Picture painted is not always accurate, says principal

Geraldine Abrahams

Geraldine Abrahams reports college responses to HMI findings on standards and quality in Scottish further education

While agreeing with much of the recent HMI report, Linda McTavish, principal of Anniesland College is concerned about how some of the issues raised affect the college and indeed the sector.

"In our programme designs we were identifying good practice, looking at a more rigorous and quantifiable way of carry out programme design and good internal systems for documenting, but maybe there wasn't the documentary evidence before," she said.

She is anxious about the way student achievement is documented, especially in relation to part-time students.

"Sometimes people leave early and the documentation shows that they have withdrawn but it can be because the student has gained employment and while the statistic suggests a poor outcome we see that as an excellent result," she said.

"Post-destination statistics are collected when students have achieved completed the course but there may be early leavers prior to that, so there is an argument for the value-added approach looking at where people have started from and what they have achieved."

On the learning and teaching front, Anniesland uses a student questionnaire which it piloted for the Scottish Office, takes client views into account through the course board and looks at client satisfaction survey results. The curriculum management team also analyses questionnaire results.

According to Linda McTavish, the staff welcomes HMI making comments on teaching because of the inspectorate's standing. She also feels that the student achievement indicators are strongest at the moment in terms of programme achievement ratios.

Involvement with industry is also vital on a direct and indirect level and Anniesland College uses an advisory board and a student services and welfare committee that looks at funded programmes. Student and employer access to course boards is also seen as a priority The college operates two types of internal audit, one contract with accountancy firms and another where the auditors are staff members at the chalkface trained in internal auditing practices.

There is also a quality systems manager who sets up an annual programme of curriculum audit with both external and internal auditors and whose remit includes variety-programme design and registration procedures.

There has been some concern from staff at Anniesland about an over audit in the sector, as groups come in with similar criteria, and expect compliance to a standard and demand production of evidence. The measurement of quality in the sector has also been seen as the over-riding ethos.

"Yes, I think we've been counting it," said Ms McTavish. "I think we have been trying to improve it but I think it will take longer than a one-year fix.

"In any kind of course improvement, review is necessary in developing a culture of quality improvement based on teamwork and corporate responsibility. I think the report says that we are making progress in this but I think they are also saying that they want us to be much more evaluative in what we are doing, having the confidence to be critical of ourselves. That is what self determination in the sector is about."

She considers some of the Scottish-wide quality systems to be more about quality control and the management of quality rather than addressing the quality loop of constant improvement.

"Strategic quality management is at the centre of the organisation. But if you look at some of the quality auditing systems it is about compliance whereas if you look at total quality, it is more about delighting the customerlearner, " she said.

"I think you can improve national standards by making teaching and learning more innovative, challenging and exciting for the individual. I think the public bodies have to tell us where we are just now and then they have to set us the agenda to stretch us further."

Ms McTavish sees critical self-evaluation as the key to future improvement. She is confident that this will be effective because of the prevailing spirit of collaboration, although a major drawback in implementing this will be the coincidence of major curriculum change.

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