1. The concept OES
1.1. Autonomy of schools and Quality management
Paragraph 1 of the Baden-Württemberg Education Act states that all schools are required to provide education and training for young people in order to prepare them for the varied requirements and changes in the field of work.
Vocational schools are – due to their affinity to the world of work and their partnership with companies – particularly affected by technological and economic changes. General developments such as demographic change and changes in the social and ethnic background of students require continuous modifications in the educational system in order to enable young people to fully participate in society and to cope with future challenges. Moreover, the increasing number of individual choices regarding careers leads to even more and varied demands on vocational schools.
It is necessary to extend the autonomy of individual schools in order to tailor the quality of teaching to the needs of the individual learner.
The concept “OES” is meant to strengthen the pedagogic and professional responsibility of vocational schools. Teachers and school management teams who assume full responsibility for the teaching and learning processes do not only develop the quality of the school itself, but also encourage students to assume responsibilityfor their learning processes.
Granting increasing autonomy to individual schools implies that schools are responsible and obliged to assure and develop the quality, evaluate the effects and report to the school authorities. In the OES concept the idea of an “agreement on objectives” is an expression of this new quality in the relationship between schools and authorities.
1.2. The benefits of systematic quality development
Quality development in schools is not new by any means: Teachers have long been committed to providing high-quality lessons and head teachers have promoted pedagogical innovations and teaching processes. Thus the
question is not whether there is quality in school, but rather how this quality can be systematically assured and developed, i.e. collaboratively, focused on targets and with lasting effects.
OES as a quality development system supports school management and the teaching staff in various ways: schools themselves define targets in order to meet their specific challenges and develop strategies to reach these targets. They plan suitable measures, implement them and evaluate their effectiveness. A system of feedback among all relevant stakeholders and cooperation in teams are key elements for continuous professional development. Project management tools facilitate the introduction and
implementation of innovations. Process management and the
documentation of quality development ensure sustainable and lasting effects.
With a majority of companies already working with QM-systems in the dual system of vocational training (IVET), the OES concept helps to promote mutual understanding and coordination in the shared responsibility of vocational education and training.
Establishing a culture of feedback, e.g. between students and teachers, external partners and among the teaching staff itself, makes learning processes more effective and promotes the idea that both students and teachers are equally responsible for successful learning. Since targets are based on learners’ needs and are commonly agreed upon, improving the quality of lessons becomes more efficient. Furthermore, with students being considered as partners in the learning process, they increasingly identify with their school and contribute to a positive learning environment.
2. Development and introduction of OES
Between 2003 and 2006, the concept OES was developed in close cooperation between school administration, 18 pilot schools, and scientific institutions. Based on the Swiss system Q2E, the concept was systematically developed and adapted to institutional and regional conditions.
After thorough review and evaluation, OES has been gradually implemented as the common framework of quality assurance and development for all VET schools in Baden-Württemberg.
Compared to the concepts of other German states (Länder), which also aim
at strengthening the independence and the quality development of vocational school, OES is characterised by the following special features:
Active participation of schools in the development of the quality assurance system
A clear framework providing enough freedom of choice for schools to produce a mission statement that serves as a guideline for their long-term strategy
A coherent system comprising internal development of schools, external
evaluation and agreement on objectives with the regional school authority
Focus on the teaching and learning process
Cooperation of the school authorities, the seminars for didactics and teacher education, the State Institute for Educational Development (LS) and the State Academy (LAK) which guarantees a uniform approach and a common language of all actors
A unique support system: systematic training on quality assurance, a range of guidelines, handbooks and tools designed to meet the demand of school management and teaching staff.
All these elements promote transparency and participation of all stakeholders, principals, teachers, students as well as external partners.
