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Accreditation: A New Route to Quality Assurance

Written by Alan Hurst, Independent Consultant

Unlike those working alongside them – colleagues such as those in counselling and careers – there remains a gap in providing recognition for the achievements of staff working in disability services in post-school education. Some organisations (e.g. AHEAD) and institutions have created their own programmes, often at a basic level to introduce staff to aspects of working with disabled students and often available on-line. Some years ago, the universities of Central Lancashire and Plymouth in the UK devised a portfolio of taught courses to meet the needs of both new and inexperienced staff and also those of the more experienced practitioners. At one stage, the two programmes were brought together and validated successfully by quality assurance procedures in both institutions. Sadly, for reasons, such as the costs to participants in terms of time and expense, the programme is no longer available. Now, a different approach has been established by the National Association of Disability Practitioners (NADP) the association of professionals working in the specialist field. This involved a shift in focus away from the provision of initial training and further continuing professional development towards the recognition of already-existing practices and their accreditation.

The NADP Accreditation Scheme: Basic Features

What has been put in place is a structure and a procedure within which accreditation can take place. This offers individual practitioners a route to formal, external recognition that they have reached a certain level of professional practice. It is not a course or programme of study leading subsequently to a qualification. The scheme has a number of key features:

  • it is easy to manage in terms of how it is structured and organised;
  • it is efficient and effective in terms of use of time by all those involved;
  • it is cost-effective and provides excellent value-for-money;
  • it is credible both within the NADP and also within the world outside the association;
  • it is comprehensive in trying to bring together practitioners from a variety of backgrounds – psychologists, academics, social workers, occupational therapists etc.
  • it is rigorous and is not a “rubber stamping” or “tick box” approach; rather it seeks to balance being appropriately demanding and challenging with being realistic in terms of what can be expected of working applicants;
  • it supports the exchange of knowledge and the dissemination of information and innovation, thereby helping practitioners develop their knowledge and skills and by promoting collaboration;
  • it contributes to the development of professionalism and to wider and greater recognition for the status, roles and responsibilities of staff working with students with disabilities in post-compulsory education and training;
  • it encourages critical reflection by practitioners in both their own attitudes and actions and also those of others.

Applying for Accreditation

The NADP Accreditation Scheme has two levels: Accredited Member and Senior Accredited Member. Everyone has to secure Accredited Member status in the first instance. Application for accreditation involves enrolling on the scheme, payment of a fee to cover administration costs, and submitting work under three themes:

  1. Working with students with disabilities with special reference to the NADP Code of Practice, and could take the form of case studies of individual students or the impact of a particular kind of impairment on learning;
  2. Continuing professional development, which could be an analysis of the applicant’s own needs and how they might be met or a consideration of a staff development programme for non-specialist Faculty colleagues;
  3. A critical reflective journal containing a selection of activities for a week’s work.
  4. In addition applicants must submit one additional item chosen from three further themes: disability, society and education, institutional policies and procedures, and quality assurance.

For those progressing subsequently to Senior Accredited Member status, all these additional items must be submitted plus one more on a topic of the applicant’s own choosing and which does not repeat any of the other five topics. A second reflective journal is also required.

NADP

Normally, all submissions are made electronically with alternative formats considered by request. Submissions should be between 500- 750 words with a maximum excess of 10% (i.e. 825 words) or equivalent. The reflective journal is treated slightly differently in that in addition to submitting a sample weekly diary/log, applicants have to provide a commentary which should be no longer than 600 words on two items chosen from their diary.

Regarding the content of applications, the Accreditation Panel is looking for content which can be categorised under two major headings:

a)A range of knowledge, skills and professional values with reference to the following:

  • Relevant recent legislation, policies, codes of practice
  • Disability theories and concepts, the impact of impairment on learning
  • Relevant research
  • Internal institutional systems
  • Funding mechanisms/sources
  • Course design/course structures
  • Learning approaches
  • Academic assessment strategies
  • Support systems, both human and technical
  • Information sources

Quality measures and quality enhancement

b) A range of attitudes and activities drawn from the following:

  • Aspects of working 1:1 with learners
  • Co-operation and team-working with others
  • Contribution to needs assessment
  • Liaison with external agencies
  • Devising and promoting inclusive policies and practices
  • Involvement in disability education for staff
  • Participating in and contributing to key committees/groups both within and outside the institution
  • Recognition of roles, responsibilities, boundaries and personal competence

Accreditation and Wider Credibility of the Scheme

The NADP has established an Accreditation Panel to review applications and make decisions on whether they reach the required standards. It has face-to-face meetings on at least two occasions during each academic year although in keeping with the desire for efficiency and effectiveness, most of the work is completed using electronic means.

Applications are forwarded anonymously to two members of the panel, one of whom is designated first assessor and who is then responsible for compiling and creating feedback to the applicant. The decisions available to the assessors are to deem items as meeting the criteria or to return the items(s) for further work and subsequent resubmission. To support applications all applicants are informed that they have been allocated to a mentor.

In closing, whilst four years might seem to have been an excessively lengthy development phase, the fact that Accreditation Scheme has been implemented and is working well currently is a major achievement. However, everyone does need to remember that the procedures, practices and processes are relatively untried and tested and so there are likely to be further points needing to be addressed. Given the universality of concerns of those working with disabled students, establishing similar schemes in other countries should be a distinct possibility.

More details can be found on the NADP website www.nadp-uk.org

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