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Raising standards and quality in Further Education

I have recently been reflecting on work I have been undertaking within the Further Education sector, as well as issues I picked up on by attending the EMFEC conference last month.  This has highlighted the importance of raising quality and standards in this sector.

One of our clients, Stuart Cutforth, Principal and Chief Executive of Chesterfield College, spoke at the conference about the need for a relentless focus on quality and a need to be ‘best of breed’ as far as learners are concerned.  The pressures of the OFSTED inspection process are well known throughout education and it is no different for the FE sector.  But how does this drive for quality impact on HR?  Can HR help drive up quality, and what might be the traps for the unwary in this process?

Pitfalls and processes

Employers might have two diametrically opposed responses to the emphasis on the quality of delivery in the workforce, and each has its own pitfalls.

The first response might be to resist the suggestion that ‘something must be done!’ by pointing to the organisation’s often long winded and time consuming performance processes and the risks of removing underperforming individuals who have been in post for long periods of time.

The alternative (but equally wrong) response might be to rush in and try to remove underperformers on the basis that this is essential to drive up standards, without attempting to comply with the policies and procedures that govern the employer’s actions.

Finding the middle way 

Not surprisingly, the right answer is to find a middle way.

The relentless focus on quality will in itself provide the justification for the action that needs to be taken.  This requirement needs to be evidenced in everything the college does, so that if the performance process results in a termination of employment, it is clearly demonstrable that the need for quality in delivery is a sound and compelling business reason for the action which is taken.

Justifying dismissal for poor performance requires evidence of a fair process that gives the employee a reasonable chance to understand the shortcomings, that is clear about the standards that need to be met and that identifies the means to reach those standards if appropriate, whether that is additional training, or perhaps the provision of mentoring and specific support.

Except in exceptional circumstances, the employee must be given a reasonable opportunity to meet the standards required and only if after a reasonable opportunity they fail, is dismissal likely to be a fair outcome.

Becoming best of breed

Many of the cases which end up being reported hinge on what is a ‘reasonable’ opportunity.

Relevant factors which the tribunal would take into account would be the extent to which the employee is failing to reach the relevant standards and the consequences for the employer (and the learners) of that failure.

In the light of the relentless focus on quality, if you can show evidence of a serious failure of delivery and adverse consequences for learners, the absence of rapid improvement within a relatively short period of time is likely to justify the decision to dismiss.

After all, how else are you going to be ‘best of breed’?

Posted on March 9, 2016

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