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Best practice boosts morale

AN England-wide initiative to raise standards of teaching and learning in construction and engineering departments of further education colleges is successfully improving course quality.

The pound;330,000 project, which started in January, is designed to spread good practice from outstanding departments to less successful departments.

Since 1997, the number of good and outstanding grades awarded to such departments in Further Education Funding Council inspections has been lower than in some other programme areas. Due to the diverse and practical nature of the construction and engineering curriculum, good practice was not readily transferring from other college programme areas.

In a bid to tackle this problem, the British Association of Construction Heads and the National Forum for Engineering in Colleges were awarded the project by the FEFC to spread good practice nationally.

To date, there have been nine, free good-practice development events in Leeds, Basingstoke and Coventry, in which ways of improving teaching and learning, staying-on rates and results, curriculum organisation and management were discussed. About 60 people attended each event.

These events included case-study workshop discussions of successful construction and engineering prvision led by lecturers from colleges that have demonstrated good practice.

In addition to these generic events, there is a rolling programme of 72 in-college events. These are designed to enable college staff to discuss specific examples of course delivery in, for example, fabrication and welding, mechanical building services, brickwork, carpentry and computer-aided engineering.

Lewisham College, for example, devoted a day to good practice in painting and decorating which was attended by lecturers and technicians from 20 colleges in the London area.

Bob Clarke, the dissemination project manager, said that the generic events had been "outstandingly successful" and that good results were expected from the college events.

Elements of good practice have been clearly identified in the best colleges, he added. Learners are treated as individuals. Colleges offer a range of studies from day or evening classes to distance provision. Basic skills such as numeracy, literacy and IT are built into courses. Learners gain certificates early to lift their morale. And modern technologies feature prominently in courses.

The most successful colleges use realistic full-scale projects, make practical areas open access and demand punctual attendance.

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