PAYMENTS OF pound;20,000 are being made available to groups of organisations that want to work together to improve teaching.
The cash pound;3 million for the first year is being offered by the Quality Improvement Agency, which hopes the scheme will grow further if the next 12 months prove successful.
More than 550 providers, including colleges and private training bodies, have expressed an interest in being part of the programme, called Support for Excellence, following a pilot programme which the agency says has proved the scheme's merits.
The aim is to help managers to share ideas to improve their organisations as well as helping individual practitioners, including lecturers, to become more effective through mutual support. The emphasis is on existing staff and managers providing advice and support to each other, rather than employing outside consultants, and learning from each other's mistakes as well as sharing good ideas.
All organisations funded by the Learning and Skills Council will be invited to take part. These include organisations involved in adult and community education, work-based training and charities that run LSC-funded programmes.
Andrew Thomson, the agency's chief executive and a former college principal, says the scheme is designed to be attractive to quality managers, department heads and principals but is ultimately about improved teaching, with the emphasis on self-regulation and a "peer review" process that is intended to be less frightening but no less rigorous than external inspections.
It is anticipated that some 150 partnerships will be established over the next year, although even this number is regarded as the tip of the iceberg, with about 2,000 providers in the "learning skills sector", all of which are able to apply for the cash.
Mr Thomson said: "I am delighted at the overwhelmingly positive response to this initiative.
"Through Support for Excellence, peer groups of colleges and providers will help each other improve what they do and shape the way self-regulation can be made to work in the further education system.
"It is great news for teachers, trainers, tutors, managers and leaders who have shown in our pilots that this way of learning really is highly productive."
With colleges expected to move towards greater self-regulation, the programme will encourage all providers, including private sector training firms, to assess each other in co-operative groups. The programme coincides with the use of light-touch inspection by Ofsted for top-performing providers and clear signals from the Government that it sees self-regulation as part of the future for colleges and private providers.
The funding comes with a contract requiring the partners each to carry out one review of another organisation in the partnership, support improvement activity and review the progress that has been made.