Stakeholder perceptions on the role of school inspection standards in demonstrating education quality in China

Publication Date11 March 2020
AuthorHong Zheng
SubjectEducation,Curriculum,instruction & assessment,Educational evaluation/assessment
Stakeholder perceptions on the
role of school inspection
standards in demonstrating
education quality in China
Hong Zheng
College of Foreign Languages, Shandong University of Science and Technology,
Qingdao, China
Purpose The purpose of this study is to identify the factors and issues within the policy context of
education and the school inspection system which might affect education quality in China and examine
stakeholderperceptions of inspection content and context in one city regionin China.
Design/methodology/approach A mixed-methods design was used. In all, 365 teachers,
headteachers and administrative staff from ten schools across the urban and rural area have responded
the questionnaires. A total of 13 interviewees including teachers and headteachers from two urban
schools and a rural school, city and national inspectors and an educational ofcer were conducted. The
interview instrument was informed by both international and local literature and some of the
quantitative ndings.
Findings This paper argues that student non-academic outcomes were perceived by participants to be
more important than academic achievements in demonstrating education quality. The prevailing exam-
oriented evaluationsystem still sets barriers for student all-round development.Educational equity in student
performancehas not drawn sufcient attention from the inspectorates of Shandong province.
Practical implications School inspection standards remain to be improved to bettersupport student
all-round development and equity in educational outcomes within and between schools, and better
accommodatepolicy contexts and local needs.
Originality/value This study examinesthe school effectiveness factors which have been rarely tested in
Chinese context and collects new empirical evidence to explore participantsperceptions on the quality of
school inspectioncriteria and education quality in Shandong province.
Keywords China, Standards, Educational policy, Education quality, School inspection
Paper type Research paper
Research background
In reviewing the literature regarding inspection effects in different European countriesand
the USA, school inspection plays a critical role in evaluating, supervising and improving
education quality (Wolf and Janssens, 2007). As the guidance for evaluation, school
inspection frameworks stipulate criteria with a focus on indicators related directly to the
selected denitions and concepts of education quality, supplying an ultimate evaluative
interpretation of school quality (Scheerens et al.,2003). Thus, reliable criteria within a
scientic monitoring systemmight be able to guarantee the effectiveness and legality ofthe
The author is grateful for the valuable advice for the research provided by Professor Sally Thomas
and Dr Liz Washbrook at the University of Bristol.
Role of school
Received12 September 2019
Revised1 February 2020
Accepted1 February 2020
QualityAssurance in Education
Vol.28 No. 2, 2020
pp. 105-121
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/QAE-09-2019-0093
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
measures of quality education (Xin and Kang, 2012) and the quality of school inspection
(Bitan et al.,2014;Porter, 1994).
To improve education quality and better accommodate the demands of the future
workforce and global economy for studentsdiverse experience and a broader range of
outcomes, such as knowledge,capacities and attitudes (Little, 2000), the Chinese government
initiated quality-oriented and student-centred education reforms (Dooley, 2001;Pepper,
1990). However, it was difcult for teachers to apply student-centred teaching approach to
classroom teaching which was advocated in this reform under the exam-based evaluation
system (Liu and Dunne, 2009). Consequently,they maintained traditional teaching methods
to guarantee high promotion rates for senior high school (Liu and Dunne, 2009). These
issues could be attributed to the lack of ready-made government guidelines for educational
reform, a comprehensive evaluation standards system and appropriate methodological
instruments (Peng et al.,2006). Moreover, there is no unied national school inspection
standards system,but only a guideline, and this would be most likely to widen uneven levels
of compulsory education quality (Zeng et al.,2007). Nowadays, promoting overall equity in
education quality between rural and urban, and impoverished and afuent areas, has
become the biggest challenge for China (Zhou, 2017). Thus, a certain degree of consistency
across the country in evaluation methods is needed so that evaluation practices can
accommodate the national educational goals (OECD, 2013a) and help achieve a balanced
development of compulsoryeducation quality at a certain level.
More importantly, the research on the criteria quality of school inspection is
underdeveloped in the context of China. Specically, the researcher found that scarce
research typically consideredinternational theories to measure and identify effective factors
of school inspection standards that could inuence education quality in certain regions of
China (Lee et al., 2008;Sun and Zheng, 2015). The keyschool effectiveness factors identied
in western countries in relation to education quality havenot been adequately measured in
developing countries and would actually reect the priorities of education quality in China
(Teodorovic, 2009). Only14.5 per cent of existing China-based research on school inspection
provide quantitativeor qualitative evidence (Li et al.,2016).Among previous research, many
Chinese scholars preferred to borrow experience from European countries by reviewing
their school inspection frameworks (Ding,2003;Rasmussen and Zou, 2014;Sun et al.,2009;
Zheng and Sun, 2013). However, few researchershave considered sufciently whether these
rawexperiences learnedfrom other countries could t in the Chinese context. Considering
the existing obvious differences between China and western countries in terms of school
environments and macro-level conditions (e.g. economy, politics and geography) (Thomas
et al., 2016), inspection criteria fromwestern countries might yield different understandings
and results when applied in China. Thus, moreevidence contextualised to the requirements
and priorities of Chinese school inspectorates is needed to inform and support development
of school inspection frameworks to evaluate schools. In contrast to previous research, this
research rst intends to provide new empirical evidence from key stakeholders, including
headteachers, teachers and higher education providers, who affect the process of school
development (Ehren et al.,2017),upon which school inspection indicators are important and
practical in terms of demonstrating education quality in a new context, Shandong province
in East China.
A conceptual framework of education quality
There is no comprehensive understanding of education quality across different contexts
which have various educationalgoals, although the content of some voluntary international
agreements points to a consensuson some aspects. In general, educational quality is seen as

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