3. Areas of school quality
Vocational schools are complex organizations that deal with a variety of different tasks. In order to reduce the complexity and to make QM manageable for school management a framework of quality areas was identified in the initial (pilot) phase. This framework is based both on the research of Prof. Rolf Dubs and on the Swiss concept “Q2E” and identifies “areas of school quality” (see illustration):
3.2. Teaching and learning
Quality management is not an end in itself, it is only worthwhile if it leads to improvements in students’ learning and achievements as well as to an increase in their theoretical, social and personal skills. The area of “learning and teaching” therefore comprises not only the curriculum itself, but all extra-curricular activities offered by the school that students can engage in. In order to develop the quality of learning it is necessary to set clear targets which provide guidance for both teaching staff and students. These targets are usually derived from state-of-the-art expertise on high-quality teaching or they may be set up by the staff collaboratively. Targets may be specified and valid for certain types of school or apply to the school as a whole. (One helpful source in this process is the so-called “Basic model for the observation of lessons” published by the Ministry of Education).
OES and its components can contribute to the improvement of teaching and learning in many ways: establishing close links between the school’s vision (mission statement) and policies, working collaboratively in teams, tailoring project and process management to the specific culture of a school, developing a routine of constant feedback and self-evaluation all help to provide clear and concise guidance to improve classroom practice. New challenges in the classroom can best be tackled when teachers work together in teams; teaching apprentices and involving them in “situational learning” (“areas of competencies”) requires a coordinated effort beyond the traditional limits of “teaching a subject”.
Moreover, to improve quality of teaching and learning, it is necessary to seek students’ views and actively involve them in their own learning and development. By asking students to give feedback and by providing opportunities to express their views, teachers stimulate students to assume responsibility for their own learning. Feeling valued and truly appreciated,
students are more likely to contribute actively to school life and school community.
External partners, parents and other stakeholders may also contribute effectively to improve the quality of teaching by providing constructive feedback.
3.3. Leadership and management
One of the new tasks for school management teams of OES (Operatively Autonomous) schools is to develop and share a common vision. What are the main characteristics of our school? What do we want to focus on? Where do we want to be in five years’ time? Initiating internal reflection and discussion among all stakeholders and shaping a statement on vision, values and aims are among the new core tasks for members of school management teams.
All those with leadership responsibilities, principals, their deputies and senior staff (senior managers of departments) assume key roles in developing and assuring the quality of the school. It is their common task to develop, shape and lead the organization. They identify and map out future developments and involve the teaching staff in the process of transforming targets into policies and improvement plans. By inviting interest groups to contribute their ideas for improvement, they stimulate and engage in discussions and debate about the future development of their school.
School management teams provide support for the development of quality in various ways: teams have clear structures, are focused on tasks, and measures suggested by the teams are implemented. Teams receive adequate organizational support and resources, e.g. time slots, are appropriately allocated. Furthermore the procedures of recruiting and deploying staff are transparent and there is an efficient concept for training and professional qualification. Members of staff are encouraged to develop and contribute their own ideas and concepts and have sufficient scope of action to pursue these ideas within a commonly agreed approach.
4. OES and its components
Systematic development of quality according to OES includes the following steps:
Setting clear objectives in a mission statement
Self-evaluation and quality development
Documentation of quality management
Agreement on objectives between schools and school authority
External evaluation followed by an agreement on objectives recur every five years.
All measures taken and policies carried out focus specifically on the impact of the school in improving the educational experience of students and in supporting them to realize their potential as learners.
D o c u m e n t a t i o n School management Teaching and learning Optional quality area
Project- and process management
Management of information and communication Self-evaluation
Working in teams
Agreement on objectives External evaluation
OES and its components
4.1. Internal development of quality
School management teams and teaching staff in vocational schools are highly-qualified experts for learning processes. Together with students, parents and external partners they can effectively contribute to the further development of their school. OES does not set out a framework of quality indicators; it focuses on the internal process of development. Thus schools are challenged to set their own agenda in line with legal requirements and within the framework of shared aims and targets agreed upon with the school authority.
