7.2 Conducting self-assessment in your VET institution

Self-assessment allows you to pursue various objectives, but its effects should not be exaggerated. The two foremost objectives should be to promote awareness of problems, deficits, etc., and internal communication and views exchange on what should be done. Initiation of change and improvement can be expected only as a result of this process.

Before starting self-assessment three preconditions must be met, otherwise the process will not make any sense:

  1. the senior management team must support and direct the project with inner conviction and personal engagement;

  2. resources for carrying out the process must be justified and available;

  3. resources to implement improvements must be earmarked.

A four-phase process is recommended for implementation of a first self-assessment passage, which should later be repeated in appropriate cycles. The phases rely on the PDCA cycle and on what you learned in Chapter 3 of this handbook. The four-phase self-assessment process is implemented through the following series of steps8:

Phase I: planning self-assessment

In the kick-off phase you will plan how to organise and communicate the envisaged self-assessment in your organisation.

Step 1: how to organise self-assessment

  1. Define the scope and the approach: it is important to decide whether the whole organisation or only some departments will be included. To start with, it is recommended that you focus on a few carefully selected areas where there is a good chance of seeing a rapid improvement.

  2. Appoint a process leader/quality manager.

The process leader is responsible for operation of self-assessment activities, communication about it, compliance with the schedule, and finally reporting and documenting results.

Appointing an appropriate person to lead the self-assessment process is one of the key decisions to be made by the senior management team. The person appointed should be familiar with the VET organisation and its ways of communication, must have a sound knowledge of quality management and be acknowledged as appropriate to carry out these tasks by staff and external stakeholders.

If the person appointed is not sufficiently experienced in quality management, they should either be trained or an external expert should be brought in to provide support and comoderate the self-assessment process.

Define a schedule for implementing the process: four to six months is likely to be an adequate timeframe for the first run of a self-assessment process; bigger organisations might need a longer period.

Step 2: establish a communication strategy

  1. Implement a communication plan: continuous communication is a crucial factor for successful self-assessment: the communication plan should define the contents and channels for communication and consider needs of individual stakeholders.

  2. Motivate staff to engage in the self-assessment process: the means and style of communication should aim to create a positive environment, confidence and motivation for people to participate actively in the self-assessment process.

  3. Decide on inclusion of stakeholders: who should be included, how, at what stage of the process and in what role, who should be provided with information in what level of detail and at what stage.


Box 46. A piece of advice

Invite peers/representatives from other VET institutions experienced in self-assessment and quality management to a round table with the staff of your institution: motivate people to ask critical questions and learn from others’ experience. Be aware of possible limits in exchanging experience with other VET institutions that might arise owing to a competitive situation.


Phase II: implementing self-assessment

Step 3: compose a self-assessment team

  1. Representative composition: self-assessment should be carried out by a cross-hierarchical team representative of the organisation. Members should know the departments to be assessed and participate voluntarily in the team. Employees often feel appreciated when being specifically addressed.

  2. Size of the self-assessment team: to ensure an effective and relatively informal working style, teams of around eight to 10 participants are preferable. If the whole organisation is to be assessed, several teams should be formed addressing different topics.

Step 4: organise training

  1. Train the self-assessment team: in a one- or two-day meeting the self-assessment team should learn about fundamentals of quality management and operation of the PDCA cycle, understand and agree the self-assessment process. In any case the quality manager should provide a guide containing all relevant information to the self-assessment team, including the main criteria and indicators needed to assess the VET organisation.

  2. Develop competence in quality throughout the organisation: in addition to training the team, information sessions should be held for all employees to broadly anchor understanding of the self-assessment process and its importance for developing quality within the organisation.


Box 47. Contents of training in self-assessment

  1. Basic knowledge of quality management and assessment procedures.

  2. Basic skills in quantitative and qualitative data collection and aggregation of data.

  3. Skills in giving and receiving feedback.

  4. Self-reflection techniques.


Step 5: undertake self-assessment

  1. Assessments should be made by applying reliable tools that reflect agreed criteria and indicators. Statements and conclusions should be based on empirical data and evidence; where appropriate, feedback from various stakeholders should be collected.

  2. The self-assessment team should achieve a certain consensus on strengths and the most crucial areas for improvement within the organisation.

  3. The self-assessment team is asked to suggest some first ideas for an action plan.


Box 48. A piece of advice

It is important to develop a common perception of the organisation’s situation: where are we, what do we want to change? There are no right or wrong views. Exchange and understanding of the different perceptions of quality are crucial for successful self-assessment.


Step 6: draw up a report with your results

  1. A self-assessment report should be clearly structured, address the strengths and areas for improvement supported by relevant evidence and provide ideas for improvement actions.

  2. It is crucial that senior management officially accepts the report and, ideally, approves it by reconfirming its commitment to implement improvement actions.

