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How Stockport scaled the paper mountain

Ministers are as anxious as TECs and colleges to streamline external and internal assessment systems. Lucy Ward reports.

Stockport College is no exception to the rule that colleges are weighed down with bureaucracy and time-consuming paper-chasing to meet the demands of quality checks.

Staff in the midst of an inspection by the Further Education Funding Council have provided data suitable for three Training and Enterprise Councils (all with different systems), for the Higher Education Quality Council and for accrediting bodies checking assessment of vocational qualifications, not to mention the differing regimes of Investors in People, the UK quality standard and total quality management.

Much of the effort was wasteful, says the principal Dick Evans, who has played a key role in the North West project aiming for a unified approach to quality assurance.

"When you do these analyses, you are providing basically the same information in different ways at different times," he said. "But it is very difficult because you have got to respond to very rigid requirements imposed on you, particularly with the TEC system where the framework is not standard."

Staff became upset and angry as ever more bureaucracy was imposed. The burden had cost implications also.

"It was costing a great deal of money, even though it was very difficult to quantify," said Dr Evans. "As each of our budgets get squeezed, value for money is essential and that will only come from greater unity of framework and more sensible timings with better synchronising."

The North West project has proved a valuable exercise, the principal says. Identifying the common elements needed for all quality checks helped Stockport College to to improve self-assessment.

Jenny Cronin, head of curriculum, who headed the project within the college, found it led to an examination of approaches to quality in all aspects, not only teaching.

"It engaged staff from across the college, and required them to think very hard about services and products and examine how they could monitor quality, " she said. "We were also able to share materials with the other five colleges involved and pick up from their experiences."

Stockport's self-examination did not highlight any glaring gaps in internal quality checks, but confirmed there was duplication of effort. The college is working to ease the load with the aid of a computerised information database, kept up to date centrally but accessible across the college.

The system has an index making clear which data will meet the requirements of each quality assessment method.

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