Why the fast-food model of quality assurance lowers quality in education

Photo by nuttakit, Freedigital Photo

According to Ken Robinson (2009) standardizing assessment is not the answer to the question of how we can ensure quality assurance in education.  Instead, we should be investing more in teachers and trusting their knowledge and expertise when it comes to teaching, learning and assessment.

With regards to assessment, Robinson says that “education is being strangled persistently by the culture of standardized testing.  The irony is that these tests are not raising standards (except in some very particular areas), and it is at the expense of what really matters most in education.

To get a perspective on this, compare the processes of quality assurance in education with those in an entirely different field, such as catering.  In the restaurant business, there are two distinct models of quality assurance.  The first is the fast-food model.  In this model, the quality of the food is guaranteed, because it is all standardized.  The fast-food chains specify exactly what should be on the menu in all of their outlets.  They specify what should be in the burger or nuggets, the oil in which they should be fried, the exact bun in which they should be served, how the fries should be made, what should be in the drinks, and exactly how they should be served.  They specify how the room should be decorated and what the staff should wear.  Everything is standardized.  It’s often dreadful and bad for you.  Some forms of fast food are contributing to the massive explosion of obesity and diabetes across the world.  But at least the quality is guaranteed.

The other model of quality assurance in catering is the Michelin guide. In this model, the guides establish specific criteria for excellence, but they do not say how the particular restaurants should meet these criteria.  They don’t say what should be on the menu, what the staff should wear, or how the rooms should be decorated.  All of that is at the discretion of the individual restaurant. The guides simply establish criteria, and it is up to every restaurant to meet them in whatever way they see best.  They are then judged – not to some impersonal standard – but by the assessment of experts who know what they are looking for and what a great restaurant is actually like.  The result is that every Michelin restaurant is terrific.  And they are all unique and different from each other.

One of the essential problems for education is that most countries subject their schools to the fast-food model of quality assurance when they should be adopting the Michelin model instead” (Robinson, 2009, p.249-250).

These are indeed wise words.  The inherent problem with the ‘fast-food’ approach is that it diminishes the role of teachers.  It diminishes their autonomy, their mastery, their purpose.  Teaching is a relational activity and good teachers know what individual learners need in order to succeed.   We cannot adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to pedagogy in the classroom.  Robinson says that “too many reform movements in education are designed to make education teacher-proof.  The most successful systems in the world take the opposite view.  They invest in teachers. The reason is that people succeed best when they have others who understand their talents, challenges, and abilities. Great teachers have always understood that their real role is not to teach subjects, but to teach students.”

[Ken Robinson PhD (2009), The Element: How finding your passion changes everything, London, Viking Penguin]

Gaynor Clarke

Reach. Teach. Lead.

Reach Education Ltd

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