Students Staff

13 October 2015

Miscarriage of Justice Project

Richard Owen, Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Essex shares an update on his TALIF-funded Miscarriage of Justice project…

What is the Miscarriage of Justice Project at Essex?

Simulated crime scene

Students learn how evidence can be contaminated at a simulated crime scene at City of London police station

The Miscarriage of Justice Project, launched in the 2014/15 academic year with the assistance of a Teaching and Learning Innovation Fund (TALIF) grant, is an interdisciplinary project involving both law and criminology students and runs under the auspices of the Essex Law Clinic.  The students have been working with lawyers, forensic scientists, campaigners, journalists and psychologists on a murder case where the client has exhausted his appeals against his murder conviction but there remains doubt over the conviction’s safety.   Law students were able to be involved on an accredited or extracurricular basis.

The case was referred to us by the charity, Inside Justice, and students have been dealing with issues relating to forensic science, witness identification, and points of evidence.  The TALIF grant was invaluable in funding an induction programme which enabled students to understand the underlying issues quickly.   Induction activities included a simulated crime scene, which was held at City of London police station.

Student learning

This practical exercise gave students an insight into how evidence can be contaminated in its journey from the crime scene to the courtroom.

The first task was to create a timeline of provable events.  We initially used the judge’s summing up to work out the key events and then started drilling down into other documentation to see how it could be fleshed out.  Once we had this overview we then decided on appropriate lines of inquiry and forwarded our suggestions to Inside Justice and the client for their feedback and their preferences for prioritisation.

We made a site visit to the spot where the victim’s body had been found.  This was easier said than done as the body had been found on farmland which was part of a huge farm.  It took two days of enlarging sections from Ordinance Survey maps and cross checking with the case papers before we were quite sure we had pinpointed the exact spot.

Site visit

The students visit the site where a body was found as part of their learning

Students were then assigned their lines of inquiry and would meet weekly to discuss progress and report anything else their investigations had discovered which might be of assistance to students working on different areas.

Finally, students drafted submissions to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (the CCRC) based on the results of their investigations in an attempt to get the case reopened.  These draft submissions have been sent to the client’s representatives and the case is currently in the CCRC’s pending file.  It should be heard in about eight months’ time.

Student feedback

Student feedback was very positive.  They particularly valued working on a real case.  One student wrote an entry for the Inside Justice website saying it was the best legal education experience that she had ever had.  Two students are continuing to volunteer over the summer and one has found part-time paid employment as a direct result of her involvement in the project.

Outcomes and benefits

In addition to the academic benefits of seeing the ‘law in action’ as opposed to the ‘law in books’ one of the striking features of the project is how it has enhanced students’ employability.  They developed invaluable skills of document management which will transfer to civil, as well as criminal, litigation.  They had to think carefully about issues such as client confidentiality and, above all, they learnt a lot about teamwork.  Working in interdisciplinary teams made them more conscious about how they could best contribute to the team’s efforts in order to advance the client’s case.

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9 October 2015

It’s not only new students arriving at Essex

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Steve McMellor @ 2.36 pm

It is that busy time of year again with the squares packed with new faces as students arrive and find their feet at University. Learning and Development staff have also been busy over the last few weeks organising and hosting a wide range of induction events and training for new staff arriving at the University. These events are both a welcome to our new staff arrivals and also a primer to ensure they are prepared to deliver the excellent student experience that Essex is known for.


Professor Aletta Norval (PVC Education) introduces the education strategy to new academic staff

Over the last two weeks we have had 85 new academic and research staff attend an induction event where they were introduced to the University’s mission and strategic plan by the VC and our research and education strategies from the relevant PVC’s. They were introduced to the support services available to staff and students offered by Student Support, Learning and Teaching Technologies, Learning and Development, the Students Union and HR.

