Models of Quality Assurance

The Business Excellence Model (BEM) and FEFC Inspection ace considered by Dick Evans, Principal of Stockport College and Education Consultant Jenny Cronin.

Colleges have been required to respond to a multitude of quality assurance interventions.

The FEFC, HEFCE, TQASM, Common Accord (CA), etc have consumed an immense amount of valuable and increasingly limited resources and involved a great deal of replication of effort. In a time of diminishing resources and following questions about the cost benefit of these quality interventions, many of the frameworks are beginning to converge in terms of methodology and intended effect. One of the main vehicles being introduced to assist this convergence is self-assessment where colleges are required to critically evaluate their performance which is then scrutinised/validated by the external teams of inspectors/assessors. Self -assessment approaches bring many benefits but also challenges not only to college staff but to the inspection/assessment teams.

Comparing systems.

This article attempts to compare two quality assurance systems, namely the new FEFC inspection model and the Business Excellence Model which is increasingly gaining favour in many organisations. Such analysis might help highlight the commonalities between the models and reflect similarities between different cultures, but it could also show, more interestingly, some fundamental differences that arise because of the different natures of education to other business enterprises.

Self assessment is at the heart of the two models and those organisations that have been exposed to the more traditional compliance audit approaches are now realising that self assessment approaches create a more balanced tool for identifying strengths, areas that need improvement and encourage a more valid action planning process. The approach allows institutions to articulate their strengths and identify areas that require improvement. Flowever, the processes and skills that attach to self-assessment are not easily developed. It requires self-critical evaluation and must be free from straight and simplistic description. It requires ownership by all staff in any organisation and most certainly requires effective communications and management of information, both within and external to the organisation.

Self-assessment techniques are a powerful tool for any organisation to take stock and to review its performance. It is a review process that, if operated in a systematic way, will identify and recognise:

  • what the organisation has achieved.
  • what opportunities exist for the organisation to improve its performance further, and
  • the links between what the organisation achieves and what it should achieve in order to maintain and enhance its competitive edge.

Self assessment IS NOT:

  • another quality assurance system that simply addresses specific problems and difficulties.
  • another short-term fix or ‘flavour of the month’.
  • another auditing system. It does not just validate some existing and relatively retrospective compliance regime.

Self assessment can be represented as shown in figure 1.



Benefits that could accrue by using self assessment techniques:

  • The identification and recognition of existing good practice and areas that need to be improved.
  • General acceptance and understanding of the purpose of the organisation.
  • Evaluation of the current position as a basis for creating an on-going programme for improvement.
  • Develop a more focused approach for continuous quality improvement.
  • To establish well-defined actions and timetables and more effective resource targeting to improve organisational performance.
  • Develop a framework to allow benchmarking against other organisations.
  • Assist to create a culture within the organisation to highlight examples of good practice
  • Identify links and connections between what organisation needs to achieve, how it is performing currently and what it needs to do in the future.
  • Establish a comprehensive and consistent performance tracking system over time

Self assessment fits into a closed quality circle, as shown in Figure 2.



When operated effectively and efficiently, self assessment can provide a much more valid and reliable view of the existing strengths and allows the identification of areas that need improving. Properly executed, this allows programmes of action which enable continuous and ongoing Improvements to be developed.

Business Excellence Model (BEM).

To undertake self assessment, an organisation and its staff need to review and compare its performance against an agreed and recognised model of business excellence and will require the need to explore and examine a number of complex issues such as:

  • Why is the organisation operating the way it is?
  • For whom is the organisation providing products/services?
  • What processes will the organisation use in its operations to provide the products/ services?

The model was developed in 1992 by the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM). In 1994 the British Quality Foundation (BQF) adopted it as the basis both for self-assessment and the UK quality award for business excellence. The framework for the Model consists of nine criteria equally divided between Enablers and Results.

(see Figure 3).



Enablers identify how the organisation is operated and measured, whilst Results link operational achievements to customers, employees, the community and those who finance the organisation. These nine criteria of the Business Excellence Model are connected by the principle that:



It is important to emphasise that the Model is not rigid or prescriptive in that it does not dictate to the organisation what it should or should not do. The linked criteria provide a set of guidelines that can be used formatively to consider what it should do, how well it does it and how it is progressing. The Model places great stress on evidence and management of data and disregards the anecdotal ”gut feeling” approaches. Rational evaluative techniques are pivotal to the process.

