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UK Professional Standards Framework

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The UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education

 

Reprinted with permission from the SEDA Magazine Educational Developments, 13.1

Nigel Purcell, Higher Education Academy

 


 

The revised UKPSF (HEA 2011) was published on the 2nd November 2011 and in general appears to have been well received by the sector. In this article I am going to explain the characteristics of the Framework, its strengths and its potential uses. I hope to show that it can be an invaluable tool in the drive to raise the standard of teaching and learning support provision in higher education.

 

The framework’s central purpose is to help those seeking to enhance the learning experience of their students, by improving the quality of their teaching and learning support. If you have a substantive role in the education of students or staff, it will be relevant to your situation. The Framework provides a means to comprehensively benchmark, develop, recognise & reward teaching and learning support roles within higher education.

 

It has been developed by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) on behalf of the sector as a whole and so it is the property of all of those with a direct interest in the HE sector.

 

What is the Framework?

The Framework document consists of a description of the professional role of ‘teaching and supporting learning’ within the higher education environment written from the perspective of the practitioner. This description is expressed in terms of three Dimensions of Practice, which are used to construct four Descriptors that are intended to comprehensively cover all teaching and learning support roles within the HE environment.

 

The Dimensions of Practice

The Dimensions consist of three sets of statements outlining the:

 

  • Five Areas of activity undertaken by teachers and supporters of learning within HE
  • Six aspects of Core knowledge that are needed to carry out those activities at the appropriate level
  • Four Professional values that someone performing these activities should embrace and exemplify

 

The three Dimensions focus respectively on the practice of teaching and supporting learning in HE, how it should be done and the values that should underpin it. They reflect the complex and multi-faceted nature of the professional role of staff teaching and supporting learning. This complexity is highlighted in the Framework document by embedding them within a diagram, intended to illustrate the ways in which these three aspects interact with each other. This contrasts with the linear format of the previous Framework.

 

 

 

 

All three dimensions will be operating within any actual performance of teaching and supporting learning. So any particular activity will involve the application of appropriate knowledge and commitment to the relevant values as illustrated in the diagram below.

 

 

 

No one dimension has primacy. Each one describes a key aspect of the professional role of teaching and supporting learning in the HE context. They are all high order and very general statements which are deliberately written in accessible language. Each Dimension is intended to provide a clear and comprehensive description which can be used to interrogate relevant practice.

 

The Areas of Activity

 

The five Areas of Activity are:

 

A1 Design and plan learning activities and/or programmes of study

A2 Teach and/or support learning

A3 Assess and give feedback to learners

A4 Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance

A5 Engage in continuing professional development in subjects/disciplines and their pedagogy, incorporating research, scholarship and the evaluation of professional practices

 

A1, 2, 3 & 5 trace a natural and intuitively recognisable path through the characteristic practice of teaching and supporting learners. A4 (Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance) relates to all stages, as captured in the diagram below.

 

 

Core Knowledge

 

The six aspects of Core Knowledge are:

 

K1 The subject material

K2 Appropriate methods for teaching and learning in the subject area and at the level of the academic programme

K3 How students learn, both generally and within the their subject/disciplinary area(s)

K4 The use and value of appropriate learning technologies

K5 Methods of evaluating the effectiveness of teaching

K6 The implications of quality assurance and quality enhancement for academic and professional practice with a particular focus on teaching

 

The term ‘knowledge’ is intended to be understood in the widest sense of both ‘knowing that’ and ‘knowing how’ so that theories  derived both from public propositional knowledge and from personal experience have been incorporated into practice through reflective processes (Eraut 1993).

 

Key emphases within the elements of Core Knowledge are:

  • the importance of the discipline both in terms of the content and also the particular appropriate pedagogies;
  • a balanced view of the role of learning technologies – clearly these are important but the Framework does not mandate engagement with the latest technologies for their own sake;
  • the ability of staff to gather evidence about their own practice and a contextualised understanding of the QA and QE processes within their institution

 

Professional Values

 

The four professional values are:

 

V1 Respect individual learners and learning communities

V2 Promote participation in higher education and equality of opportunity for learners

V3 Use evidence informed approaches and the outcomes from research, scholarship and continuing professional development

V4 Acknowledge the wider context in which higher education operates recognising the implications for professional practice

 

The Core Values have changed more than the other Dimensions, with the former V1 and V3 merged to form the new VI, the former V4 revised to become the new V2, the former V5 moved to V3 and a new value, V4, added. This is perhaps the most difficult area to interpret and give evidence for, but is essential to effective practice. The key principle in evidencing these values is to recognise their highly contextual nature. For example, the way in which someone might evidence their commitment to ‘V2 Promote participation …’ depends on their particular role. It might be that they are involved in the recruitment process and would be able to show how they have sought to encourage and facilitate the entry into higher education of new categories of applicants, not traditionally associated with higher education. However it might equally be that their commitment can best be shown in the specific ways that they teach and support a particular group of learners to remove obstacles to their success. The aim should always be to interpret the Framework according to its spirit rather than the letter.

