Oct 2017
6

Ensuring Quality in Schools: More than Just Ticking Checklists

Ensuring quality in schools requires collective responsibility and effort. Muhammad Husain, Head of Quality Assurance at London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) in Singapore, shares his views on quality compliance in the private education industry with Julailah Wahid.

In many organisations, quality assurance is often isolated to a quality assurance department or management representative. As a result, every other employee might fail to take onus for ensuring quality output.

Husain notes that this is usually the case for young organisations with disoriented employees and a volatile culture. The statement “quality is not my primary role” resonates louder at this stage, as the organisation struggles to identify how quality sits among its employees. According to Husain, this has a lot to do to with the organisation’s culture and how the team is built.

And it all starts from the top.

“If the top brass in the organisation deems quality as the way forward and articulate that in team meetings, briefings and daily tasks, it will cascade down to the employees. This should not be a one-time event – it has to be reiterated,” he said.

Spearheading Change

Husain’s notion is that quality assurance constitutes a two-pronged strategy – quality oriented teams and a robust quality management system. Simply put, “people and processes”.

“I always place my bet on people, as people create and innovate processes to produce quality outcomes. In fact, within the LSBF Quality Framework, we put emphasis on key principles articulating the values that need to be ingrained in our processes and people,” he said.

Husain strives to inculcate that it is the duty of each department to boost quality output at LSBF in Singapore. As he heads the Organisational Development, Compliance and Quality Assurance (ODCQA) department, he hopes to create space and ideas for brainstorming and quality improvements based on observations and feedback.

“This is one way private education institutions (PEIs) can ensure that the pursuit of quality becomes a collective effort. I believe that this method can also promote teamwork, innovation and accountability,” he said.

While the private education industry has made significant strides in the past five years, Husain reasons that there are still areas for continued development. One of it involves the lack of networking and knowledge sharing in the private education sector.

Speaking from over 10 years of experience, Husain observes that most PEIs have difficulty opening up on how they manage quality assurance – at both the academic and administration level. He notes that although they have good practices shared by the regulators, networking among quality assurance department staff across the PEIs is lacking.

“This is especially true when it comes to sharing performance data. With the new regulatory changes and emphasis on benchmarking, this veil has to be ripped. We have to be more open in terms of networking, sharing and setting benchmarks,” he said.

On this account, Husain emphasises maintaining close relations with other PEIs.

“We have built good relations with some PEIs to allow us to share information and good practices and are even exploring cross audits. This network has the potential to grow further. I hope that more PEIs will embrace this idea,” he said.

Year-Round Commitment

Most schools conduct an annual internal assessment and devise action plans to close gaps. While annual audits are a common procedure for schools, Husain feels that this should not be the ‘modus operandi’.

“It may be good for external audits but as internal auditors, like myself, we should play a ‘counsellor’ role rather than an auditor,” he said.

Husain and his team conduct monthly quality audits and eventually wrap up with one major year-end audit. According to Husain, this approach can reap tremendous results. The monthly audits serve to “observe key areas in the business that are critical to business risks and regulations”.

“We keep it simple and manage it such that it is less disruptive to the business. These audits also enable us to gather first-hand information on potential areas of weaknesses,” he said.  

The ODCQA team will then work with the other departments and provide suggestions and solutions to rectify the issues at the root.

“Eventually, a potential risk may turn out to be a success story for continual improvement by the year-end audit,” he added.

Ultimately, Husain’s aim is to ensure that the business model at LSBF is sustainable and easily replicated. This doesn’t just involve innovative processes and policies – it also includes the organisation’s people.

“The LSBF team is an asset and the culture we have developed is a strength not many PEIs have. We want to foster a team that aligns with the LSBF culture and commit to it. Competency of staff is important, but it comes second to commitment,” he said.

LSBF’s investment in its people is illustrated in the organisation’s high retention rate of over 80 percent for the past three years. Husain believes that people are “at the heart of the quality system”.

“Regardless of the robustness of the quality system, the processes wouldn’t work without the right people. This is the secret behind LSBF’s success,” he concluded. 

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