Profile of VET organisation

Country: UK

Good practice title

Peer Review and Development (PRD) activity between Further Education Colleges

Baseline / problem

This is good practice resulting from changes implemented in 2007.  At the beginning of the 21st century there was little joint working between further education (FE)  colleges in the UK, chiefly due to the changing nature of the competitive FE environment.  The various networks in the south west region of the UK for senior staff and/or quality managers gave opportunities to discuss themes of common interest, but did not primarily promote actual joint working and/or sharing of good practice.  A group of quality managers from the colleges decided to form a confederation of colleges willing to promote and participate in peer review and development activity.  The organisation has proved to be very successful.

Good practice: (Measures, instruments, criteria, indicators)

In 2007 the South West Peer Confederation of FE colleges was established, and in 2014 is still thriving.  This membership-based organisation aimed to bring representatives of colleges together to review elements of each college’s work through ‘peer review’ activities thus enabling colleges to receive objective feedback from others, and for good practice to be shared.  The majority of colleges in the SW region of the UK are now members and the 20+ colleges are grouped into smaller ‘PODs’ of up to 5 colleges who do peer review work together.
The SWPC itself has quarterly ‘Theme Days’ attended by representatives of member colleges and these are a combination of workshops, presentations on relevant topics, and time for the ‘PODs’ to plan and discuss their peer review and development activity.
Peer review activity can be very varied in approach, but typically involves two or 3 colleges in the POD sending reviewers to the ‘host’ college for a day during which they will focus on examining one or more features of that college’s work, giving feedback and recommendations at the end of the day.  These activities could include observations of taught sessions, discussions with managers and/or staff, meetings with learners, examination of documentation etc.  The ‘development’ aspect of PRD relates to judging the impact of changes implemented as a result of recommendations made by the visiting peer reviewers.
The benefits to the ‘host’ college is that they can use the external reviewers to give them an objective view of certain aspects of their provision , and potentially provide useful recommendations into ways to implement improvements.  For the visiting reviewers it is an opportunity to see what is done at other colleges – which often provides ideas that can be implemented elsewhere.
Often peer review is linked to the college’s self-assessment processes, in that the judgements made in the college self-assessment reports can be ‘tested’ and evaluated.

Problems and constraints encountered and solutions found:

One of the anticipated difficulties is the reluctance of colleges to work closely with neighbouring institutions that may be in direct competition for the same students.  The fact that there are several ‘PODs’ of colleges within the SWPC means that if 2 colleges can’t work together they can be put in different PODs. However, this is rarely necessary and there have been many examples of close cooperation and joint work between staff from colleges that are geographically quite close.  Another concern related to confidentiality.  A set of protocols for peer review was established that set out how details of a college’s work should remain confidential between the members of the POD, and colleges have realised that they can be honest about their work without fear of weaknesses being publicised more widely.
There have been all sorts of positive ‘spin-offs’ from the work established by the SWPC (such as Curriculum Sub-Groups for practitioners in particular vocational sectors) and anyone wishing to set up a similar regional confederation could learn from the SWPC experience.

Good Practice Category