So how DO you become an External Quality Assurer (EQA)?

Chicken & egg situation

Over the years there have been several LinkedIn discussions about how to become an external verifier – now called an external quality advisor (EQA). One of the challenges to everyone is that we seem to find ourselves in a chicken-and-egg situation (you of course can’t have a chicken without having an egg first, but you need an egg to be able to produce a chicken – which comes first?).

In my view, the same thing is now true of becoming a fully qualified EQA – the practical unit requires you to be engaged by an Awarding Organisation and undertaking EQA activities for them, but many Awarding Organisations will not appoint an EQA who does not already hold the qualifications.

As widely acknowledged, the role of an EQA is a very important one and involves representing the Awarding Organisation in overseeing the quality assurance of that Approved Centre’s operations.  This of course includes checking the Centre’s delivery, assessment, and internal verification to the correct standards, so that candidates are registered on appropriate programmes and only certificated when they have truly demonstrated the requirements of the qualification that they are taking.

Awarding Organisations are in turn responsible to the UK government regulator Ofqual to ensure that this is undertaken rigorously and professionally. It is no wonder then that Awarding Organisations look for their EQAs to be qualified and up to the job.

So how can this be achieved?

The EQA qualifications consists of two units, a Knowledge unit and a Practical unit. Whilst the Knowledge unit is straightforward and can be undertaken by anyone at any time, it is this Practical unit that presents us with the challenge because:

  1. The criteria to achieve this unit can only be met by those who are fully active in the field of EQA operations
  2. It’s one of those qualifications where not only is simulation not permitted it could be argued that this is not even possible
  3. Evidence must be produced of having undertaken formal EQA visits to Approved Centres on behalf of an Awarding Organisation

When LLUK first created the TAQA suite of qualifications (which include the EQA qualifications) it is clear that one of their key motivations was to ensure a good professional standard of operations within external verification communities.  This was to apply to all Awarding Organisations and to raise the standard nationally of external verification work and in my view an excellent intention!

However…..what was missed was what we might consider to be the “succession planning component”. What mechanism was there to ensure that very experienced and high-quality IQAs had a pathway into the external verification profession?  As a result, around five years on, we find ourselves in the position that we are today.

So how CAN I become and EQA?

To my mind, there are two approaches which seem to fit this current conundrum.

  1. Awarding Organisations could include in their recruitment some new EQAs who are not qualified, and then train and accredit these EQAs to the required qualification standard. Whilst some major Awarding Organisations do appear to take this approach already, there is some evidence that the training and accreditation is not necessarily taking place; I accept that this can be time-consuming, sometimes costly and an Awarding Organisation that is recruiting is usually looking for staff to hit the ground running to do the job immediately without too much training or supervision.

I worry a bit about this and within the last few years I have become aware of (and needed to challenge) poor practice increasingly creeping into our national quality assurance framework. Something else that adds to my concerns is the lack of a requirement by Ofqual for Awarding Organisations to have EQA-qualified staff, so that within Awarding Organisations the proper training and accreditation of EQAs can easily be overlooked. This is not currently an area of focus for Ofqual it seems.

  1. The second possible solution is that aspiring EQAs could commence their Knowledge qualification training in advance of an application to an awarding organisation, to show determination, commitment, and that they hold or are gaining the knowledge of EQA work in preparation for undertaking the required EQA duties once appointed.

This seems to be happening increasingly, and is clearly good practice within the current circumstances. However, part of motivation for writing this is that not everyone is aware of this as a route to becoming an EQA, as well as it being an excellent way of increasing knowledge and understanding for the CPD of experienced IQAs.

If Awarding Organisations don’t look after the succession planning of our EQA’s nationally, the time will come when the quality assurance system that safeguards the high quality and reputation of UK qualifications throughout the world will become damaged.  I fear ultimately some devastating effects of this on our international reputation for providing high quality qualifications.

In the meantime….

If you are an IQA, have you thought about looking at the EQA knowledge qualification for your own CPD, and to position yourself in readiness for a position with an awarding organisation as an EQA? If not, maybe the time has come when you should do this?  ATi is one of a very small number of providers that are formally approved to offer the full suite of TAQA qualifications, including both the Knowledge unit and Practical unit of the EQA qualifications.   Check out our qualification pages and current courses list or get in touch to see how we might help.

Doing this will help the UK maintain the reputation for the high quality of qualifications whilst positioning yourself well for your own future opportunities, including as an EQA with an Awarding Organisation.

Professor Ian Favell
Ian is a Visiting Professor at Middlesex University and has been Chief External Verifier for CIPD for almost 20 years. As Principal Consultant for Assessor Training Ltd Ian is particularly interested in quality assurance, assessment and verification, training, learning and development, and the development and use of competencies and competency frameworks.
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