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Lecturers sent back to the coalface

Vocational teachers to spend time in industry in pilot scheme to boost their knowledge. Martin Whittaker reports

Lecturers are to spend up to a term working in industry so they can return to college with up-to-date knowledge of the vocational subjects they teach.

The scheme - first developed in Northern Ireland - is being tried out in England, where it is likely to be introduced nationwide.

Staff from selected colleges and school sixth forms in the West Midlands and the South-east will begin placements with science, engineering and manufacturing firms from September 2007.

If successful, the scheme is likely to be extended to other parts of industry and could become part of lecturers' continuing professional development.

The trial scheme in England is funded by the Department for Trade and Industry. It will be run by the Learning and Skills Network, the Engineering and Technology Board and Semta - the sector skills council for science, technology and engineering.

Tony Tait, LSN's programme manager for vocational learning, said: "Many schools and colleges have had a record of teacher placements in industry for many years.

"But the focus now on a vocational curriculum means that people recognise just how important this is. People need to be more aware of business and industrial settings and up to date with what's going on in industry."

The pilot will take place in two areas, CoventryWarwickshire and Kent.

From the start of next month, those running the pilot will begin to identify the employers and colleges who will be involved in the pilot.

They will find placements for six lecturers from each area, who will then spend between six and 12 weeks working in industry in their particular field. The initiative is part of the Government's skills strategy.

Learning and Skills Development Agency Northern Ireland has been running a similar scheme since 1999 which has so far placed more than 200 staff with employers.

The placement programme now involves all of the province's 16 FE colleges and operates across a range of industries, including software engineering, construction, health and social care, motor vehicle and bio-sciences. The programme gained a mention in the recent skills white paper.

Ulster lecturers' experiences in industry have not just been confined to the province. One hotel and catering lecturer did her placement at Gordon Ramsey's three-Michelin-star restaurant in Chelsea, while others spent theirs at the vast Trump Plaza hotel in Atlantic City in the United States.

College technicians can also up to six weeks on placements, to update their skills and try out the latest equipment and technology.

The scheme also offers staff City and Guilds accreditation.

Trevor Carson, LSDA Northern Ireland's director, said colleges now work much more closely with employers because of the scheme.

"It has had a significant impact on our sector," he said. "A lot of the industrial placements, that colleges had previously, tended not to be as effective as they could be. What this initiative does is to give a much more robust framework."

Engineering was chosen for England's pilot after lecturers in the subject were found to lack up-to-date knowledge of the industry.

Anil Kumar, director of education and policy at the Engineering and Technology Board, said that, while there is support for teacher professional development, this is often in the form of general teaching competence rather than specific knowledge and skills from industry.

He said the board "wants to ensure that teachers and lecturers have access to information and resources that enable them to offer the best possible advice to students on science, engineering and technology careers."

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