Quality Assurance in Early Childhood and School Education
The objectives of evaluation and quality control in pre-primary, compulsory and upper secondary schools are:
- To provide information about school activities, school achievements and development to educational authorities, school personnel, receiving schools, parents and pupils.
- To ensure that school activities are according to law, regulations and the national curriculum guides for pre-primary, compulsory and upper secondary schools.
- To increase the quality of education and school activities and encourage developmental work.
- To ensure that pupils’ rights are respected and that they receive the services they are entitled to according to law.
Schools or specific aspects of school activities at all educational levels may be subject to an external evaluation organised by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. External evaluation is conducted by evaluators from the Directorate of Education for pre-primary schools and compulsory schools and from 2014 for upper secondary schools. The purpose of evaluating schools externally is to obtain an overall picture of each school's activities or of specific aspects there at any given time. Attention is directed towards various features of the school's internal activities, such as administration, internal evaluation methods, development work, cooperation and communications within the school, study achievements and the connection between the school and society. Teaching and classrooms observations are part of external evaluation in pre-primary and compulsory schools.
Legislation on pre-primary, compulsory and upper secondary education places great emphasis on regular internal evaluation by schools. Each school is required to systematically evaluate the results and quality of school activities with active participation by school personnel, pupils and parents, as appropriate. The schools are required to issue publicly information on the internal evaluation, conformity with the school curriculum guide and plans for improvement. The internal evaluation methods may be subject to external evaluation by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture.
By law, the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture is responsible for regular external evaluation of the pre-primary, compulsory and upper secondary schools but is authorised to extend its amendment to the Directorate of Education.
At the pre-primary and compulsory school levels, municipalities are to conduct their own evaluation of schools and schools' activities along with the Directorate of Education.
All pre-primary, compulsory and upper secondary schools are required to implement internal evaluation methods to evaluate their work. Schools are free to choose among systems for its own use, but these should include significant elements of internal monitoring. An internal evaluation is to include the school’s policy and objectives, a definition of the ways in which these are to be achieved, an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the school’s operations and a plan for improvements.
Approaches and Methods for Quality Assurance
The external evaluations of schools and their work which are initiated by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture aim to ensure that the activities of the school comply with laws and regulations and with the national curriculum guides.
Legislations on pre-primary, compulsory and upper secondary education place great emphasis on regular internal evaluation by schools. All schools are expected to implement methods to evaluate their work, including their teaching and administrative methods, internal communications, and contacts with parties outside the school.
Frequency of Evaluation
The external evaluation of a school is carried out by the Directorate of Education at the initiative of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. No provisions are to be found in laws or regulations on the frequency of the external evaluations of schools except in the Upper Secondary School Act. There it is stated that evaluation of upper secondary schools shall be carried out no less than every five years.
Internal evaluation must be part of a continuous effort in all pre-primary, compulsory and upper secondary schools. It has a long-term perspective, rather than being an isolated action.
The evaluators in external evaluations are experts working for the Directorate of Education who have a thorough knowledge and experience of the school level in question as well as experience and/or training in the field of educational evaluation or quality management. The evaluators may be, for example, experts in evaluation, former teachers or head teachers.
Internal evaluation is a co-operative task within the school. Those connected to the school and its activities, such as administrators, teachers, other staff members, pupils and parents, participates in one way or another in the internal evaluation. Because of the nature of the task, the type of participation of each group varies; the head teacher/rector has the overall responsibility for ensuring that internal evaluation is carried out. A special steering group or some kind of "quality group" is often set up which drafts the internal evaluation/working plan for the school and leads the work. It depends on the municipality, the school or individual teacher as to whether the internal evaluators receive special training.
The main purpose of evaluating schools externally, apart from improving the quality of the work, is to obtain an overall picture of each school´s activities or of specific aspects at any given time. Attention is directed towards various features of the school's activities, such as administration, development work, cooperation and communications within the school, study achievements, and communications between the school and parents as well as other acting parties outside the school.
In internal evaluation, reliable information is gathered on such matters as school management, academic achievement, the academic experience of the pupils, teaching methods and their influence on academic achievement, and communications within the school and between the school and parents and other acting parties outside the school. Schools can make a schedule for their internal evaluation where emphasis and priorities consider the needs of the school. Teaching and classrooms observations are part of external evaluation in pre-primary and compulsory schools. Information is obtained from documents, focus group interviews and observations in school and classrooms.
The external evaluators work in accordance with recommendations laid down by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. Evaluators in compulsory schools use Quality indicators that are public. For upper secondary schools there are recommendations for each evaluation. In the internal evaluation each school can establish its own evaluation criteria.
The Procedure used for evaluation
External evaluation is based on the internal evaluation report of the school, a site visit, classroom observations in compulsory schools and interviews with the administrators, staff, parents and pupils' representatives. To obtain as clear picture as possible, the evaluators must consider what documentation the school has based its internal evaluation on and how the data has been processed. The evaluators formulate their judgment upon analysing the data and with help of the Quality Indicators. After giving the head teacher an opportunity to make substantive comments, the evaluators send their report to the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. The overall results are then made public on the Ministry's and the Directorates’ website. The Ministry reports to the relevant school, and to the municipality in the case of compulsory schools and pre-primary schools, on what needs to be improved in the school's activities. Schools then have a predefined time to send the Ministry information on how the school intends to work with the results of the evaluation.
In the internal evaluation, each school can choose its own evaluation methods and decide the procedures. No one specific method is recommended by the Ministry, since the choice of method used is, by law, in the hands of each school. It is up to each school to decide whether to seek assistance from experts in their internal evaluation.
Utilisation of evaluation results
The results of external evaluation are to be used by the school to improve its work. Educational authorities also make use of evaluation results. At pre-primary and compulsory school levels, the municipality is responsible for implementation of improvements.
Internal evaluation results are intended for use by the school to improve various aspects of its own performance and activities and to call attention to good practices and results in the work of the school. Schools' internal evaluation reports are to be made public, for example on school websites.