITB Bremen, referring to the "Quality Development and Quality Assurance with Labour Market Reference for the Vocational Education and Training System in the Metal Sector" (QUALIVET). The final report points out "VET institutions will be allowed in a short time to act with a high level of autonomy, yet they are not obliged in some countries to prove their ability to further develop that quality. VET institutions are increasingly supported by quality management systems. These have already proven that they are suitable for administration or industry; however they seem less qualified to be adopted for vocational and educational training purposes. While quality management systems such as ISO 9000:2005 or EFQM explicitly approach organisations they do not genuinely address the quality of learning offers."
Following the finding that current quality management systems do not cover the needs of vocational education and training, and do not take in account the quality of learning offers the project developed a quality development system, covering quality indicators needed to assess the learning offers and methods to secure the implementation, use and success of this system, which shall support trainers to identify new quality demands that result from higher-ranking requirements, e.g. curricula.
Based on the results of a series of case studies, undertaken in the participating countries the project comes to the following conclusions:
(Text from final report)
The European Quality Assurance Framework (CQAF) postulates to cover “at the same time … all the core criteria for promoting quality in VET” and also respects “the different local choices within each Member State”. This is, however, also the fate of the CQAF. With this postulation the CQAF can only remain very vague and does not even basically answer the question of quality in VET. Even if the idea to amend the European Qualification Framework (EQF) by a European Quality Assurance Framework (CQAF) is very interesting it has to be stated that the entire character of the CQAF has so far been formulated only in a very abstract way. Also the direction of the discussion of concretisation remains in the dark. Therefore it is crucial to influence the shaping process from a concrete vocational pedagogical perspective whenever relevant and to add a notion of quality which is not only clearly describing the term but which also places the issue of competence development in young people in the centre of all reflections and concrete implementation measures.
The European Common Quality Assurance Framework (CQAF) suggests that quality in vocational training can be clearly identified.
Every partner country of the QualiVet project is dealing with the issue of quality and/or quality assurance, albeit in very different ways. There are manifold activities and initiatives in terms of quality assurance and quality development in the partner countries of the QualiVet project.
- individual initiatives have normally no mutual relationships
- quality instruments are only used in a very segmented way and
- concepts developed on a European level so far play no or only a very limited role in schools and companies when it comes to qualification concepts.
The country reports and the case studies reveal an interesting spectrum with regard to quality initiatives. One of the pools characterises educational programmes (Czech Republic) which have to fit into a country-wide framework (Framework Educational Programme – FEP).
At the same time the quality development is selectively supported by school development programmes (School Educational Programmes – SEP) without resulting in formally secured national initiatives. The other pool consists of the development of quality assurance instruments aimed at the vocational educational systems in order to engage in an ongoing process of self-assessment and further development of school quality (cf. Austria).
It is, however, remarkable in all partner countries that these developments and the application of quality assuring measures represents an informal issue which is eventually supporting an extremely heterogeneous profiling of the instruments.
The countries between informal quality assurance and the desire for secured quality development
Quality development and quality assurance undoubtedly have a high significance in all participating countries. This is not only true in terms of argumentation but is also reflected in the real planning practice. As for both school and company based training it can, however, be stated that there are a number of initiatives for the development of quality instruments based on ISO, EFQM, Q2E etc. and that these instruments are already applied by various institutions.
However, there is no partner country stipulating a country-wide obligation to apply these instruments. As a rule the institutions do have the liberty to decide which instruments they are going to apply. This leads to a distinct heterogeneity when it comes to the use of different instruments and hampers to adapt both quality development and quality assurance to a comparable level because the quality levels to be aimed at are defined by individual institutions or companies.
Some European countries have created a legal framework supporting the quality development in vocational initial and further training. These chances are, however, only made use of in a very inadequate way.
Exemplary laws on quality development in vocational initial and further training count are e.g.:
- The Law on Adult and Professional Education of August 1, 1997 of the Netherlands. This law governs the secondary vocational education in the Netherlands and is meant to bring vocational education and industry closer together
- Quality monitoring in the UK public sector emanates from the Financial Management Initiative launched in 1982 and published in 1986. The Thatcher government was convinced that the public sector gains in efficiency and that great gains in efficiency could be brought about what was suggested as “the introduction of private sector management techniques and explicitly commercial objectives”. In the Further Education (FE) sector, the external “change agent” came in 1992 through the Further and Higher Education Act. This Act converted Further Education Colleges from Local Education Authority Institutions to independent publicly funded Cooperation. The aim was to allow colleges to organise their own businesses better to meet the requirements. Eventually this led to the fact that educational facilities engaged in quality development and an assessment
- The Berufsbildungsgesetz (Vocational Act) in Germany regulates the entire vocational education and training system including the quality requirements. The Vocational Act was first passed by the Bundestag Federal Parliament) in 1969.
- It is interesting to note that the British approach has very well developed in the meantime. Some agents responsible for the inspection apply precise “Performance Providers” focussing on the quality of learning. Nevertheless the mentioned exemplary regulations are exclusive national procedures which so far have no direct impact on the European discussion and have therefore neither influenced the entire development nor the work of individual projects with a view to Europe. It would therefore be very useful to check whether national instruments could be applied also for the transnational work in projects.
The term of quality is lucrative and very well suited to serve as a political keyword. So far there is no clear-cut definition of the term of quality.
The term of quality has so far not been unambiguously defined – in spite of a great number of definitions in existence. According to the German Vocational Act (§ 1, para. 3) the term describes the vocational ability to act, i.e. the ability to “carry out a qualified vocational skilled work in a changing world of work.” The CQAF defines: “Quality is context-dependent, i.e. without a concrete context it would be difficult (and meaningless) to define quality … Quality = fulfilment of goals. One achieves quality when the activities fulfil the goals.” Both definitions do not clarify the importance of quality during a learning process or during competence development and what it is as such. Quality remains an abstract term and thus can well be exploited by politics. European projects dealing with the term of quality are therefore facing the challenge to aim at three objectives:
1. They have to agree upon a term of quality to be applied within the project work and which is also justifiable in a European context.
2. The notion of quality of a project consortium must also be transportable on a national level.
3. Every notion of quality, every term of quality must be precisely defined in order to make a statement for learning and the results of learning – eventually for competence development.