The quality network for VET providers
In the Netherlands, within an overarching education framework set by the government, VET providers (schools) have a high level of autonomy. Each school is responsible for the quality of training and education. The education inspectorate monitors schools’ capacity to assure and improve quality. The inspectorate uses a risk-based monitoring system which results in less monitoring when a school has proven it is capable of monitoring and improving its own quality. However the inspectorate increases its monitoring when problems are detected.
Within this framework 43 schools cooperate in a Quality Network (www.kwaliteitsnetwerk-mbo.nl). The participants support each other to improve the quality of their education and training. This support includes sharing information and experiences, training staff to review the quality of VET provision and reviewing the system of quality assurance used by a school to monitor and improve VET. The Quality Network aims to review all its member organisations every three years.
The external review on a VET provider’s quality assurance system is performed by an audit team of four people. The audit team includes members of schools participating in the network and is led by an independent auditor. The first day of the audit involves discussions with managers, education and support staff. The main aim is to get an impression on how the organisation’s quality assurance system works. The second day is used to investigate the work of two education teams in order to understand how the quality assurance system operates at a team level. A report is then compiled and sent to the VET provider’s Board. The VET provider is invited to publish the report’s conclusions and the quality profile of the organisation.
The Quality Network organises training for staff from VET providers so they can become an auditor. Once an individual has completed the course, and produced a portfolio of evidence from a number of reviews, the auditor can be certified and included in a register of reviewers.
The work of the network is largely financed by its members who pay a yearly contribution. The network receives some funds from the Ministry.
This case study illustrates how providers plan and implement cooperative initiatives with other VET providers. The VET providers work together to improve the quality of their provision and the effectiveness of their quality assurance approaches. The network also increases transparency in relation to quality and this helps to increases the effectiveness of the quality assurance systems. This type of cooperation provides insight for schools into how they can improve the quality of their education provision.
VET schools have the freedom to decide how to assure the quality of education. The value of the Quality Network is demonstrated by the number of schools that choose to become a member (43 from approximately 65 VET schools in the Netherlands). The number of schools wishing to join continues to increase. Being part of the Network helps schools to take more responsibility for the quality assurance of provision which helps to strengthen the schools’ ‘ownership’ of quality assurance.
The decision to join the Network and participate in its system of peer review shows a VET school is serious about its responsibility for the quality of its core business i.e. the education and training of young people. The VET provider’s ability to produce a positive report from the Network’s review gives the government confidence that the organisation can improve or at least maintain its educational quality. It is common for VET providers to meet the standards set by the government. In addition the Network has produced its own set of quality standards that each organisation should be able to meet.
The Network also provides more transparency in the quality between schools. For members of the schools’ Board it is useful to discuss the quality of education and how it can be improved. These discussions lead to a better understanding of the quality of education. This cross-school approach is also valuable to other members of staff and teachers.
As part of the Network’s external review, consideration is given to the quality assurance system that is used by the VET provider. This contrasts with the approach used by the Inspectorate which focuses on the quality of individual courses. Underlying the Network’s approach is the belief that it is the system that helps to raise the quality of training and individual courses to the required level. Because of the different perspectives and standards, the review by the Network cannot replace the monitoring by the Inspectorate. The framework of the Inspectorate continues to be in the lead as this reflects the needs and wishes of society. This means schools experience investigations by the Inspectorate and reviews by the Network.
Not all schools have joined the Network. One of the arguments from schools that have not joined is that the Network review interferes with their own system of quality assurance and does not contribute to raising the quality of education. Some schools are part of other networks as increasingly more schools work together and complete audits. Some of these other networks are not particularly formal and have a small number of members. But the work they do is similar to this Network.
A challenge is to use the results of the audit across the whole of the school. Vocational education in the Netherlands is characterised by large schools which have on average 10,000 students. The audit results are discussed at the central level of the organisation, but directors and managers have to ensure that the results are applicable and useful for teachers and have an impact on practice.
Even though there is some funding from the Ministry, the Network is independent. The members decide what the Network will do. By making funding available the Ministry expects some outcomes from the Network’s activities but, because of its independence which is one reason for its success, it is not possible for the Ministry to ask for particular results. There is a question about whether the Network could be financially independent of the Ministry. The hope is that the VET schools will value the work of the Network enough to finance it.