Self-assessment provides an organisation with a balanced view of how it is performing both in terms of how it operates and what it achieves.

The ability to make the links across the Model provides a powerful tool to identify areas that require attention, action and subsequent improvement. The Model can be linked to other quality assurance systems, for example IiP and ISO 9000. IiP provides a framework for enhancing performance and competitiveness by focussing attention on the contribution human resource development can make to excellence and in turn this leads to continuous business improvement, whilst ISO 9000 defines the operational and management practices that constitute an effective management system. IiP directly links with employee management and employee satisfaction and ISO 9000 directly links with processes.

The BQF have produced helpful guides to the Business Excellence Model and Self Assessment techniques (1) including one for public services, including education (2). (Address at end of article).

Inspection Model.

The vehicle of self-assessment also figures significantly for the new inspection cycle of the FEFC. There are many similarities between the two frameworks. The FEFC Circulars 97/ 12 and 97/13 provides information and guidance for the new inspection framework. The Model has been previously described (3) The new framework emphasises the need for colleges to further develop their ability to evaluate themselves in a self critical fashion and provide self assessment reports which are then validated by the Inspectors. The new framework stresses that regular/ongoing self-assessment provides an effective means of gauging college performance and the effectiveness of its own quality assurance systems.

Each college will be required to produce a self-assessment report which should be:

  • comprehensive and evaluative (not partial or descriptive).
  • include action plans to address areas in need of improvement.
  • concise and cover the following nine themes:
  • college and its mission
  • teaching and learning,
  • students’ achievements,
  • curriculum content, organisation and management,
  • support for students,
  • resources,
  • quality assurance,
  • management and governance.

Many of these themes link with the nine criteria of the Business Excellence Model as shown by a simple mapping in Figure 5.



The FEFC self assessment approach also contains similar features to the Business Excellence Model including the need to:

  • link and integrate with strategic plans and other quality assurance systems.
  • identify and recognise/act on strengths and weaknesses.
  • include student/customer views backed up with evidence and detailed analysis.
  • be based on clearly validated evidence, both generated internally and cross referenced with external markers, including nationally published performance indicators.

These features highlight similarities with the Business Excellence Model. Evidence and its formative use is central to both Models. Evaluative approaches are emphasised time and time again instead of simple description. Self-assessment can provide a ‘deep structure analysis tool’ of any organisation. Validation by external teams of inspectors/assessors is predicated on this fundamental tenet.

Inspectors/assessors/customers will scrutinise the validity, reliability and probity of the self-assessment reports. If operated properly, it creates a more effective two-way process allowing colleges to articulate their performance. Flowever, college and staff will require a great deal of support to develop the skills that will be needed to formulate the techniques associated with self-assessment reports.

To summarise then:


  • Centrality of self assessment techniques with its emphasis on evidence/data and evaluative approaches.
  • Significant similarities in FEFC themes and business excellence criteria.
  • Significant similarities in the characteristics of operational processes.


  • Differences centre on the usual aspects of outcomes i.e. products/services in the different cultures of education and product driven businesses. For example, not for profit against for profit enterprises.
  • Different nature of who judges business/ educational outcomes. Companies based on artefacts/products are driven by the ‘market’ and market share considerations, profitability and shareholder dividends.
  • Colleges are exposed to an external team of inspectors and such an external focussed approach is not so evident with business enterprises.


  1. “Introducing Self Assessment”, British Quality) Foundation 1996.
  2. “Determining Business Excellence”, European Foundation for Quality Management, 1995.
  3. “The Corporate Self Assessment Handbook”, BQF and EFQM 1997.
  4. “Guide to Self Assessment”, Voluntary, Sector, 1997, British Quality Foundation.
  5. “Self Assessment and Inspection – Effective Learners and
  6. Effective Colleges”, J. Cronin, “t” Magazine, September 1997.

A publication list can be obtained from the British Quality Foundation from 215 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London, SW1V 1EN. Telephone 0171 963 8OOO, or fax 0171 963 8001

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