In its mission statement a school expresses its common vision and self-concept both to internal members and to the wider school community. It provides guidance for strategic decisions for the development of the school and serves as a common framework for all activities in quality development. It includes statements on the pedagogic focus of the school and also expresses the values that have an impact on the implementation of the general educational mandate. A mission statement has relevance only if it is accepted and shared by all stakeholders. It is therefore crucial to involve staff, students, parents and representatives of external partners in the process of forming the vision.
Self-evaluation helps schools to get to know themselves better: reliable data on the quality of procedures and results help management and staff to identify strengths and weaknesses of their school. Based on careful and thorough evaluations, plans for well-considered innovation and further development are designed and measures taken. Follow-up evaluations make sure that measures are effective.
Schools are held to set up clear rules and regulations for self-evaluation and communicate them to all stakeholders in a transparent way. For the long-term strategy and development it is advisable to map out a long-term concept of evaluation.
Evaluations require expert knowledge, methodological competence and skills. In order to turn self-evaluation into an efficient tool for developing the quality in schools it is crucial that data are obtained carefully, the statutory regulations for data protection are adhered to and staff is appropriately involved at all stages. If executed properly and standards for evaluation are
respected, self-evaluation becomes a professional process supporting the staff to critically reflect on the conditions and effects of their work.
Self-evaluation may as well serve as a means to gain a higher reputation in the school community and, in addition, forms the basis for external evaluations and agreements on objectives between school and the educational authority.
The quality of schools is mainly determined by the expert knowledge, the skills and the personal and professional responsibility of each member of staff. It is therefore necessary to provide opportunities for staff members to engage in professional development. Apart from establishing team structures for regular cooperation, the introduction of systematic feedback between students and teachers as well as feedback among teachers play a key role in developing and improving teaching and learning practices in the classroom. Seeking actively for feedback from students helps teachers to critically reflect on their teaching methods and routines and adapt to meet learners’ needs. If carefully introduced and systematically developed, feedback activities between teachers and students encourage learners to assume responsibility for their learning. Peer feedback among staff intensifies communication and cooperation with a positive and lasting impact on the atmosphere and overall school climate.
The PDSA cycle of quality development
Realising the project
Studying /checking the results
Drawing conclusions/ Setting goals
Projects - which can be defined as collaborative and temporary measures and activities to accomplish particular tasks - are a very important tool in the context of quality management. Therefore all staff working in teams needs the essential know-how and professional skills required for teamwork. However, since the corporate culture of cooperation in schools can be described as rather informal, the level of formalization has to be tailored to the school’s routines. A lean type of project management should be implemented in order to support teams and to encourage teachers to participate in projects.
Processes – regular routines and activities repeated in various intervals – form the basis of daily work in schools and ensure reliability and efficiency.
Precise descriptions of the most important administrative processes including the respective responsibilities and tasks facilitate the daily work of staff and school management. Process management in schools helps to avoid redundancies and mistakes and allows new staff to become acquainted with the school’s procedures and regulations.
Working in teams
Teaching staff in vocational schools are continuously updating their knowledge and skills in order to meet the numerous challenges resulting from changes in the world of work. Curricula in almost all professions stipulate “learning situations” and “project work”. These trends and the increasing variety in students’ backgrounds and levels of skills necessitate carefully planned and coordinated teaching. Teamwork is therefore a basic tool to develop and assure the quality of teaching.
Reflecting the school’s conditions, procedures and results by means of self-evaluation Self-evaluation helps to develop the processes in the organisation
Results of evaluations are published, but cannot be traced back to individual teachers Organisational Learning
Reflecting teaching practice based on feedback
Feedback helps to develop individual skills of teaching
Feedback results are treated confidentially Individual Learning
Moreover, with the systematic introduction of quality management, schools assume new tasks and choices that require close cooperation and coordination.
Teams work towards clearly defined goals, set up rules and take over responsibility. Since team skills are necessary and a prerequisite for the success of quality management, the setting up of teams whenever this type of work is adequate and the support of existing teams is considered to be a major task of the school management team.