Phase III: change and improve

Contributing to improvement of quality is one of the main objectives of self-assessment efforts and it is also the means to promote further strategic development of the VET institution.

Step 7: establish an improvement plan

  1. Supplement self-assessment by analysing major and minor factors contributing to quality.

  2. Distinguish between corrective actions, which can mostly be implemented immediately, and structural adaptations and innovations.

  3. Prioritise areas of improvement and allocate the necessary resources for implementation.


Box 49. A piece of advice

In the beginning, only those critical issues should be tackled which are under the control of the VET institution itself and which can be changed without relying on external interventions.


Step 8: communicate the improvement plan

  1. To ensure the broadest possible acceptance it is advisable to inform all employees in a timely and open manner on the self-assessment process, the results that have emerged and subsequent improvement activities.

  2. The ways and means of communication can be based on the plan and principles elaborated in Step 2.

Step 9: organise change and improvement

  1. Assign responsibilities, activities, deadlines and indicators for monitoring the process and results of improvement actions.

  2. Involve members of the self-assessment team in improvement activities – this is a way to reward their efforts and will boost their further commitment.

  3. Ensure readiness for change by providing additional knowledge and competence, deal patiently with resistance, provide support and esteem.


Box 50. A piece of advice

It is advisable to concentrate quality improvement on just a few critical issues, to avoid overloading the organisation and allow people to enjoy the merits of quality-related activities. Make sure that in some areas short-term success becomes visible.


Step 10: establish a coherent development strategy

  1. Undertake a SWOT analysis of your organisation and combine your internal assessment results with results of an investigation into external preconditions for further development of your VET institution.

  2. Shape your development strategy by identifying your unique strengths and key factors for further development; benchmark your institution against its strongest competitor to exploit your untapped potential.

  3. Plan the next self-assessment: quality development needs continuity and sustainability – self-assessment should be carried out repeatedly after one year at the earliest, but not later than three years.

Phase IV: ensuring continuous quality development

The final phase builds on self-assessment but goes beyond it since its main objectives are to create informed professionalism for quality within your organisation and develop towards a quality culture.

Step 11: stabilise your drive for better quality

  1. Anchor a quality department/quality manager within your organisation to professionalise your efforts further for quality and strengthen its significance.

  2. Prepare for external recognition/accreditation which serves as an external verification of your internal efforts for quality and will improve the reputation and attractiveness of your organisation.

Step 12: create a quality culture within your VET institution

  1. Define your focus of quality by reflecting on different concepts and putting together your own approach.

  2. Reflect on your basic ethical values that should steer your VET organisation when pursuing its vision, mission and strategic quality objectives.

  3. Define a broadly accepted vision and mission for your institution to sharpen its corporate identity, strengthen your staff’s identification with it and boost their commitment to quality.

  4. Apply continuously the soft skills articulated in the MERI cycle to ensure a quality culture within your organisation (see Figure 22).

It is important to make sure that teachers, trainers and other staff of your institution know about and understand the logic of the PDCA cycle. This way of thinking and acting should be integrated into the everyday life of the VET institution and used systematically in all its areas of operation, thus paving the way for a quality culture.

Apart from embedding this attitude and behaviour in your institution, development of a quality culture is strongly influenced by human factors, which are supported and encouraged by making use of appropriate soft skills, as explained in the MERI cycle (see Figure 22). The soft skills inherent in the MERI cycle are the complement and counterpart to the hard skills addressed in the PDCA cycle. While technical activities of the PDCA cycle are a prerequisite for establishing an internal QMS, the MERI cycle articulates ingredients of creating an internal quality culture. A quality culture requires more than that foreseen by the PDCA cycle activities; it is mainly produced by human relationships characterised by common respect and encouragement.

In detail, the MERI cycle foresees the following activities for strengthening interpersonal relationships within the organisation:

  1. motivate people and mobilise resources for improvement;

  2. appreciate and esteem engagement of staff and stakeholders;

  3. reflect and discuss assessments, evaluations and opinions of staff and stakeholders;

  4. inform and inspire appropriate improvement.


Figure 22. The MERI cycle

Source: CEDEFOP.


Box 51. Questions for reflection and options for further action

  1. Do you agree to start quality development in your organisation with a self-assessment process?

  2. Are the three preconditions fulfilled before starting self-assessment?

  3. Do you clearly focus self-assessment on certain areas within your organisation? If this is the case: which ones will you focus on?

  4. Do you need external support to conduct the self-assessment process or do you have all competences at hand?

  5. Will you establish one or several self-assessment teams?

  6. How will you transform your self-assessment results into an improvement plan?

  7. How can you build further on your self-assessment results to create a quality culture within your organisation?


8 The recommended steps for self-assessment are partly based on the guidelines for implementation of the CAF for public organisations. For further information see http://www.eipa.eu/en/pages/show/&tid=69#&title=topic [accessed 26.5.2014].



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7.2. Conducting self-assessment in your VET institution

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