Quality assurance involves, at the level of the educational institution, in accordance with the legal provisions, three major processes: internal evaluation of quality, external evaluation of quality and qualityimprovement.
The foci for internal evaluation, external evaluation and quality improvement, as requested by standards and reference standards, are:
Institutional capacity (administrative and managerial structures, logistics, human resources).
Educational effectiveness (relating to the content of study programmes, learning outcomes, managing budgets, graduates’ employment).
Quality management (relating to strategies and procedures for quality assurance; procedures for the design; monitoring and review of study programmes and activities; objective and transparent procedures for the evaluation of learning outcomes; procedures for the evaluation of teaching staff; accessibility of learning resources; systematic updating of internal quality assurance databases; transparency of public information on study programmes and the diplomas and certificates offered; compliance with statutory reporting requirements and on the functioning of the entities in charge with quality assurance).
These broad areas are divided into 16 ’criteria’. ‘Performance indicators’ are established for each criterion (their number being variable and different for pre-university and higher education). Each performance indicator has requirements (descriptors) describing the norms, regulations and the required performance levels an institution must meet to achieve the particular quality standard sought (standards for provisional authorisation and accreditation, at which are added reference standards for periodic evaluation – see below).
According to the romanian legislation, the Ministry of Education has the responsibility to evaluate both the education system and the educational process, according to national standards and through specialised institutions.
Evaluation of the education system and of the educational process has an internal component – entirely performed at the level of the educational institution, and an external component – performed by the following bodies:
The County School Inspectorates for the evaluation of the educational process in pre-academic education.
The Romanian Agency for Quality Assurance in Pre-academic Education (ARACIP) for the institutional evaluation of pre-academic education institutions.
The Ministry of Education for the evaluation of the entire education system.
Approaches and methods for quality assurance
The internal evaluation is performed by the Commission for Evaluation and Quality Assurance (Romanian acronym: CEAC), established at the level of each educational institution, following the national quality standards (standards and reference standards) and other provisions of the legislation on quality.
CEAC is composed from representatives of staff, of the teachers’ union, of pupils, of parents (for early education and for primary and secondary education) and representatives of other stakeholders, depending on the educational level (representatives of the local authorities, of national minorities, of employers).
CEAC establishes the strategy and procedures for quality improvement, publishes one annual internal evaluation report on quality on education in the educational institution, offers suggestions to school management for improving quality in education and cooperates with all stakeholders: teachers, pupils, parents, teaching staff, Local Council etc.
The internal evaluation report on the quality of education is published annually on the ARACIP websites, following a format and with a content established at national level.
The external evaluation is performed by ARACIP (for the pre-university levels of education), based on national quality standards and common procedures, which apply, non-discriminatory, to public and private educational institutions. There are three main types of external evaluation:
For provisional authorization - before the school starts operating (it is forbidden to operate without, at least, a provisional authorization). The requirements for provisional authorization are a subset of those used for accreditation (see below), which can be assessed before the school is operational.
For accreditation, after completing an entire cycle of education, but not later than 3 years from the first promotion of graduates, which gives the evaluated educational unit all the rights established by law. The requirements set out in the standards represent the minimum operating conditions established by law which, consequently, are all mandatory and represent the minimum (‘satisfactory’) level at which an educational institution can operate.
Periodic evaluation - every five years - allows the evaluation of the quality level offered by educational institutions, compared to standards and reference standards: if standards represent the minimum acceptable level of achievement of the educational activity, the reference standards represent the optimal level of their achievement.
The external evaluation is performed by a specialized body of evaluators, selected from the teachers and school principals, prepared through a specific training program, registered in a special public register. For each external evaluation visit, teams of evaluators (2-4 for pre-university education) are formed, who judge the quality level, based on the standards and, as the case may be, the reference standards and using the evidence provided by the educational units: documents, statistics, direct observation (school premises and learning activities), interviews or questionnaires applied to the representatives of the essential stakeholders (educational institution management, teachers, students, parents, local authorities, employers, etc.).
The same general procedure, established by the law, is applied to all types of external evaluation, from institutions offering early education to higher education institutions:
The application for external evaluation, made either by the educational institution or by other stakeholders (Ministry of Education, local authorities) is the starting point.
Prior to the evaluation visit, the educational institution must submit a set of data and documentation, providing evidence that the requirements of the national standards and guidelines are observed.
ARACIP internal staff examine the supporting documents and data (completeness and relevance) and, if these preliminary conditions are met, the calendar of the external evaluation visit is established and a team of external evaluators is appointed. Evaluators must have relevant expertise in the study programme / level of education, and the quality of their previous evaluation reports is taken into account in the selection process. In addition, the evaluators selected must not reside in the same county as the school under evaluation or, in the case of higher education, must not be employed in the same university.
The evaluation team contacts the educational institution, negotiate the concrete agenda and undertake the site visit: 2-3 days for pre-university educational institutions. For provisional authorisation, evaluators check the premises, examine the documentation in more detail (if needed) and interview the management team. For accreditation and periodic evaluation, there are added: observation of the learning activities, interviews with staff, interviews and/or questionnaires for pupils and, if the case, with other stakeholders’ representatives (parents, local administration, employers). The interviews cover topics such as: communications between the educational institution and the main stakeholders, their participation in the decision-making process, and the level of satisfaction regarding the education provision.
The evaluation team writes down the external evaluation report, based on the templates provided by ARACIP.
The internal staff of ARACIP analyse and validate the external evaluation report. Based on these reports and on evidence provided by the educational institution, the Board of ARACIP decide to recommend the Ministry of Education to issue the authorization / accreditation.
