Twenty-first century quality?
Karen Pontin discusses why principles of Total Quality Management are still so relevant in teaching and learning
05 December 2014
If you lived through the introduction of ‘Total Quality Management’ in the UK during the 1980s-90s you will recall that it was based on principles such as:
- Quality has to be led from the top
- Where quality thrives, sales will follow
- All resources – particularly people - need to be engaged in the drive for quality
- The aim of quality is to efficiently and effectively meet stakeholder needs
- Managers have to nurture a culture of commitment to ‘continuous improvement’.
The overarching concept may seem a bit ‘old school’ now but the principles have never been repudiated.
Since then we have many times attempted to improve quality in vocational learning in the UK using a range of tools. Have we made progress? Do we have ‘quality’ in FE, WBL, Employer Learning etc? Can we hold up the principles above and say that we have succeeded in implementing any or all of them?
There is no doubt that in the current economic situation it is exceedingly difficult to demonstrate an active commitment to quality in vocational learning. Teachers/trainers report that the prime focus of their organisations seems to be budgets, income generation and cost-cutting. They say that the same learning programmes are now being delivered by less staff and that in effect the predominant culture is one of belt-tightening rather than quality.
However in spite of this seemingly adverse scenario, in many cases the people who actually deliver learning and qualifications remain stubbornly focussed on providing a quality service to their learners. Frequently tutors, trainers, assessors and IQAs work creatively to mitigate the detrimental effect of cuts on learners - they doggedly continue to do everything in their power to develop and support their learners to achieve.
Maybe that’s what the term ‘total quality’ really means – the refusal to do anything but your best – regardless of culture, targets or pressure.