A Q & A with Eugenie Rabe executive director at the South African Independent Quality Assurance Agency (IQAA)

| March 29, 2019 | 0 Comments

1. Please tell us about your background in general and in education specifically.
I retired from the position of chief operating officer at the Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training (Umalusi), in 2015, after 38 years’ service in the South African education system. I was initially appointed as the manager: further education and training phase (FET), with oversight of the quality assurance of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges and adult learning centres. I was later promoted to senior manager: evaluation and accreditation and oversaw the development of the accreditation system for the various provider sectors within Umalusi’s mandate, including independent schools and private assessment bodies. In 2007, I was appointed to the position of chief operating officer with oversight of all the professional work of Umalusi: quality assurance of qualifications; curriculum and certification; quality assurance of assessment, evaluation and accreditation, and research.

2. How did you come to be involved with IQAA?
I was invited to an interview for the vacant position of executive director in the latter part of 2018, primarily because of my prior experience with Umalusi, specifically in respect of the accreditation of independent schools and private assessment bodies.

3. Please tell us what IQAA is all about. Why is it important?
IQAA, The Independent Quality Assurance Agency was established by the Independent School Association of South Africa (ISASA) in 2003, with the purpose of quality assuring all ISASA member schools.
IQAA became a fully independent non-profit Organisation in 2007, and is presently situated in Cape Town.
Central to IQAA’s quality assurance approach, is the notion of a community of trust developed over the last fifteen years between the IQAA mentors and the independent schools sector. IQAA’s quality assurance model relies on the professional judgment and quality of its appointed mentors and the trust of the school community in the quality assurance process of self-evaluation and continuous improvement.
The IQAA appoints experienced mentors to guide the process of the internal self-evaluation of schools. The mentors are appointed from outside the school community and are seen to have senior status, and may be retired senior staff or heads of schools. The IQAA mentors train, guide, advise and monitor the school’s evaluation team in planning and carrying out the internal evaluation process and in the reporting on it at the end.
In short, IQAA aims to assist schools to evaluate themselves and ultimately to determine their own recommendations to improve quality in their particular school. The goals of the IQAA quality assurance model are to:
•Maintain and improve standards and quality of education offered to pupils in schools;
•Encourage an attitude and atmosphere of constant internal self-evaluation in schools;
•Assure governing bodies and all other educational authorities concerned, unequivocally of the quality of the schools they have quality assured;
• Provide information and advice on quality assurance to any schools, associations and educational authorities who seek it; and to
• Promote appropriate accountability.

The IQAA quality assurance processes are important because they bring a dimension to the quality assurance of school education that was not previously present in the education system, which focused on compliance and external scrutiny – that of school-motivated, self-evaluation and continuous improvement, under the guidance of professional mentors. IQAA’s model accommodates difference, rather than seeking to enforce sameness through compliance, and in so doing enhances the “independence” of schools, to develop their own culture, philosophies and practices in education.

The IQAA model is relevant to a wide range of schools including early childhood development institutions, junior primary or foundation phase schools, primary and senior schools.
IQAA’s watchword is: “Assisting Schools To Keep Growing Quality”.

4. How does IQAA work with independent schools and with ISASA?
IQAA is formally contracted by ISASA to quality assure the schools that are members of ISASA. The contract is renegotiated every six years. IQAA quality assures about 100 ISASA member schools annually. IQAA also quality assures independent schools that seek endorsement of their offerings, but which are not members of ISASA.

5. What are some of the current challenges facing IQAA and how do you intend to solve them?
Contestationinqualityassurancespace:IQAA worksinavery contested space – on the one hand, Umalusi is mandated by the state to accredit independent schools, and on the other hand, there are a number of other private bodies quality assuring independent schools. As there are only approximately 2600 registered independent schools in South Africa, the quality assurance space is quite crowded.
Sustainability: Although IQAA has been in existence as a separate entity for about 17 years, it is quite often perceived as a “value add” for ISASA rather than an independent voice in the system. Currently IQAA is almost entirely funded by ISASA. IQAA quality assures 794 South African ISASA schools (as well as a number of foreign schools). However, IQAA intends to extend its services to other associations and independent schools, both local and foreign, in addressing the issue of sustainability.

Transformation: Given that transformation has been at the top of the national agenda since 1994, IQAA has worked towards developing an organisation that is representative of race and gender, and continues to promote diversity in the schools it works with.
Continued integrity of its quality assurance processes: The work IQAA has done to date is highly regarded by most of the schools it has supported through the self-evaluation process. IQAA also continually reviews and improves its products. However, the self-evaluation process has been in existence for 17 years and in that time certain schools have conducted more than one such evaluation, as well as the Umalusi accreditation process. The challenge lies in schools questioning the ongoing validity and usefulness of the IQAA’s processes as they move into their second and third self-evaluations.
Consequently, IQAA is introducing a revised approach for schools that have done the self-evaluation before. This approach might include a more customised process which allows schools to select areas they wish to interrogate, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
A second challenge is related to maintaining the integrity of the team of mentors.

It is important to ensure that there is a consistent standard in the training component of the mentors who will assist client schools. IQAA is therefore in the process of putting measures in place to ensure consistency in training across schools. This includes:

– Developing a training guideline for use by mentors in training school self-evaluation teams.
– Holding an annual conference to discuss best practice (which is already occurring).
– Appointing ongoing appointment of master mentors to train new mentors (already in practice) Other challenges in respect of mentors are:
– Ensuring that conflict of interest is managed in terms of school allocations to mentors (currently occurring).
– Ensuring that self-evaluation reports continue to be of a high standard and that service delivery is prompt.

6. Who are your other global partners and how do they inform your work?
There are many international bodies that accredit or quality assure schools. Some of these are more “inspection” oriented while other support self-improvement models. Over time IQAA has liaised with various of these international bodies and intends to maintain and strengthening linkswiththem,including:
In the US:
– New England Association of Schools and colleges (NEASC).
– National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS).
In Canada
– Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS). In the UK:
– Independent Schools Council (ISC).
– Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS)

7. Can you tell us about your relationship with the department of education and state schools?
While IQAA does not work directly with the department of education, it supports the work that ISASA does with the Department of Basic Education and the various provincial departments of education, in quality assuring independent schools registered with them.
IQAA does not quality assure state schools although it does offer various consultancy services to state schools, such as:
•A governance and management module that assists schools in identifying areas for improvement in respect of governance and management.
•A transformation module that assists schools in identifying issues around diversity and transformation in the institution that need to be addressed.
•Snap surveys on any matters in the school’s life that the management want to learn more about.

8. What are the most important things that all schools should know about IQAA?
•IQAA is an independent organisation and its quality assurance processes are free of conflict of interest.
•Mentors are professional and experienced educators.
•IQAA’s quality assurance process is not an inspection, but is rather located in empowerment evaluation (EE) theory, which is defined as: “The use of evaluation concepts, techniques and findings to foster improvement and self- determination”.
•Mentors appointed by IQAA provide advice, training and guidance. •They do not inspect. The independent voice of the mentor adds credence to the internal process of self- evaluation.
•Reports generated during the quality assurance process are shared with ISASA but are otherwise confidential.

9. What are your long term goals?
To grow the voice of IQAA around school improvement in the education system and to ensure that all schools quality assured by IQAA are “the best they can be”.

1. Fetterman, D.M. (2001) Foundations of Empowerment Evaluation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.

Category: Autumn 2019

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