Students Staff

28 September 2015

Spotlight on Teaching Quality

Teaching quality: the debate intensifies…

The last few months has — once again — seen increased attention directed towards how Higher Education institutions survey, record and encourage teaching quality amongst their academic staff. In the wake of the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitment to introduce a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) to partner the existing Research Excellence Framework (REF), much ink has been spilled speculating on what basis and by what means teaching excellence ought to be judged (Grove, 2015a). Particular attention has been given to the (enhanced) role the Higher Education Academy might play (as the body presently responsible for granting individuals and institutions recognition against the UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education (UKPSF, 2012). The potential for utilising the statistics relating to teaching qualifications amongst HE staff that the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) already collects has been debated. And opinions differ on what weight should be accorded to the results of student surveys – such as National Student Survey – when appraising teaching quality.

Plenty of attention has been drawn to the potential problems involved in using any of the existing institutional structures and metrics. Discussion of the HEA’s future role has already raised the possibility of it becoming a type of education institute which would charge individual fellows – as well as institutions, as it currently does – for membership and monitor their ‘good standing’ in some way (Havergal, 2015). Prospective overreliance on student surveys has drawn the accusation that teaching quality would be unhelpfully and unrevealingly elided with teacher popularity and individuals’ ability to entertain students (Grove, 2015a). Furthermore, the utility of HESA statistics has been questioned by the recent statement (5 August 2015) made by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) which revealed that – in 2013-14 — English universities were not able to submit data on teaching qualifications for 40.8 per cent of their academic staff, preventing HEFCE from making any meaningful comparisons at an institutional level (Grove, 2015b).

How institutions are being proactive

With so many open questions, divergent viewpoints and on-going debates, it is no surprise that more and more individual institutions are being proactive and deciding for themselves what standards they want their staff with teaching responsibilities to reach. For new academic staff at Essex it is clear: if you have education (teaching and learning support) as part of your contract, you are asked to have gained HEA recognition at Fellowship (D2) level by the end of your probationary period (usually three years). This can be done by following a demonstrative, direct application route via the University’s CADENZA process (accredited by the HEA), which is particularly helpful for more experienced teachers. Alternatively, two HEA-accredited developmental pathways are also available: Module 1 of the University’s Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education Practice (PG CHEP) (ideal for any new appointee with little or no teaching experience), and the first part of the Medical and Clinical Education programme (for qualifying member of Health and Human Sciences staff only). If you are thinking of or have recently applied for promotion, you may also find that the University asks you to gain HEA Fellowship (D2) within a couple of years of promotion being granted.

How can you get information, advice and support?

If you are a new member of academic staff with education responsibilities there is a wide range of support available to you. As well as your academic induction to the University, Learning and Development provides a series of ‘Pathways to Fellowship’ workshops which run throughout each autumn term. These help orientate new staff with the University’s probationary requirements relating to professional development, introduce the routes staff can follow to fulfil these and provide opportunities to practise reflective writing and professional log keeping for colleagues who haven’t come across these approaches to CPD before. A wide range of workshops relating to both CADENZA and PG CHEP are run throughout the academic year.

For staff who would like more in-depth advice about how to fulfil probationary requirements (or professional development conditions relating to promotion applications), our Learning and Development Advisers are available for one-to-one consultations (email us to arrange).

What else can you do?

One of the ways in which you can clarify your own status is to make sure the information the University holds about you is up-to-date and accurate. You can update your HESA record at any time via HR Organiser. There is no replacement – of course – for talking with departmental colleagues and your mentor about how to plan appropriate development activities to support your education responsibilities. Such engagement with your disciplinary community at Essex will help you take full account of your current workload and other employment or research-related requirements that you have to fulfil.

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