Few will be surprised at the proposal for a new training inspectorate. Using inspection as way of driving the improvement of education and training and at the same time portraying the government as being tough on low standards could hardly be described as revolutionary.
Despite the fact that many will welcome it, an over-emphasis on using the "threat" of inspection could have a dampening effect on the development of innovative approaches to teaching and training. This is ironic at a time when, as Michael Barber, the standards and effectiveness supremo, puts it; "Pedagogy will be the next big thing!" What I think is interesting however, is the omission from The Learning Age of a coherent approach to supporting the people whose job it is to run education and training organisations.
It is sensible to insist, as the proposals do, that all lecturers complete some form of recognised initial training, and welcome, of course that Investors in People becomes de rigueur for all education and training organisations. However, simply attempting to improve the "classroom skills" of staff will not be enough.
Teachers or trainers worth their salt will look for imaginative and creative things they can praise about student performance. Equally they will be cautious and careful when criticising mistakes. In the same way, a manager who wants to enhance performance by building the confidence and self-esteem of staff will keep a watchful eye on the relationship between the pressure that staff are put under and the amount of support they receive.
In short, what seems to be missing from the learning age proposals is a coherent approach to the sharing of good practice and to creating an environment in which imaginative and creative provision will flourish. We should not forget that a "culture of lifelong learning" must encourage and be able to accommodate people and organisations that want to experiment with new approaches, and to go against the grain a little.
In recent years organisations such as the Further Education Development Agency have helped to bring managers and practitioners together to share and develop ideas. However my experience of this suggests that, while what they do is useful and productive, it is mainly full-time staff who benefit . In fairness it is difficult to see how an agency with a national remit like FEDA, despite its regional programme, can effectively meet the needs of a locally-based and increasingly part-time workforce.
It seems to me that what may be required to promote good practice and to support teachers and trainers are regional "learning development units" to assist individual practitioners and organisations to develop by offering more accessible and practical support services.
These regional learning development units could work with, for example, the new University for Industry, private providers, representatives of local colleges, training and enterprise councils and local authorities. They could also forge links with regionally-based accreditation providers, and with the regional offices of the Further Education Funding Council and FEDA. By encouraging innovation and ensuring that the regional curriculum "offer" responds imaginatively to the needs of the region and the regional economy we should all benefit.
Paul Essery is continuing education officer for Newcastle upon Tyne LEA