Donegal ETB Welcomes the Report of the Independent QQI Review Team on the Inaugural Quality Review

Donegal ETB welcomes the report of the independent QQI Review Team on the inaugural Quality Review earlier this year of our Further Education and Training Service. Notwithstanding the challenges posed by conducting the review online at the height of the COVID pandemic, the ETB was pleased with the open and wholehearted efforts by the Team during the week to grasp the breadth of its provision and services and to understand the unique and complex environment within which we operate, all in the context of reviewing our quality assurance policies and procedures.

We appreciate the many commendations and also the recommendations in the report which will assist our on-going pursuit of progress in quality enhancement within the FET service. In common with ETB colleagues elsewhere, Donegal ETB has been involved in an enormous transition over the past number of years with the merging of two organisations. Following this significant change management process, it is particularly important to us that the Review Team commended us on our learner-centred approach which they found sits at the heart of all our activity, resulting in a FET service which has a rich breadth of engagement, reach and opportunity for all. The panel’s repeated acknowledgement during the review week of the passion and commitment of our staff and of the value placed on Donegal ETB by its external stakeholders was also affirming and motivating.

We particularly welcome the specific commendations in the report on the

– focus and demonstration of our learner-centred approach which the Panel found is driven by Donegal ETB’s strategic vision and mission and is embedded within its organisational culture. The Team found evidence of rapid, flexible, innovative and impactful support to learners and staff during the pandemic, which mitigated its impact on our learning community; of significant leadership in relation to Access, Transfer and Progression and RPL; and of the critical role played by the ETB in supporting the active inclusion of individuals across the county, particularly those who are socially, educationally or economically disadvantaged, and reflecting the fundamental ethos of the service in relation to learner empowerment.

– significant investment in establishing a new approach to quality assurance, supported by a reflective and critical approach to self-evaluation; this is based on considerable engagement with staff, students and the wider community, allowing them to shape emerging thinking on quality assurance and enhancement. The Team commended a fair and robust analysis of the FET service which identified key areas of success and improvement. Furthermore, the panel highlighted the ongoing reflective practice in the service which it found evidence of throughout the review process; it recognises the introduction of a significant architecture of governance structures and processes to support quality enhancement ( including centralised assessment) and commends Donegal ETB’s commitment to the development of one integrated quality assurance system for FET.

– the flexible approach adopted by Donegal ETB to its external environment and our responsiveness to the changing local and regional needs of individuals and businesses. The panel notes that we develop and maintain an extensive network of positive relationships with a wide range of organisations, institutions, groups and sectors, enhanced by significant outreach provision and community education support. The Team commended the ETB on the establishment of its Communications Advisory Group and the appointment of its Communications Officer; on the complete redevelopment of its website; and on its increasing engagement of different audiences (including employers) on multiple digital platforms. The report also recognises the development of new programmes and progression pathways at various NFQ levels and under different awarding bodies, aimed at meeting emerging skills’ needs.

The Review Team notes repeatedly the critical and reflective nature of the self-evaluation carried out by Donegal ETB in preparation for the review. We are reassured that the Team has confirmed our identification of the main priorities for improvement which are outlined in the self-evaluation report, including:

– strengthening the student voice and the introduction of consistent student supports across programmes. Donegal ETB welcomes the recommendations that wider representation of students (and other stakeholders) be included in the governance structures and that in on-going self-evaluation, student feedback is gathered and used systematically to inform course planning, content, delivery and assessment, and to shape the wider emerging single QA system. The FET Student Forum (2020) and the findings of our comprehensive research (2020) confirm the variation in application of student supports and give direction on how to address the inconsistencies. Specific measures will be outlined in the Action Plan.

– the development of a clear plan for moving quality assurance to the next level, including the full integration of both quality assurance legacy systems. Donegal ETB recognises the merit in the Review Team’s recommendation that the plan should incorporate specific priorities, targets and timelines for implementation, supported by analysis of qualitative and quantitative data, and underpinned by robust project leadership. A project to develop a detailed 5-year plan is already underway.

– more effective use of data to support planning, monitoring, evaluation and review. This recommendation underpinned many of Review Team’s findings and subsequent advice, including use of key performance indicators and benchmarking. The ongoing evolution of the national FET data management system (PLSS) and the recent appointment of a Systems and Data Reporting Officer will support the implementation of these recommendations, as will the next iteration of the SOLAS-ETB Strategic Performance Agreements which outline performance targets over a three-year period.

The QA review process has provided Donegal ETB’s FET service with a valuable opportunity to step back and reflect on our work; to work collectively with all our stakeholders, internal and external; and to learn from each other and from the Review Team’s observations and recommendations. Donegal ETB would like to sincerely thank the Review Team for its commitment to compiling a report that will help to inform and guide us on its path to improvement in the coming years. Donegal ETB would also like to thank Quality and Qualifications Ireland for its support throughout this process.

Anne McHugh, Chief Executive, Donegal ETB Education and Training Board