Plenty of good practice … but not a lot of people know about it

Education + Training

ISSN: 0040-0912

Article publication date: 1 June 2004



(2004), "Plenty of good practice … but not a lot of people know about it", Education + Training, Vol. 46 No. 5.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Plenty of good practice … but not a lot of people know about it

Plenty of good practice … but not a lot of people know about it

Good practice in further-education colleges often remains hidden or unexploited because staff lack the strategies and skills to share such practice within their own organizations, says a new publication from the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA).

From Little Acorns: Towards a Strategy for Spreading Good Practice within Colleges sets out to discover how further-education colleges identify, validate, share and transfer good internal practice and the factors that support or inhibit good-practice sharing. The findings are based on a literature search, a survey of six colleges (all with different approaches to good-practice sharing) and evidence from colleges involved in the LSDA’s quality networks.

The findings question the assumption that colleges and staff that are effective at developing good practice necessarily have the skills and strategies to ensure the successful transfer of this practice. Key findings are:

  • Colleges have developed a range of active and passive methods for identifying and sharing good internal practice, although these have largely been developed over time, without any overarching policy or plan. Good ideas may remain unexploited because staff do not recognize their own good practice or lack the opportunity to have it validated for them.

  • Professional development is a key activity for promoting knowledge and skills sharing, but there are generally few tangible incentives for staff to share their practice. Some colleges have established posts to facilitate good-practice sharing in teaching and learning (such as advanced practitioners) and others have appointed “knowledge brokers” with more general and dedicated remit for good-practice sharing.

  • Methods for monitoring or measuring the impact of good-practice transfer are generally lacking. In the absence of such methods, it is difficult to demonstrate the benefits of good-practice transfer or to identify strategies that work.

  • For most colleges, good-practice sharing is subsumed as part of the overall approach to quality improvement. Although one college had identified the sharing of good practice as a key feature of its overall mission, there was little evidence of any overall college strategies that address the critical success factors for good-practice transfer. This may help to explain why some “coasting” colleges lack the ability or know-how to improve their overall performance, despite demonstrating pockets of excellent work within departments.

“What is significant is that inspection regimes in post-16 learning often identify major variations in the performance of different departments or areas of learning within a college,” say researchers Philip Cox and Vikki Smith. “Research into school effectiveness also confirms that variations across classrooms within a school are often greater than variations across schools. The overarching question, then, is ‘What can we do to address differential performance within colleges?’

“There is a wealth of expertise and good practice that is not being transferred within institutions. More needs to be done to capture and use this intelligence to improve overall organizational performance so that the weakest areas learn from the best.”

Any strategy for sharing good internal practice cannot rely simply on goodwill and informal networking; it needs to be properly managed. The publication describes:

  • formal and informal ways of identifying good ideas and practice;

  • internal and external mechanisms for validating good practice;

  • ways of incorporating good internal practice into college policies and processes;

  • ICT systems, such as intranets, that facilitate the recording and dissemination of good practice;

  • a range of interactive methods for supporting good-practice transfer;

  • the development of staff skills to facilitate good-practice transfer or dedicated posts such as “knowledge brokers”;

  • structured ways of monitoring the transfer of good practice;

  • structured ways of measuring the impact of good-practice transfer;

  • actions to remove the barriers to good-practice transfer; and

  • methods for evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of the strategy.

The report, by Philip Cox and Vikki Smith, is obtainable from: Information Services, LSDA, Regent Arcade House, 19-25 Argyll Street, London, W1F 7LS.

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