Quality Assurance Processes: Internal and External Verification Lecture

Introduction

This chapter discusses processes related to internal and external verification (IV and EV, respectively) as related to quality assurance in education. Sections outline both concepts, and give further information about the function and relevance of having robust and evidenced quality assurance processes working internally and externally to the teaching setting.

The operations of both aspects of verification processes are explored, as are the benefits and limitations of each. Each section is accompanied by a set of reflective prompts which have been compiled for you to make a fuller consideration of how the section's contents relate to your setting, and to your experience of involvement with quality assurance in education. 

Learning outcomes

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. 

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 of these are covered elsewhere in this module. 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.

In vocational contexts particularly, the teacher and first marker may be referred to as the assessor, with the internal quality assurance function provider acting as IV. An internal verifier's role may be diverse. Examples of the functions performed by someone acting as IV include:

  • Reviewing assessment requirements and strategies
  • Preparing for external body visits, and the implementation of EV action points
  • Observing assessment planning, decisions, and feedback processes
  • Maintaining records and audit trails
  • Facilitating staff training and development
  • Supporting verification and moderation processes
  • Liaising with centralised QA and examinations officers locally to the setting
  • Liaising with external verifiers and with qualifications bodies
  • Ensuring policies and procedures are fit for purpose
  • Supporting setting self-assessment reporting
  • Interpretation of qualification requirements
  • Disseminating information from EVs and qualification bodies
  • Responding to learner feedback
  • Monitoring appeals, complaints, and disputes over grading

(Gravells, 2016)

Internal verifiers will liaise with assessors, and have a role to play in moderating the quality of provision across the organisation. Rather than a hierarchical relationship, is perhaps more appropriate to consider the interplay between assessor/teacher and internal verifier as a partnership. IV is intended to function not as domineering oversight, but as support to ensure that quality standards are maintained for the betterment of learner experience and the credibility of the organisation. The IV has overall responsibility for the quality of a particular course or programme, but quality is everyone's concern, and the maintenance of high, fair, and appropriate standards of working and assessment goes to support this at all levels of the organisation.  

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).

Certain forms of qualification, such as non-vocational qualifications (NVQs) will require that assessors and verifiers hold relevant qualifications in assessing and in internal verification respectively in addition to teaching and subject-specific qualifications (OCR, 2016). The current IV qualification is the level 4 award in Internal Quality Assurance of Assessment Processes and Practice. This is suitable for those who are responsible for ensuring the quality and consistency of at least one qualification. IVs are usually experienced educators in their own right, and will hold assessor qualifications as well as IV-related qualifications. There is also a level 4 certificate in leading internal QA processes for those who are the lead IV for an organisation (or a large department within an organisation). In addition, there are conversion options for updating those who hold predecessor qualifications, such as the City and Guilds D32/D33 qualification for assessors, and the D34 in the same series for internal verifiers. There is a range of teaching and quality assurance (TAQA) qualifications on offer, up to level 5; the qualifications cover the related areas of teaching, teaching in training-led contexts, and quality assurance, and it is not uncommon for assessors and verifiers to have qualifications across these areas, particularly if they came into education primarily as vocational professionals, and are involved in the delivery, assessment, and verification of work-related training.  

Reflection

Does the work of an IV surprise you in any way? If so, why is this?

In what contexts, have you experienced internal verification before?

Why might vocational education and training require not only different assessment, but different quality assurance methodologies, to academic forms of education?


How does IV work? What are the benefits of implementing IV processes? Are there any limitations?

Internal verification processes may vary between educational establishments; your setting will have its own policies and procedures on how IV is to be conducted; qualifications bodies and examinations boards are more interested in the probity of systems being used than in dictating the precise nature of IV processes, for example. This allows for flexibility in approach, which may be useful as often vocationally-relevant qualifications can be delivered in diverse and atypical contexts, and a uniform approach may not allow those qualifications to be offered nor reasonably assessed and verified. 

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 functions

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. Records of such standardisation meetings and work should be kept to further evidence that a robust and proactive internal verification process has been entered into.   
  • 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. Targeted sampling can check that previous action points have been addressed, that revisions to assessments are having the desired effect, and that equality and diversity considerations are being appropriately related to in assessment.
  • 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.

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).     

Reflection

What other issues which may be associated with internal verification can you think of? And what other advantages?

How confident would you be in designing your own system of recording achievements against learning outcomes? Where might you go for support with this?

Consider a setting with which you are familiar. What qualifications do they offer, and how many of them are assessed through an IV process? What policies and procedures can you find which support this process?


What is EV?

As mentioned above, external verification is the process by which global standards relevant to the qualification being taken are maintained across the different settings delivering the relevant training. The external verifier (EV) works for the awarding body, not the educational establishment, and thus provides externality to, and oversight of, the internal processes to the organisation.

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. This may involve, for example:

  • Checking that paperwork systems are robust and accurate
  • Checking candidates' entry criteria
  • Examining portfolios of work
  • Meeting teaching colleagues and talking with learners
  • Visiting off-site teaching environments (placement locations for work experience, for example)
  • Being assured of on-site facilities in respect of health and safety, accessibility, and availability of teaching resources
  • Having access to previous work by other cohorts, and documentation related to this, including other EV reports
  • Checking CVs and training records for all teaching staff delivering on the course being verified
  • Maintaining a record of progress against action points raised in earlier interactions

These may happen at any point in the academic year. Contact with the EV is usually through the lead IV for the course; as their role is to assure the quality of the provision, their role is supportive, as much as it might feel at times to be hierarchical. The EV will advise of alterations to forthcoming presentations of courses being offered, and will be proactive in supporting centres with appropriate information, documentation, and with examples of best practice from other centres within their remit. It may be that the EV will lead staff development, and may sit in on internal standardisation meetings, both as an observer and as a critical friend.

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. The EV will comment on the clarity and auditability of the paperwork and processes involved in the course, and on the quality and relevance of assessments and of student approaches to the work they have been set. The EV report, then, is a crucial document informing the development of provision into its next presentation.   

Reflection

How much support would you want from an external verifier? Does the presence of an EV imply a hierarchy? Does this have implications for relationships between the setting and the EV, and particularly for the lead IV for a course?

Do you have experience of EV visits to a setting? If so, what were the outcomes of such visits?


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.

For vocationally-oriented qualifications, where assessments may involve live assessments, observation of workplace competence, witness testimony, logs of placement hours worked and the like, an EV process also supports the generation of such qualifications. Vocational qualifications are not always straightforward to assess, and not all outcomes may be easy or relevant to reproduce in a school or college setting; verification after the event offers a way around such issues.

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. 

Reflection

What other issues which may be associated with external verification can you think of? And what other advantages?

If you were an EV, how confident would you be in working with multiple different systems of recording achievements against learning outcomes? What might you do to support centres you are working with?

Does a sampling and resampling system offer a fair overview of all learners' work? What about those whose work might go uninspected? What about those who are repeatedly sampled and re-sampled?

Conclusion

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.

Reflection

Now we have completed this chapter, you should 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

Reference list

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.


To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.