At the same time, in the Ivor Crewe lecture hall, postgraduate students preparing to work as Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTA) attended a two day event made up of a wide range of professional development sessions. 78 students received a welcome from Dr Luis Vasconcelos, Director of Research Training and attended a range of sessions with expert guest speakers. Professor Alan Mortiboys provided sessions on active learning, reflective professional practice and dealing with difficult situations, while renowned voice coach Stewart Theobold ran sessions on the effective use of the voice and pronunciation for non-native speakers. Postgraduate students also attended sessions on preparing to teach for the first time as well as having the opportunity to complete mandatory training such as the University’s equality and diversity and basic fire safety training. The new GTA’s also had the opportunity to question a panel of experienced GTA’s across a range of Schools and Departments about the detail of their roles.

In the same week, 25 postgraduate students attended a one day programme for Graduate Laboratory Assistants (GLA) and Graduate Demonstrators (GD) to better prepare them to demonstrate in practical sessions. Attendees were introduced to the challenges of teaching in labs and practical sessions with sessions with Dr Louise Beard from Biological Sciences and Professor Tracy Robinson from Psychology, as well as staff from Learning and Development. Students from Biological Sciences then go on to have a practical training session in the Biology Teaching Labs with a particular emphasis on lab safety.

This past week saw induction events for 90 new PhD students with a wide range of events to welcome them to Essex and prepare them for the rigors of an Essex PhD and introduce them to the Proficio professional development scheme for postgraduate students, unique to Essex. Two more events are scheduled for the next two weeks, ‘Progressing with your PhD’ and ‘Completing your PhD’ for similar numbers of 2nd and 3rd year PhD students respectively.

CADENZA iconAs part of all of these induction events staff and postgraduate students are introduced to CADENZA, the University’s professional development framework to foster teaching excellence for all staff who teach and/or support learning. The CADENZA pathway is accredited by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and mapped to the UK Professional Standards Framework. Successful completion of CADENZA leads to four levels of HEA professional recognition through Fellowship. Over the last academic year 132 staff have gained HEA recognition through CADENZA. 57 as Associate Fellow, 58 as Fellow, 14 as Senior Fellow and three at Principal Fellow. Learning and Development will be supporting another 139 staff achieve Fellowship over their probationary period.

This professional recognition is becoming increasingly important with talk of a ‘TEF‘, a teaching excellence version of the REF. With the government committing to the introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework in England, the HE sector has been asked by Government to improve the quality of information available to students about the teaching expertise of their teaching staff at all levels. As such HEFCE will be working with partners like the QAA and the HEA to collect data at institutional level through the staff record. In light of this you may have received an email from either the PVC for Education (staff) or the Dean of Postgraduate Research and Education (GTAs) asking you to check that your HESA details are correct with respect to your teaching qualifications or professional recognition. One of our main aims here is to reduce the proportion of ‘Don’t knows’ from our record which has been highlighted as an issue across the sector. You can access and edit your own details via HR Organiser under the ‘Update my HESA Details’ tab.

Hopefully you are also aware that you can now use HR Organiser to book all your professional development activities at Essex
via the ‘Book a new Learning Activity’ tab. Details of upcoming workshops for the next academic year can be found on the CADENZA webpages and downloaded as pdfs for GTA’s, PG CHEP participants and general Academic and Research staff. There are also workshops for Professional Services staff and we also have a range of writing workshops coming up to support more experienced academic staff who are required to gain HEA recognition via the CADENZA process.workshops

So with almost 300 new staff and postgraduates officially welcomed to the University over the last few weeks, it is time to start preparing for the January induction events for new Academic and Research staff, new GTA’s, new GLA’s and the annual teaching and learning conference, also held in January. Alongside this and the ongoing programme of professional development workshops, Learning and Development are also working on new online resources to streamline induction, mandatory training and our professional development provision.

You can find out more about the staff development offer at Essex through the Learning and Development web pages, including details of how to find and book workshops using HR Organiser. Alternately you can contact us about any workshops, development activities or professional recognition at


Dr Steve McMellor

Learning and Development Adviser


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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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