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Search for good practice made easy

The much talked about idea of "sharing good practice" has been translated into reality with a website.

More than 100 people registered for the new service within hours of its launch by the Learning and Skills Development Agency in Northern Ireland last week. It is expected to be introduced in England if its popularity continues.

It was the brainchild of Justin Edwards, Belfast LSDA development adviser, who said that, while the agency and other bodies will continue to promote good teaching and management techniques, the new service will be a "democratic" way of allowing direct exchanges between staff.

Users can place their ideas - whether subject-specific or more general - on the site. Those who use the information can grade it under a five-star system according to how useful they found it.

If a user searches for advice, the tips which relate to the topic will appear in order of "usefulness" according to how they have been graded.

The service has been called TLC - teaching and learning communities.

Mr Edwards said: "Talking to senior managers in the colleges, they wanted to find ways of sharing good practice. The best people to understand good practice and explain it are the people using it.

"People can report anything they consider to be inappropriate and we will take it off and evaluate it before deciding whether to put it back on again. But essentially this is a way for people to share ideas with each other rather than being told what to do by outside agencies."

The web pages, designed by Jamie Neely from Design by Front, is restricted to colleges, the province's Department for Employment and Learning and the post-16 inspectorate in Northern Ireland.

The Ulster civil servants and the LSDA will use the site to gather "intelligence" about the issues which are concerning colleges, in order to improve their own services.

In England, TLC is not the first Irish initiative to capture the imagination. The departments for education and for trade and industry are understood to be looking closely at Lecturers into Industry - another LSDA-supported activity in Northern Ireland.

Lecturers in vocational subjects are given work placements to brush up on their own skills, get a better understanding of the demands their students will face in the world of work, and build relationships with employers.

The scheme has proved so successful that employers work directly with lecturers to overcome production problems on the shop-floor by tweaking the way apprentices are trained.

Andrew Thompson, the new chief executive of the LSDA, congratulated his Ulster colleagues for their progressive thinking at their annual conference last week. He said: "It is obvious to me that we can learn a lot from what is going on in Northern Ireland."

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