5.5.2 - Quality Assurance Processes: Internal and External Verification
By the time you have completed this chapter, you will be able to:
- Describe the roles and functions associated with internal verification
- Appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of an IV-led approach to quality assurance
- Describe the roles and functions associated with external verification
- Appreciate the benefits and potential issues associated with external verification of qualifications
- Appreciate the relevance of the IV/EV model of quality assurance to vocational education in particular
What is IV?
Internal verification (IV) refers to work done internal to the setting, whereby a third party verifies that the learners' graded coursework has been completed to the appropriate standards, and that there is both consistency and accuracy in the first marker's grading. Internal verification works in partnership with external verification, which is detailed below. Essentially, though, two sets of quality assurance measures are being completed through the allied processes of IV and EV work, with the external verifier making an assessment, from outside the setting, that the internal processes have been robust and that the setting is operating at least competently enough to support meaningful student learning.
Internal verifiers not only support assessors, and check assessment instructions for fitness for purpose, but also arrange for the sampling of course work, the arranging of standardisation processes, and the collation and maintenance of assessment and verification evidence. In this way, there is an auditable trail so that both the assessor and the IV level of work may be scrutinised. An individual cannot be an assessor and an IV for the same cohort of candidates.
- Assessor support: the IV needs to be qualified, have expertise, and be competent with the appropriate standards being worked to. Their role should be developmental, and not summative; IV is not an intervention at the end of a programme of study.
- Validity of assessment instruments: The IV ensures that assessments are fit for purpose, and that all assessors have a common understanding of the relevant standards; this is to be done before learners are given the work to be assessed. The IV is the focus for confirming and agreeing assessment strategies, particularly when different methods are being used to assess the same outcomes by different assessors.
- Standardisation processes: Standardisation mitigates against assessors making subjective judgements, supports the development of a consistent approach, and also allows IVs to centralise and cascade examples of good practice. Different standardisation methods might be used. These can include: dual assessment of candidates; double-marking of written work; blind marking of candidates' output; facilitating evidence reviews between assessors.
- Sampling work: Ongoing sampling throughout the assessment load allows any issues to be highlighted early, rather than at the end of delivery. Random samples may be appropriate, or else sampling should be targeted to areas where there is the potential for issues to arise, or where support may be most beneficial. Relevant factors in this instance may be a new assessor, the first delivery of a particular qualification or unit within a larger qualification, a new setting, a fresh mode of delivery.
- Maintaining assessment and verification records: Clear, accurate, and effective records of assessor and IV engagement need to be apparent, evidenced, and auditable by external bodies. Records should include: meeting minutes, validated assessment tasks, records of any observations of live assessments being undertaken, marking schemes, accurate candidate records, evidence of robust sampling, feedback to assessors.
Though there are exceptions dependent on the setting, the level of the curriculum, and the nature of qualifications being studied, both IV and EV processes are most associated with courses that have a significant assessed coursework element, and/or are vocational in nature, and/or require the learner to compile a portfolio which evidences their practical and theoretical competences in a field of study. Such courses are often offered in further education colleges, in university technical colleges (UTCs), and with private training providers. Vocational GCSE qualifications also carry a large coursework component, and will be subject to internal (as well as external) verification (Pontin, 2012).
There are many forms of activity which relate to internal verification, though not all correspond to IV as it is commonly understood. There are a range of informal QA processes which serve to check the work of the teacher; some, like the second marking of coursework (sometimes referred to as 'moderation'), are similar in some respects to internal verification in that a check and balance is in place to assure that the first marker is displaying accuracy, consistency, and conformity to the learning outcomes being assessed against in their grading and feedback. The IV will verify that assignment briefs are fit for purpose, will spot-check assessed work throughout the course, and will work to ensure that before the EV carries out their sampling, that the cohorts under scrutiny have been sampled, and that the work meets the required standard. Where there are discrepancies, these can be addressed in a timely manner. For example, if IV processes reveal that an assessor has misinterpreted a brief and that the learner work is not to the required standard, then a timely intervention will allow for resubmission of work to the appropriate standard as well as addressing the misconception on the part of the assessor (Gravells, 2009).
How does IV work? What are the benefits of implementing IV processes? Are there any limitations?
IV processes are there to ensure that settings (or 'centres' offering qualifications) are applying the relevant quality standards in a reliable, fair, and equitable manner. IV processes ensure that no matter what the precise nature of the system being operated, that there is transparency and consistency, and so there can be trust in the entire process. The IV will show that not only are assessments fair, accurate, and relevant to the qualification, but that candidates are being given opportunities, through their assessed work, to generate the required outcomes needed to satisfy the global standards relevant to the qualification (Pontin, 2012). The IV will also lead in the scheduling of assessed work, and will monitor re-assessment opportunities, and ensure that all relevant preparations are made for external verification to be completed.
IV processes are useful in that they maintain control of the quality assurance processes of the qualifications within the educational organisation; the setting is responsible, and so works to develop efficient and auditable working operations. There are opportunities to disseminate good practice across an organisation through sharing of knowledge, and the IV role can be both a reward of seniority and a useful expression of experience (Murphy, 2011). The role, though, is reliant on trust and on efficient working throughout the year. Unless those with IV roles are dedicated and efficient, and have been given sufficient time in their week to focus on their IV activities, there is the potential for IV processes to be less of an immediate concern. This can lead to issues not being detected in time, and there needing to be additional evidence generated by learners at the end of a course to evidence the required outcomes.
