New academy to raise status of teaching

January 23, 2003

Key points

  • New Teaching Quality Academy by 2004 to promote best practice in teaching
  • Additional money for pay conditional on clear strategies for rewarding and promoting good teachers
  • All new teaching staff accredited to new national professional standards by 2006
  • Strengthened external examining system with a new national programme for externals by 2004-05
  • Student complaints ombudsman supported by legislation
  • From 2004-05, no longer necessary to have degree-awarding powers to become a university
  • Degree classification system to be reviewed
  • NUS-run guide to universities, including a survey of students’ views  

All university teachers will be expected to meet new nationally defined professional skills standards, with compulsory teacher training for new recruits, under a raft of measures designed to raise the status of teaching.

The white paper heralds the creation of a national Teaching Quality Academy that sets and oversees teaching standards and promotes continuing professional development.

“Many of those who teach have never received any training in how to do so,” the paper says. “We expect that national professional standards will be agreed by 2004-05 through the proposed new Teaching Quality Academy. We would expect all new teaching staff to obtain a teaching qualification that meets the standards from 2006.”

The academy will be formed through a merger of the Institute of Learning and Teaching, the Learning and Teaching Support Network, and the Higher Education Staff Development Agency.

Ministers have acknowledged that, despite their investment of £180 million over the period 1999-2005 under the teaching quality enhancement fund, “it is widely acknowledged that work on the development and dissemination of good practice at the national level is fragmented”. The academy will bring together all the strands under one roof.

Other key initiatives will be aimed at lifting the status of teaching in academe, especially through increased financial rewards for teachers.

“Teaching has for too long been the poor relation in higher education,” the paper says. “It has been seen by some institutions as an extra source of income to support the main business of research. This is a situation that cannot continue. Institutions must properly reward their best teaching staff, and all those who teach must take their responsibility seriously.”

As well as moves to push universities to introduce performance-related pay for the best teachers, some 70 of the best university teaching departments will be designated centres of excellence. The centres will be given £500,000 a year for five years to reward academics and to fund extra staff to help spread their good pedagogical practice.

The centres will be identified through “a process of peer review managed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and drawing wherever possible on existing information”. They will be able to bid for capital funding of £2 million each to improve their teaching infrastructure and estates. Those that do not quite make the grade will be given “commended status”.  

In addition, the number of teachers gaining £50,000 national teaching fellowships will be expanded from 20 outstanding individuals to 50.

In a major boost to the status of teaching, the rules governing the “university” title will be changed to allow teaching-only institutions to use the coveted label. This removes the current requirement that universities need research degree-awarding powers. The paper says: “It is not necessary to be active in cutting-edge research to be an excellent teacher.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said: “We have been saying for years that academic staff need the right training and development opportunities to allow them to hone their teaching skills.”

Tom Wilson of lecturers’ union Natfhe said his union “strongly objected to any notion of compulsion” in developing teaching skills, but he welcomed the emphasis on recognising the importance of teaching.

Mr Wilson said too much emphasis on teaching in key institutions at the expense of research was dangerous. “There is no such thing as a teaching-only university,” he said. “Higher education teaching must take place in an environment of research and scholarship.”

In return for additional support for teaching, there will be measures to increase institutions’ accountability for the quality of teaching, with more public information and more public scrutiny.

The paper warns that students have “insufficient information on how good the teaching is when applying for courses”. Under plans to address this, the National Union of Students will coordinate a guide to higher education that covers “course data and other factors, including quality of IT provision, entry requirements, results and employability”. The government expects that this will “help the student to drive up quality through consumer choice”.

Moves are also planned to improve the external examiners’ system, whose reports will be published in a summarised form. “If externals’ reports are to be of the highest possible standard, we need to ensure that the external examiners are appropriately trained and supported,” the paper says.

There will be “strengthened” training of examiners, more explicit guidance on their role, powers and responsibilities for signing off exam results and, from 2004-05, there will be a “national development programme for externals”.

Institutions will also be expected to spell out students’ achievement much more explicitly, following a Hefce review of the traditional degree classifications system.

In the light of “the increasing numbers of first and upper second-class degrees being awarded”, the paper says, “we want to ensure that whatever system universities use is transparent and adequately conveys the difference between the achievements of individual students, so that it has credibility with students and employers”.

A new classification system will be coupled with plans to develop records of students’ achievements and detailed transcripts of their learning.

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