One of NALA’s central concerns is to ensure that adult literacy students have access to high quality tuition and facilities. It is also important that programmes and organisations reflect the core philosophy and principles of adult literacy work. In this context, NALA developed a quality framework as a means by which providers of literacy and adult basic education can review and assess their service and plan development.
The Revised Evolving Quality Framework for Adult Basic Education (ABE) User Guide (NALA, 2006) is a manual that gives step-by-step instructions on how the Evolving Quality Framework (EQF) works. It also provides general tools, including worksheets and information sheets, that are useful for carrying out quality assurance wherever adult basic education is taking place.
The framework enables managers, tutors or students in the adult basic education service to reflect on the quality of the service by identifying what is working well and what needs to be changed. The User Guide is designed to be used with the help of a trained EQF facilitator. It is aimed at teams using the EQF, especially students, centre managers, facilitators and any other person who has responsibility for quality assurance.
For centres that offer accreditation under the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ), using the framework will also generate evidence that they can use to support the quality assurance requirements for national awards.
What is the Evolving Quality Framework?
The Evolving Quality Framework is a system for improving and monitoring the quality of adult basic education in Ireland. It is a method of self-evaluation because the people using it are the managers, staff and students who work and learn in the ABE centres. It is ‘evolving’ because it adapts to new situations and needs as circumstances in ABE change.
What is quality?
A quality service is one that responds to the needs, concerns and interests of the people who use it. Everyone in the organisation knows what their role is and how they can play their part in making sure that the organisation achieves its aims. Each person is committed to reflecting on their own work and on the organisation generally, to see how it can be improved. Everyone knows what methods and standards are expected and, where possible, contributes to deciding what these are. To do all this, people in the organisation need clear working methods and enough resources to carry out their tasks. Quality is an essential part of how an organisation operates and how the people in it work together.
Why evaluate quality?
The Evolving Quality Framework was designed to support people when evaluating quality in adult basic education. Everyone involved in the ABE service, whether a student, a tutor or a manager, is entitled to have the best possible service and the highest quality environment in which to learn and to work. To make sure that this happens, it is important to have a clear idea of what quality in ABE actually means. Then, we need a method that helps us to reflect on this so that we can identify gaps, plan for the future and keep track of any changes recommended.
When the people who work and learn in the adult literacy service carry out this evaluation for themselves, the process is self evaluation. This self-evaluation has many benefits. If it becomes a regular part of the work of the service, it is a way of reaching a high standard of quality in all of the important areas, and of maintaining or improving on this. It also allows the people most affected by decisions about the service to have a say in those decisions.
Because the EQF system was specially designed for adult basic education, it identifies five general areas of activity that are essential in any good ABE service. These areas of activity are called Quality Areas. Each Quality Area is described in more detail by Statements of Quality. The EQF has nineteen Statements of Quality altogether. The Quality Areas and Statements of Quality together allow staff, managers and students, working as a team, to examine each aspect of the service in their centre.
At the heart of the Evolving Quality Framework is a set of values that describe the ethos of adult basic education. These are the Guiding Principles. If there is any doubt about the best way to carry out an action, for what purpose or in whose interests, the Guiding Principles give direction.
The Guiding Principles of the EQF
Often there are different ways of reaching the same goal. When this happens, people’s beliefs or values can influence decisions about how to move forward. Sometimes, these values are not clearly stated. In fact, it is easy to take them for granted and imagine that everyone is working from the same set of ideas about what education should be and what purpose it should serve. This can cause problems when beliefs clash. To prevent this from happening, the EQF system is based on a number of Guiding Principles. These are perhaps the most important part of the EQF, as they state the values and beliefs that underpin adult basic education in Ireland. Taken together, these are sometimes called the ethos of ABE. In the EQF system, the following five principles express this ethos.
The student has the right to attend on a voluntary basis and to set their own learning goals in an atmosphere of trust and respect. It is the student’s own decision to take part in ABE and the knowledge and skills they work on address their own interests and priorities.
The student has the right to privacy and confidentiality. Their participation in ABE is kept private, unless they agree otherwise, and any information they supply is also kept private.
- Respect for cultural difference
Cultural and social differences are respected at all levels in the organisation. Staff, students and managers in the service welcome people from many different social and cultural backgrounds and take active steps to make sure that everyone who wants to be fully included in the life of the centre has that opportunity.
- Social interaction and informality
The service creates an atmosphere that encourages social interaction, informality and enjoyment. This recognises the social aspects of learning and motivation and the importance of an adult friendly learning environment and approach to management.
Students can take part in all aspects of the organisation, including evaluation and participation at board or committee level. The framework describes standards of good practice for adult basic education, under the following headings:
- teaching and learning;
- progression; and
- outreach and promotion.