Minimising Risk – Focusing on Quality Assessment Tools

When it comes to non-compliances, based on the Australian Skills Quality Authority’s (ASQA) figures, the majority of non-compliance issues relate to the practice of assessing and assessment tools. Over 70% of organisations audited have identified issues in this area.

There is an extraordinary number of RTOs that do not ‘pass’ audit on the first attempt, due to the assessment tools they present. Personally I feel that this is a shocking representation of our industry.

Many people will blame the auditors or ASQA, or find a way to pass the buck, but I have a very different view.

Over the past 12 months, I have participated in some 87 ‘ASQA audits’ for clients and partners, with the majority passed at the time of audit, or at least by the time the audit report is written. Further, over the past 13 years, I have worked with hundreds of RTOs and I believe that when it comes to assessment tools, the key issues generally relate to two distinct areas (NOTE: I am not saying that this is representative of everyone I have worked with—there are many exceptions, but of the RTOs that have had issues, these tend to be the two trends I see).

The first issue is laziness and quick fixes.
RTO owners purchase assessment tools, believing the assessment tool developers when they say, ‘Our tools have passed ASQA Audits’. Unfortunately, this is most often not the case. We find serious compliance issues with the majority of tools that are on the market today, and most need to be amended and fixed in order to pass audit.

RTO owners pursue this strategy, as many want to start earning money today! And what’s wrong with that? In theory, nothing—but in practice, these tools are often very deficient, and relying on them without tailoring, input and re-development, is extremely risky. Using these tools straight off-the-shelf is the equivalent of serving mouldy food in a café just to open today, or driving a defective car and risking your family’s life just so you can get moving.

We often forget that assessment tools are an integral part of the VET sector and are critical in ensuring a quality education system. As such, defective tools impact on people’s lives! Poor tools mean graduates join the workforce with insufficient skills and, depending on the units or qualification, the possible consequences can easily lead to serious injury and death.

The second issue is ignorance and ‘non education’.
What do I mean by this? To be a trainer and assessor, you need to hold the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. This means you understand assessment tools…right? Not based on my observations, which are echoed by many people in industry. We need to fix how we teach trainers and assessors before we can fix the system, but that’s a massive issue for another blog.

I always say, working with assessment tools, is NOT like riding a bike. It’s not a skill most people hold, especially when they haven’t worked ‘ON’ the tools for a while.

These two key issues of purchasing defective assessment tools and poor understanding and education on assessment tools, are not mutually exclusive. We often see RTOs with both these issues.

When it comes to writing and supplementing assessment tools, the process is not necessarily difficult, however it can be time consuming, and does require an in-depth understanding of what’s required. Now having said that, I make no apology for the time or money it takes to develop tools that are fit-for-purpose. As I said, you’re playing with people’s lives!

I believe every RTO has a moral responsibility to ensure all the tools they have meet industry needs as well as the unit and training package requirements. This is above and beyond the legal obligations specified in the Standard and Act. No RTO should ever believe that the tools they purchase are ‘fit for use’, without first reviewing each unit. Never rely on the mapping guide without checking it.

Further to this, the RTO should ensure all staff fully understand the requirements of assessment tools and assessing. When I write or review assessment tools, I always echo the phrase, ‘verb and context’. This means that it’s critical to understand the verb(s) contained within the performance criteria and other parts of the unit, and the context of the verb. You need to read the whole criteria/phrase and refer to the application and context of the element, and the unit as a whole. This is critical when developing valid tools.

This is just a snapshot of the issues facing industry assessment tools, and RTOs’ attitudes towards them. It’s the responsibility of the RTO to deliver quality assessment tools, not to the provider of those tools. The provider won’t get slapped on the wrist for giving you poor assessment tools, but the RTO will. It’s also the RTO’s responsibility to ensure they have the right attitude towards assessment tools, the right education to ensure their people have the expertise to write and validate assessment tools, and that they are regularly checked and updated to meet industry needs.

Doing the above will ensure that the risk to RTOs is diminished, and improved outcomes are possible for the industry and sector, with the overall result being better performing graduates.

Maciek FibrichMaciek Fibrich is Director and Principal Consultant of RTO Consultancy Group providing an end-to-end solution for organisations wishing to establish or build a successful, prosperous and reputable RTO.

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