Strategies for improvement

22nd November 2002 at 00:00
The annual Beacon Awards, run by the Association of Colleges, recognise outstanding teaching and learning in;nipgt; Winning colleges receive cash prizes of about pound;4,000 NO PHYSICAL FILETHE chance of a free trip to Heidelberg to gen up on the latest developments in your subject does not usually fall into the lap of lecturers.

But at Bridgwater it happens more often than in most colleges. Jane Morris, a biology lecturer, was able to attend a conference on the latest developments in her subject because managers were sure the college would benefit.

But her own personal, professional and management development were equally important. All staff interviewed by judges for the AoC Staff Development Beacon Award stressed the value and importance of this support.

They are encouraged to take qualifications in work time from basic refresher courses to the Teaching Certificate 7407 - and the college pays. "It is a cultural thing here," said Jane. "People are expected to keep up with current developments."

Courses such as computing are advertised right across the college. If staff lack the skills, top-notch consultants are drafted in to help.

It can look very ad hoc. But it is all part of a finely-tuned development plan that gives every staff member professional advice and support, from mentoring for newcomers to help from a trained team of advanced practitioners.

It was the clear success of the programme that won Bridgwater College the TESAoC Beacon Award for Staff Development.

In a recent inspection report, Bridgwater was found to be outstanding in leadership and management. Described as "dynamic and effective", all its curriculum areas were judged outstanding or good.

A particularly striking feature, that was also instantly detected by the judges, was the sheer hard work that was needed at the top to keep the system going.

All the comments from staff and managers interviewed by the judges centred around the students and how they - as individual staff - approached problems and strategies for improvement as teams.

Fiona McMillan, the principal, stressed that while the college had to be "businesslike", it was not a business but a service. "That it is a service to the students is the prime consideration behind everything we do. The staff have to fit in with that ethos."

Fitting in is no problem, it seems. Lecturer John Evans summed up majority feeling when he spoke about job appraisal - the subject of controversy with the unions.

"We don't feel threatened by appraisal. We feel quite the opposite. It is one of the many means by which staff can develop here."

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