This publication, the first that the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) addresses to providers of vocational education and training (VET) rather than to policy-makers, aims to help VET institutions initiate or improve their quality approach. This will enable them continually to improve the education they offer, for their own benefit as well as students and society at large.

The handbook is meant to guide VET providers through a ‘quality journey’ based on the PDCA (plan-do-check-act/review) or quality cycle, the underlying approach to any quality management system (QMS). The handbook’s guidelines, advice and practical examples are taken from 20 VET providers in initial, continuing or sector vocational training, all of whom have successful and mature quality management in place. The annex features 41 tools Cedefop selected among those offered by these VET providers, covering all phases of the quality cycle (planning, implementation, assessment/evaluation and feedback/procedures for change).

Cedefop, EU reference centre on VET, has found that while quality assurance is important for accreditation and certification of studies and diplomas, it is not enough to ensure that institutions continually strive to improve quality, unless accompanied by effective internal quality management. For this reason, this publication focuses on internal quality management and its importance for VET institutions.

Commitment of both teaching staff and management and their interaction, are crucial for any successful quality approach. Effective internal quality management is time- and energy-consuming and this must be taken into account from the start to secure whatever is necessary for a quality culture to flourish.

Striving for quality is a dynamic process, with tensions between efforts and results, and between leadership and participation. Such tensions can be partially overcome through lean quality management that privileges qualitative over quantitative methods and improvement over sanctions, involves staff closely, and, above all, is appropriate for the goals and scale of the institution. Overambitious systems risk leading to too much effort for too little benefit.

If the PDCA cycle is common to all quality management approaches, self-assessment is their second shared component. As the 20 case studies have demonstrated, self-assessment forms an integral part of internal quality culture, with results leading to specific improvements. Empirical data on the financial effect of quality management are lacking. In Cedefop’s analysis, costs relate mostly to personnel, while positive effects are measured in relation to student satisfaction with teaching/learning and services/facilities. Though tangible, the latter cannot be compared directly against cost. Despite this, interviewed VET providers said the return on investment could be surmised from higher visibility and attractiveness for prospective students. Other positive effects include increased internal transparency, further education of staff and better adapted training programmes to students’ and other stakeholders’ needs. In addition, VET providers with solid internal quality management are more open to external cooperation, networking and participation in European cooperation.

Most VET institutions analysed are supported by public structures that are part of national quality frameworks. This support comprises guides to self-assessment, sets of indicators, data collection and processing tools and training opportunities for teachers and trainers.

Cedefop’s analysis revealed that the vision of quality and the concept of internal QMSs differ considerably among the VET providers investigated. Each institution aims to define its own approach based on its local/regional environment and internal organisational structure. But they all respond to common challenges, such as increasingly heterogeneous groups of learners, developing into lifelong learning institutions, redefining curricula based on learning outcomes, strengthening methods for competence-based assessment, promoting self-learning and adopting new forms of teaching.

Teacher and student mobility is increasing and VET provision is becoming more international and subject to national and foreign competition. The present handbook is meant to help VET providers successfully meet these challenges.


Joachim James Calleja