You can look at the quality of education in many different ways. You can look at the quality of the education system in even more different ways. The perspective with which you look at it largely determines the outcomes. Is it mainly about the quality of teachers, how happy pupils become, what pupils learn or how well they manage in secondary education or on the job market? And are we then looking at efficiency, or also at freedom of choice or the fairness of distribution? This paper describes a conceptual framework on educational quality and education systems.
We apply a system theoretical approach by looking at the functions that education performs in society, and then assess these functions using a number of criteria. We distinguish four functions of the education system: the qualification function, the selection function, the allocation function and the socialization function. Each of the four functions can in turn be assessed on the basis of several criteria. Here we distinguish four criteria: effectiveness, efficiency, justice and freedom of choice. Some functions and criteria are at odds with each other. In other words, an exchange can take place whereby optimization of one function or one criterion is at the expense of optimization of another function or another criterion. This trade-off leads to sub-optimal outcomes.