Educational quality in a broad perspective. Recommendation on strengthening internal quality assurance and pupils’ evaluation (20 December 2018)
Education quality: changing patterns?
Surveys and international comparative education research point to declining performance of pupils for certain learning areas or subjects in primary and secondary education. Those clear flashing lights must be tackled. That does not mean that the debate on educational quality can only be about the extent to which (measurable) learning objectives are effectively achieved. The Vlor puts forward a broad vision on quality in education, in which many other quality expectations are also included. The starting point is the recently developed reference framework for quality in education, which is widely supported by all actors in the education field.
De Vlor fully opts for a vision of quality based on the professionalism of school teams, whereby quality is driven by goals (the attainment targets) and not by testing. That vision, with the school as the central actor, is also enshrined in decree. There is a historically grown, subtle balance between the constitutional freedom of education and government instruments, which contain a number of ‘guarantees’ (such as quality control by the inspectorate). Measurements at system level have a place in this, along with other instruments. However, the government must ensure that the current quality model, which controls quality through the final objectives, remains the starting point. The Vlor notes that this is under pressure due to the increasing demand for measurements.
Strengthen internal quality assurance
The reference framework for quality in education stresses the internal quality assurance of the schools. The Vlor asks the government to continue to focus on the conditions to support schools in working with this framework. Attention should be paid to the professional development of teachers and school teams and to making existing data more accessible to build an information-rich environment for schools. There must also be a more structural procedure for consultation with all education policy stakeholders on the results of surveys and international education research must also be strengthened. The Vlor wants to play a role in this.
The Flemish Government recently took a number of measures to tackle the flashing lights. The council is thinking in particular of the modernization of secondary education with new attainment targets and the reform of teacher training. The Vlor insists on monitoring and evaluating those innovations so that the PDCA cycle also closes at system level. In addition, the Council emphasizes that primary education also deserves its own plan for the future.
Primary schools are required by decree to take validated tests with their pupils as part of their broader quality policy. Secondary education has no tradition of working with standardized tests at the end of a year or degree. Here too, the Vlor advocates maintaining the quality model with control via goals and not via testing. If such measurement moments were to be introduced in secondary education, the Vlor sees them as part of the broad quality policy of schools and there are a number of important preconditions. The purpose and limitations must also be clearly defined in that case, taking into account the complex and changing context of secondary education.
Strengthen pupil evaluation
Pupil evaluation is in the hands of the school and of the teacher as part of the school team. The evaluation of pupils must be broadly approached. The professionalism of the teacher is essential. Schools increasingly reflect on the quality of their evaluation policy and practice, but there is certainly a need for further efforts to professionalize the school team, with attention for the class council.