Until recently, quality in further education was less a genuine goal than a fashion statement - everyone else was promising it, so why not FE?
But that was before the Further Education Funding Council circular which laid down requirements for a recognised system of quality assurance. Cash penalties could result from even partial failure to meet these conditions. Almost overnight, quality was transformed from an option into an obligation.
Fortunately, staff at the Mid-Warwickshire College have developed a package that will help other colleges satisfy the demands of the new system. The FE Quality Solution contains student questionnaire templates as well as advice on FE quality procedures, while the database program it runs on, Pinpoint 3 for Windows, offers questionnaire design and survey analysis.
While the first few pages of The FE Quality Solution are taken up with issues that will be only too familiar to most if not all colleges - the role of the academic board, the need for regular student surveys and the like - the questionnaire templates offer far more promise.
The 10 disc files cover such matters as students' and employers' responses to work placements, student responses to teaching, a student exit survey and a higher education feedback form. Each questionnaire is clearly written and well laid-out, though by using Pinpoint 3 for Windows as an engine, the questionnaires can be customised to fit the requirements of individual colleges.
Once finished, questionnaires can be printed as camera-ready copy, published either electronically on disc or by e-mail, or can be captured directly to an answer sheet, an on-screen version of the finished document.
Some colleges might prefer to design their own questionnaires. The Pinpoint Form Designer, makes this time-consuming task comparatively simple. The system offers many extra options (multiple choice, yesno, ordered choice and others) for user response.
The program provides an abundance of other attractive features. For example, a cross-tabulation tool enables users to compare the answers to any question against the answers to any other type of question. A wide variety of statistical techniques also can be applied to analyse results.
An indexing facility enables fast searches to be made for sheets containing an indexed answer, while alignment options ensure a symmetrical layout. And, as a sample presentation shows, drawing and design aids enable users to present findings both clearly and attractively: table and exploded pie charts, combination graphs and ribbon graphs alongside conventional tables are only some.
Pinpoint can be used for testing a wide range of competencies on the general national vocational qualification advanced information technology course. All this, plus an excellent user's guide and an extremely useful help facility, makes The FE Quality Solution and Pinpoint 3 for Windows precisely what it claims to be - a package that FE colleges could find costly to ignore.
For 386 IBM compatible or higher, Windows 3.1 or higher, 4 megabytes of memory and 4 megabytes of hard-disc space Pounds 499 single user from Longman Logotron, 124 Cambridge Science Park, Milton Road, Cambridge CB4 4ZS