Managing information and communication
Information and communication are ubiquitous and of paramount importance in OES schools on their way to become a “learning organisation”. By managing information and communication adequately, members of staff are well-informed and are able to contribute in the exchange of information. Thus they are enabled to assure the quality of the school and can play an active role in the school development process. The main aim of managing information and communication is to establish a system of dialogue and exchange which includes all members of the school community.
Documentation of quality
Documenting the school’s philosophy of quality management with its targets, rules and procedures ensures that the common work and efforts undertaken to assure and develop the school’s quality are made transparent to all members of the school community. Assembled systematically in a quality handbook, the documentation is an important source of information for all colleagues and especially for new staff. The quality handbook also serves as a major source of information for the external evaluation conducted by the State Institute for Educational Development (LS).
4.2. External evaluation and school supervision
All state-run vocational schools in BW operate within the framework and obligations set out in Par.1 of the constitution. Agreements on objectives
between the local or regional education authorities must therefore correspond to the educational policy and guidelines of the state of Baden-Württemberg. After having received the results and the report of the external evaluation, the school derives and decides on objectives for its further development. These objectives are discussed, synchronized and agreed upon with the local education authority in an agreement on objectives. Thus a close link is established between the school’s individual agenda, i.e. autonomy, and the state’s responsibility for the supervision of the system of vocational education.
External evaluation by the State Institute for Educational Development (LS)
External evaluation focuses on the quality development processes applied in the individual school. Based on an impartial view and transparent criteria the school is given feedback on its strengths and aspects which need to be developed. The results are documented in a report which serves as a basis both for the school’s further internal development and the agreement on objectives with the local education authority.
External evaluation is conducted by a team of experts (evaluators). The team assesses the school’s documentation of quality and the school’s concept of self-evaluation and carries out interviews with all members of the school community. The results are presented to the school management team and to the teaching staff and summarized in a final report. The school receives a written report, which is then passed on to the local education authority and the local school board. The aim is a five-year interval of compulsory external evaluation for each school.
Agreement on objectives (LS)
Orientation and focus on targets is a central requirement for the self-monitoring and self-organisation of learning organisations. Targets provide a clear orientation for the allocation of resources and help to establish priorities for the activities of teaching staff and management. Agreements on objectives usually follow an external evaluation and are therefore valid for a period of five years. The cycle is supplemented by annual consultation talks between schools and the local educational authority, where targets are reflected and - if necessary – adapted. These regular consultations
allow the regular exchange of information between the schools and the authority and help to develop and nurture their mutual understanding.
5. Support system for the implementation of OES
New tasks require new skills and know-how. A unique support system that comprises information, further qualification, counseling and resources was designed and implemented to meet the various demands of school management, experts in quality management and teaching staff. Moreover, the supportive system enables schools to get involved in networks.
6. Future prospects
OES has become a trademark for quality development in vocational schools. Feedback and evaluation provide evidence that the concept is sophisticated and suitable for the educational system. However, the concept needs to be developed and refined. The seminars for teacher training contribute significantly to the quality of teaching and learning and may play an even more important part within the OES concept. The system of external evaluation is to be enhanced so that the focus of follow-up evaluations shifts to the agreement on objectives. And last but not least, vocational schools ask for a certificate to display their achievements to the public. (cf. “certification” above).
Social changes and new issues such as integration and intercultural learning, inclusion and individualization of learning and the needs and demands of schools have to be heard and included in further considerations in the development of OES.
If it is perceived as a professional toolbox, OES itself may develop into a valuable resource supporting schools to meet future challenges in a focused, systematic and collaborative way. Maintaining teachers’ health has recently become an important issue. Since the body of knowledge is subject to rapid change and more students need individual support, teachers have to face more challenging and more varied tasks. Our schools and our students need optimistic teachers who see themselves up to the task and enjoy teaching - therefore they deserve our support.
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