Sampling needs to be robust, and standardisation needs to be critical; simply counter-signing the work of others through haste or laziness will only cause problems for the school or college when the learners' work gets to the EV stage. The administrative burden and paperwork generated with vocational qualifications can be daunting, and careful management and accuracy of documentation and student records needs to be applied.
There is the potential for IV/assessor relations to influence the professional working of the course, through wither a lax attitude towards their responsibilities, or else a punitive and hierarchical relationship developing. The development of wider positive organisational cultures can mitigate this; many of the potential issues related to internal verification may be addressed through a proactive community of practice-style culture, where expertise is shared equitably between colleagues (Konrad, 1998).
What is EV?
The EV provides a point of contact between the IV and the awarding body, and is best placed to answer queries, and to offer support as required. It may be, for example, that internally-designed documentation is forwarded to the EV for their feedback; it makes sense that where there are local processes put into place that these make sense to the EV, and that that the external has an opportunity to make suggestions ahead of their implementation (Gravells, 2016). The EV will be allocated by the awarding body. EVs will make periodic visits throughout the academic year to support the IV, and to be assured of the robust running of the course.
The standard procedure for courses which are quality assessed through internal and external verification is that qualifications are claimed by each centre for those learners assessed to have met the relevant criteria. Before such claims are made, IV processes need to have been completed. It is then the role of the EV to sample the claims being made to additionally verify that the qualification claims submitted stand up to scrutiny. The EV will re-sample the work across the cohort, and will make assessments of the consistency and accuracy of the grading. If there are issues, then work may be re-graded; if significant issues are discernible, then further action may be deemed appropriate. The rubric for the qualification will have precise information on what this might entail (NCFE, 2008).
The role of the EV is to ensure that your setting is in line with others and with the wider standards of the qualification. If assessor and IV roles have been carried out effectively, then the EV's work will be straightforward, and will evidence the good work done internally to the organisation. The EV will provide a written report on the course, will advise of any recommended action points, and will confirm from their earlier checks that the work has been done to the appropriate standard, that all claims are genuine, and that previous action points have been faithfully addressed.
What are the benefits of implementing EV processes? Are there any limitations?
An EV process is beneficial in that it is an efficient way of awarding qualifications; sampling and re-sampling gives a fair assessment of the setting's competence to deliver the qualification, though the work has been done in advance by the course team and through internal verification, so access to a suite of markers and examiners is not required. This can have cost implications for the running of courses as a consequence.
To some extent, though, the system relies on trust and on the verifiability of paperwork. It is not inconceivable that internal work may be not the candidates', that logs of practical activities and/or witness testimony is less than genuine. Fraud of this sort, though rare, is not unknown. EVs are required to be diligent, disciplined, and open to the potential of such practice. There is, of course, the potential - however unlikely - of collusion between settings and EVs to agree to sign off on work which is sub-par or non-existent (Offord, 2014).
Another potential drawback is the nature of the relationship between the setting and the external. If an EV is distant, uncommunicative, or somewhat lax in their approach, then the setting may be placed at a disadvantage, not least if that EV is then replaced by another who is working to the appropriate standards. Settings take their lead from the EV, and unless there is cause for concern, there is a reliance on the external by the educators; there must be trust that the EV is diligent and working to the best interests of the setting and its learners.
This chapter has discussed the role and operation of internal and external verifiers in education, as well as some of the benefits and limitations of IV/EV processes and of course which rely on this manner of quality assurance. At its best, such systems offer multiple levels of quality assurance: the individual tutor or assessor, a colleague verifying their work, a lead IV co-ordinating the course and liaising with the external, and an EV re-sampling and ensuring that standardisation has taken place with diligence.
Such systems also offer creativity and diversity in assessment, and facilitate the development and extension particularly of vocationally-relevant education. Work-related skills do not always map across to written work, or to the classroom. Demonstrations of practical ability, of applying theoretical ideas to real-world contexts, and to managing oneself in workplace environments are all aspects of such qualifications, and a portfolio-led approach supports the generation of evidence of competence at the level being studied. The task is then to - through a layered series of checks and balances - maintain assurance that not only are learners working well, but that the educational establishment's systems are robust and transparent, and that learners are being fairly assessed.
City and Guilds (2013) TAQA digital learning programme. Available at: http://www.cityandguilds.com/what-we-offer/centres/improving-teaching-learning/taqa-e-learning-programme (Accessed: 10 December 2016).
Gravells, A. (2009) Principles and practice of assessment in the lifelong learning sector. Exeter: Learning Matters.
Gravells, A. (2016) Principles and practices of quality assurance: a guide for internal and external quality assurers in the FE and skills sector. London: SAGE Publications.
Konrad, J. (1998) Assessment and verification of NVQs: Policy and practice. Available at: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/000000889.htm (Accessed: 10 December 2016).
Murphy, H. (2011) Internal verification: a guide for centres offering SQA qualifications. Available at: http://www.sqa.org.uk/files_ccc/InternalVerificationGuideforSQAcentres.pdf (Accessed: 10 December 2016).
NCFE (2008) NVQ external verifier handbook. Available at: http://www.ncfe.org.uk/media/55395/external-verifier-handbook.pdf (Accessed: 10 December 2016).
OCR (2011) Assessor qualifications. Available at: http://www.ocr.org.uk/Images/75036-datasheet.pdf (Accessed: 10 December 2016).
Offord, P. (2014) Provider ordered to stop quals after malpractice probe. Available at: http://feweek.co.uk/2014/02/26/provider-ordered-not-to-run-quals-after-malpractice-probe/ (Accessed: 10 December 2016).
Pontin, K. (2012) The City & Guilds practical guide to quality assurance. London: City & Guilds.
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