The provisional authorization is granted, on the basis of ARACIP advise, by Order of Minister of Education, for pre-university educational institutions.
The accreditation is granted, on the basis of ARACIP recommendation, by Order of Minister of Education, for pre-university educational institutions.
The result of the periodic external evaluation is a ‘Quality certificate’ issued by ARACIP.
The External evaluation reports are published on the ARACIP website.
The possible outcomes of external evaluation are:
Provisional authorisation is granted to the educational institution for the relevant level of education. The institution may then enrol pupils, hire teachers and start to provide the authorized educational programmes. If authorisation is not granted, the educational institution may re-apply as many times it considers.
Accreditation is granted to the educational institution for the relevant level of education. The institution may issue diplomas, certificates or, if the case, qualification certificates. If accreditation is not granted, the institution may re-apply after a year. If this second request is refused (following another external evaluation procedure), the educational institution is closed.
Periodic evaluation is realized for the accredited levels, every 5 years. If the evaluated study programmes meet the minimum level required, a ‘certificate of quality’ is awarded. This certificate states the level of quality achieved according to national standards and is valid for 5 years. If the educational institution does not meet the minimum level required, a warning is issued and another external evaluation is carried out after one year. If, after this second evaluation, the standards are still not met, a final warning is issued and the educational institution may not enrol new students (for the respective study programmes). A third evaluation occurs after one or two years and, if the standards are not met, the educational institution or the study programmes are closed.
Periodic external evaluation for pre-university education institutions involves the use of a ‘efficiency / added value index’. This index shows the evaluation results, after controlling for the influence of the school context and input factors (such as family background and community factors, the socio-economic background of the school, the school infrastructure, etc.). This index is intended to measure the efficiency of education in terms of effort made by schools, revealing whether schools’ actual results are above or below the expected ones, taking into account the resources and circumstances in which they were obtained.
The external evaluation reports, ARACIP Board decisions and, respectively, the ministerial orders, government decisions and laws for authorisation and accreditation, as well as the certificates of quality are published on the ARACIP websites.
ARACIP publish yearly activity reports and, periodically, general reports on the quality of education at system level, which include recommendations on quality improvement at the same level (system).
Quality Improving of education means the evaluation, analysis and continuous corrective action on the part of the education provider / educational institution, based on the selection and adoption of the most appropriate procedures, as well as on the choice and application of reference standards.
Internal and external evaluation results are used, firstly, by the management of the educational institution for analysing the quality of educational and administrative activities and for decision-making concerning the objectives of the institutional development. At the level of the educational institution, the annual internal evaluation report on the quality of education includes proposals for improvement activities. As a rule, these proposals are taken up in the institutional development plans, through specific improvement actions.
At the levels of local and central authorities, the results of internal and external evaluation are used for decision-making concerning the financing of educational institutions, for producing diagnosis and prognosis studies, as well as for producing the annual report on education at county and national levels.
An important role in quality improvement in pre-university education, is played by the county school inspectorates, which, according to quality legislation, have a key role in monitoring and quality control, through school inspection, which may have objectives derived from areas for improvement highlighted by internal and external evaluation reports.
Likewise, the Ministry of Education has, according to the law, an essential role in monitoring and quality control, being responsible for the control and implementation of quality assurance and improvement measures recommended by ARACIP.
In 2020, were adopted, by government decisions, new quality standards (standards and reference standards), as well as a new external evaluation methodology for pre-university education. The novelties introduced aim at:
Increased efficiency of internal and external evaluation, by simplification (reducing the number of requirements by more than 50%), debureaucratization (significant reduction of the number of required documents), digitization (the whole external evaluation process can be done online), unification (several previous regulations were unified) and clarification (there will be developed explanatory guides, made available for all stakeholders).
Decentralization and stakeholders’ involvement, by clarifying the responsibilities of ARACIP and school inspectorates and by correlating more closely the quality system with school inspection. At the same time, the responsibility of the various institutions for quality improvement has been more clearly established.
Reorientation, by shifting the focus from evaluating inputs and resources to process and results and from analysing documents to direct observation (of conditions provided by the educational institution and of the actual learning activities) and to evaluate the feedback provided by stakeholders (teachers, students, parents), through questionnaires and interviews.
“Humanization”: wellbeing, access to education and equity in the provision of educational services, become essential dimensions of the quality standards.
Specific elements of the quality system in early childhood education and care
Recently (in 2019) early education was included in the quality system for the pre-university education.
In the Romanian education system, early education includes pre-school education (offered by kindergartens - addressed to children between 3 and 6 years old) and before-pre-school education (offered by nurseries - addressed to children under 3 years old). In the absence of a specific curriculum, until 2019, the quality system related to pre-university education was applied only for kindergartens, nurseries being considered, mainly, child care institutions and less educational institutions.
Starting with 2019, with the adoption of the specific curriculum for preschool education, nurseries have come under the cover of the quality system for pre-university education, having the same obligations regarding compliance with national standards and following the same life cycle in quality management - internal evaluation and external evaluation (for provisional operation authorization, accreditation and periodic external evaluation).
Currently, due to the fact that the legislation on the operation of nurseries has not been changed, nurseries must observe, as well, the related requirements, regarding childcare, developed at the level of national institutions in charge with child protection and public health.
A project of the Ministry of Education, initiated in 2020, aims precisely at unifying the normative framework regarding nurseries, in order to unify the approaches (regarding kindergartens and nurseries) on the basis of the 'early education' concept and to strengthen the educational dimension of nurseries, without neglect the childcare dimension.