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Minimising Risk by Focusing on Quality Assessment Tools

July 14, 2016

Maciek Fibrich is the Director and Principal Consultant of RTO Consultancy, which has assisted in the successful establishment of over 60 RTO’s. RTO Consultancy’s main focus is to provide an end-to-end solution for organisations wishing to build a successful, prosperous and reputable RTO. Maciek is also the managing director of the RTO - Library Training Services Australia.

For further help with assessment compliance, see our 6-Stage Assessment Approach

According to the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), the majority of non-compliance issues experienced by an RTO are related to the practice of assessing and assessment tools. In a recent ASQA report it was revealed that over 70% of organisations audited had 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 and 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 15 months, I have participated in over 95 ‘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.

Over the past 13 years I have worked with hundreds of RTOs,  and during this time I have found two key issues that seem to cause the majority of problems in relation to assessment tools. These two issues are: the need or desire for a quick fix and the lack of knowledge or correct qualifications regarding assessment tools.

(NB: These two areas are not representative of everyone I have worked with nor RTOs in general, but what I have observed during my time in the industry).

Issue 1: the quick fix

RTO owners purchase assessment tools and believe the developers of said assessment tools 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.

Many RTO owners will still purchase assessment tools without making amendments, however as they don’t necessarily have the time or resources to do this and are pressured to start bringing in revenue as soon as possible. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with purchasing assessment tools, but in practice, these tools are often very deficient, and relying on them without tailoring, input and re-development to your specific business needs, is extremely risky. Using these tools straight off-the-shelf is the equivalent of serving mouldy food in a cafe just so you can 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 or in extreme cases- death.

Issue 2: the lack of knowledge around assessment tools

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 the industry. We need to fix how we teach trainers and assessors before we can fix the system, but that’s another blog for another time.

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.

What’s interesting is that both issues (purchasing defective assessment tools and the limited knowledge around assessment tools), are not mutually exclusive. I have often seen RTOs with both these issues, as both are intrinsically linked; if an RTO doesn’t have the necessary knowledge on assessment tools, they can’t then make effective and valuable moderations to the assessment tools they purchase.

 While many can become daunted at the prospect of writing and supplementing assessment tools,  the process isn’t necessarily difficult. It can be time-consuming however, and does require an in-depth understanding of what’s required. It can also cost more money to develop tools that are fit-for-purpose. But in my opinion, this is money and time well spent. As I said earlier, 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, each 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 both the element and the unit as a whole. This is critical when developing valid tools.

These two issues provide a snapshot of the overall problems facing industry assessment tools, and RTOs’ attitudes towards them. It’s the responsibility of the RTO and not the provider, to deliver quality assessment tools. The provider won’t get slapped on the wrist for giving you poor assessment tools, but the RTO will be punished for providing poor quality assessment tools for their students. 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 staff 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, which in turn will help to produce better-performing graduates.

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