Hoornbeeck College provides VET training and education for those wishing to enter a practical profession. This requires the acquisition of the right knowledge, skills and attitude based on training which includes theory and practice with strong connections between both parts of the training programme. Work-based learning, including assessment, gives students an opportunity to demonstrate what they can do and what they have learnt. For learners to be successful the quality of provision has to be high and this includes the quality of the assessment process. For Hoornbeeck College an important basis for securing and improving their quality is the plan-do-check-act cycle. Alongside the cyclical nature of quality improvement, it is important that those undertaking the learners’ assessments are conscious of the need for quality and that they work with a culture of quality. To create this environment Hoornbeeck College encourages a high level of professionalism and the establishment of appropriate procedures.
Part of Hoornbeeck College’s assessment on its health and welfare sector courses is work-based. It is conducted through an aptitude test which allows students to demonstrate they can function as a beginning professional. The test and its instruments are provided by the VET provider but the assessment is completed by an assessor from the workplace.
Recently, the quality assurance processes for this assessment have been revised. This arose as a result of a negative judgment during an inspection. The Examination Committee which has responsible for the quality of the assessment was given one year to improve its approach and show improvements in its quality assurance. As this is a short time to implement change, the new design and implementation followed shortly after each other. An important principle of the new design is the development of a uniform approach where as many companies as possible use the same approach and work collaboratively. The use of a common set of procedures provides greater clarity.
Hoornbeeck College’s new procedures have divided quality into three phases; pre-test, during the test and after the test. Each phase has a set of activities to ensure quality. Before the test begins, quality is based on the design of clear procedures, strong agreements with the work-place and the signing of a statement on the expertise of the work-based assessors. During the testing process, the quality is guaranteed by a teacher from the VET provider visiting a random sample of employers. This is to evaluate whether the assessment is undertaken in line with the agreed procedures using the right level of quality. After the test, the quality is guaranteed by student and workplace evaluations and by an evaluation from the VET teacher and the Examination Committee. In this new system the importance of the Examination Committee in assuring quality has grown. It has a more explicit role and more responsibility. In addition employers in the sector also feel their responsibility has increased.
An important step in the new approach has been staff training and information for the stakeholders. This is helping the VET provider increase the expertise of all those who are involved with the test. During the training participants increase their expertise but they also get to know the procedures and the importance of following the procedures. Individual employers are also kept informed through individual meetings with the VET teacher and by attending meetings for all employers where issues can be discussed and information exchanged.
In the VET school and in the companies, there is a growing awareness of the importance of the quality of the aptitude tests. Within the VET school, the judgment of the inspectorate contributed to the need to exercise more control over the quality of tests in the workplace.
Challenges and factors for success
To ensure the success of the new approach, Hoornbeeck College has:
- designed a clear quality assurance procedures for each of the three phases of work-based assessment;
- on the basis of these procedures, training and information meetings are held to explain the procedures, increase the expertise of staff. This is in response to the College’s desire for more control over the quality;
- training for work-based assessment is part of the quality assurance process – it is not an end in itself;
- responsibility for the quality of examination has increasingly moved to the managers. Before the change was introduced this was seen as something for VET staff but now the managers are concerned about quality. This is a process that will take time to embed but because the new approach to quality is well supported by managers, the College is confident it will succeed. Managers are expected to provide a good example to their teams and individual teachers.
One challenge facing the College is developing the right culture in both the college and the companies. When the responsibility for the quality of examinations is still primarily with the VET provider, it is difficult to ensure that the work-based settings also take a part of the responsibility. Developing a shared understanding that it is important to develop well-trained novice professionals is central to this task. Companies are open to new procedures regarding quality assurance partly because, in the field of health care, they are used to working with quality procedures. However companies also demonstrate resistance to some of the quality assurance procedures for example the sampling system used by the College. This is seen as a check on individuals’ work rather than a check on the quality of the work. To improve this, the College has spent more time explaining the purpose of the sampling system which aims to control the execution of procedures rather than the actions of people.
This case study shows how external review (in this case inspection) can be used to support the improvements in the quality of work-based assessment. Change has involved staff in the VET school and employees of companies. A key lesson has been the need to think carefully about the design of the entire process and the impact of individuals’ professionalism before beginning a process of reform. Following this design stage, a careful implementation plan needs to be introduced. This should allow everyone to gain experience, evaluate the experiences and adjust the original plans – in this way quality can be improved further.