ACCREDITATION for Dummies...

In order for the “status” to be conferred to an organisation, there are three core requirements that must be present: 
  1. a set of specific criteria, requirements or standards.

  2. a “trusted” and “professional” authoritative body or agency able to provide external verification that an organisation meets or exceeds these criteria and standards.

  3. a formal system designed to assess or evaluate an organisation according to the accepted criteria and standards. It is this formal evaluative or assessment system that constitutes the “process” and, upon successful completion of the process, an organisation agrees to uphold the quality standards set by the accreditation body or agency and also submit to any periodic accreditation renewal review. It is for these reasons that accreditation is most often defined as a form of “external quality review” or “external scrutiny of quality assurance”. However, it is also important to note that accreditation is not only used to confer status or evidence quality or excellence through evaluative processes – it has also been used to improve or enhance levels of quality in many different contexts. Perhaps, the best-known (for educators) of these initiatives involved the creation of the American Medical Association (AMA) in the early 1900s – and its mandate to judge medical schools across the states and ensure that all such institutions operated in line with the Harvard and Hopkins “standards”.

Accreditation is the affirmation that a school provides a quality of education that the community has a right to expect and the education world endorses. Accreditation is a means of showing confidence in a school's performance. According to Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA):
Accreditation is a process of external quality review used by higher education to scrutinize colleges, universities and higher education programs for quality assurance and quality improvement. The Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA), a specialized English language programme accrediting agency in the US, defines accreditation as:
…a process by which experts in a particular field determine common standards and choose to regulate themselves according to those standards. In order to become accredited, especially in the field of education, a program or institution participates in a voluntary process of peer review, designed to improve and assure the quality of the program or institution. All three of these definitions highlight the emphasis on both “status” and “process” involved in an expert, external review. Accreditation bodies that use these approaches frequently list their benefits as the best way “prove” levels of quality, demonstrate public accountability and cultivate a positive image for the organisation - in addition to being an effective means to foster wider stakeholder involvement. Furthermore, accreditation bodies in education frequently highlight the learning and “quality improvement” dimensions of accreditation:
Although no two educational accreditation bodies use exactly the same standards (and this can be a little frustrating for many educators wanting to learn more or compare accreditation bodies) the vast majority focus in on some very similar areas or themes:
  1. Philosophy, Mission & Purpose

  2. Governance & Leadership

  3. Organisational Culture & School Climate

  4. Regulatory Compliance & Institutional Integrity

  5. Policy Framework & Strategic Planning

  6. Systems Development & Management 

  7. Curriculum & Assessment

  8. Educational Programmes, Offerings & Services

  9. Student Engagement, Success and Achievement

  10. Student Services, Welfare & Guidance

  11. Student Tracking – Recruitment, Promotion & Advancement 

  12. Health, Safety & Security

  13. Premises, Facilities, Equipment & Supplies

  14. Resource Management & Development

  15. Information Resources & Technology

  16. Finance & Fiscal Capacity 

  17. Stakeholder Focus & Engagement

  18. Staffing (including Specialist Staff) & HR Management

  19. Administration & Management

  20. Workforce Development, Capacity & Engagement 

  21. Quality Systems & Performance Improvement Planning

  22. Institutional Results & Effectiveness

  23. Measurement, Analysis & Knowledge Management When a school, college or university applies for “institutional accreditation” (across the entire organisation) the evaluative process or assessment will cover all of the standards used by the accreditation body. However, an institution may seek to accredit only a programme, a department or school (“specialised accreditation”) and a smaller subset of these standards are used. Normally an accreditation body will have around 8-10 areas or “themes” for their standards but under each theme there may well be a large number of standards. For example, CEA uses a set of 10 core themes - one of which is “Administrative and Fiscal Capacity”. Under this theme, there are 12 additional standards that are expressed alongside a performance indicator, such as:

Administrative and Fiscal Capacity Standard 9:Financial, student, personnel, program, governmental, and contractual records are maintained and kept current, accessible, complete, accurate and, when appropriate, secure. Reporting is done ethically and in compliance with the law.  Administrative and Fiscal Capacity Standard 10:Contracts are in compliance with the law and in keeping with policies of the larger institution, where applicable. Contracts are drafted with appropriate guidance, undergo appropriate review, and are authorized by the appropriate individual(s).  What are the main stages of an accreditation process? When an organisation decides to initiate an accreditation process with a given body or agency, they are usually asked to make an “initial application” and meet basic eligibility requirements. This phase of the process is often something of a formality but some accreditation bodies can ask an organisation to host a preliminary visit and/or attend a briefing / training session before the application is accepted. In essence, however, actual accreditation processes today are made up of three steps:
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