Bloggers should always be careful what they say! In my first blog in this series I posed the question: since culture is concerned with taken-for-granted values and attitudes, what should they be in relation to quality? It's a question that's been bothering me ever since. Is it actually possible to define these values and attitudes and, more generally, what would be the knowledge and skills that would also be needed?
To try to find answers to these questions I have revisited some of the recent key publications on both professional development and quality management in adult learning. The process leads in some interesting directions.
First, it seems that in relation to key competences for adult learning staff in general, quality tends to be treated implicitly rather than explicitly. This seems to be true, for example, of the EC-funded research study Key Competences for Adult Learning Professionals which mentions quality throughout.
What about the competences that might be required to run quality systems? Can these be identified? The EC-funded QALLL project found that capacity building/training was addressed by only a few projects. The dominant approach seemed to be based on “knowing the model" rather than a wider approach to quality. It also found that “… quality management and especially evaluation are not considered areas in which educational staff–apart perhaps from Quality Management staff–need special skills."
So quality in relation to professional competences seems to be treated in two different ways: either implicitly for staff in general, an approach which seems to take it for granted that quality is pursued, or explicitly for staff who run quality systems.
It seems to me this is quite a risky setup. The risk is that quality is seen to be someone else's responsibility and/or associated with complying with the requirements of a particular model. At worst, this can lead to “box ticking". Of course, this is not to say that people don't believe in quality. Who wouldn't? But if we take it for granted that quality is embedded in competence profiles then the risk is it remains buried rather than brought to the surface.
Maybe this is an academic point without any real practical consequences. However, more worrying is the fact that self-assessment is probably the dominant approach to quality and yet we appear to expect adult learning professionals to implement it without identifying the competences and training they need.
At the same time, maybe it wouldn't be the right approach to try to isolate a set of key knowledge, skills and attitudes/behaviours that relate directly to the quality concept. Perhaps this would be to misunderstand quality itself which somehow needs to bring together the mechanisms of quality systems with the taken-for-granted values which were our starting point for this blog.
But, as the QALLL project pointed out, the identification of specific competence profiles seems to be rare, even when associated with quality management systems. This seems paradoxical, given the vast amount of literature developing on this subject in general. For example, the UK Chartered Quality Institute has a competence framework. But again this doesn't cover how we deal with quality for all adult learning staff.
Am I struggling in vain? Are these questions important at a practical level or merely interesting ideas for the staffroom?
Andrew McCoshan has worked in education and training for over 20 years. For the last 10 years he has specialised in policy development studies and evaluations for the EU, and before that was a consultant in the UK. Andrew is currently a freelance consultant, an Associate with the UK Higher Education Academy, an ECVET Expert for the UK, and a Member of the UK Education & Employers Taskforce Research Group.