 

The Descriptors

The Descriptors are closely based on the Dimensions and outline the characteristics of someone performing four broad categories of teaching and/or learning support role within Higher Education. Why four Descriptors? They are intended to provide coverage of the full range of teaching and supporting learning roles within higher education, and since these roles are highly diverse, it was necessary to create a number of descriptors to cover them all.

 

Each Descriptor begins with an introductory statement addressed to the practitioner, which briefly indicates the level of understanding required for the performance of teaching and learning support role of that type at an appropriate standard within a higher education institution. The final phrase in the introduction is the same for all four categories … ‘Individuals should be able to provide evidence of:’ which makes clear the orientation of the Framework towards the development of the individual as a practitioner.

 

This is followed by a series of between five (for D4) and seven (for D3) further statements which draw on the Dimensions of Practice to identify what someone performing such roles should be able to evidence.

 

Table 1: Comparison of Descriptors 1-3

 

 

D1

D2

D3

Demonstrates an understanding of specific aspects of effective teaching, learning support methods and student learning.

Demonstrates a broad understanding of effective approaches to teaching and learning support as key contributions to high quality student learning.

Demonstrates a thorough understanding of effective approaches to teaching and learning support as key contributions to high quality student learning.

D1.1

I. Successful engagement with at least two of the five Areas of Activity

I. Successful engagement across all five Areas of Activity

I. Successful engagement across all five Areas of Activity

D1.2

II. Successful engagement in appropriate teaching and practices related to these Areas of Activity

II. Appropriate knowledge and understanding across all aspects of Core Knowledge

II. Appropriate knowledge and understanding across all aspects of Core Knowledge

D1.3

III. Appropriate Core Knowledge and understanding of at least K1 and K2

III. A commitment to all the Professional Values

III. A commitment to all the  Professional Values

 

D1.4

IV. A commitment to appropriate Professional Values in facilitating others’ learning

IV. Successful engagement in appropriate teaching practices related to the Areas of Activity

IV. Successful engagement in appropriate teaching practices related to the Areas of Activity

D1.5

V. Relevant professional practices, subject and pedagogic research and/or scholarship within the above activities

V. Successful incorporation of subject and pedagogic research and/or scholarship within the above activities, as part of an integrated approach to academic practice

V. Successful incorporation of subject and pedagogic research and/or scholarship within the above activities, as part of an integrated approach to academic practice

D1.6

VI. Successful engagement, where appropriate, in professional development activity related to teaching, learning and assessment responsibilities

VI. Successful engagement in continuing professional development in relation to teaching, learning, assessment and, where appropriate, related professional practices

VI. Successful engagement in continuing professional development in relation to teaching, learning, assessment, scholarship and, as appropriate, related academic or professional practices

D1.7

 

 

VII. Successful co-ordination, support, supervision, management and/or mentoring of others (whether individuals and/or teams) in relation to teaching and learning

 

Descriptors 1 & 2 differ primarily in respect of the breadth of engagement expected. Someone working in a role appropriate for D1 is expected to cover at least two of the Areas of Activity and appropriate Core Knowledge and Professional Values, whilst someone working at D2 would be expected to be able to provide evidence of working across all five Areas, all aspects of Core Knowledge and to commit to all the Professional Values.

 

Descriptor 1 is intended to relate to staff whose role in teaching and/or supporting learning is doesn’t address all, of the Areas of Activity. They would also be expected to possess the appropriate Core Knowledge and be committed to appropriate Professional Values. Perhaps also they might undertake their role with guidance and support from more experienced teachers. Each Descriptor is accompanied by suggestions for typical job roles covered by that descriptor. An example role for D1 is an early career researcher with some teaching responsibility.

 

D2 is intended to relate to staff with a more substantive teaching and supporting learning role(s) covering all of the Areas of Activity, Core Knowledge and Professional Values. D2 is viewed within the Framework as the threshold level for teachers and supporters of learning in higher education. Everyone with a substantive role should be functioning at this level at least.

 

D3 brings in a strong educational leadership (which may not necessarily be managerial) dimension.

D4 is designed for highly experienced staff who have made a sustained and substantial impact at a strategic level in relation to teaching and learning support. D4 is very different from D1-3, and so has not been included in Table 1.

 

The HEA Fellowship Scheme

As part of its support of the Framework, the HEA provides recognition for each of these categories so a member of staff providing teaching and/or learning support can be recognised, depending on their role and experience as:

 

 D1:  An Associate of the Academy (AFHEA)

 D2: A Fellow of the Academy (FHEA)

 D3: A Senior Fellow of the Academy (SFHEA)

 D4: A Principal Fellow of the Academy (PFHEA)

 

The Academy also accredits institutional programmes and schemes which in effect delegates the authority to award HEA Fellowships to the accredited institutions.

 

Key strengths of the Framework

The Framework has a number of strengths which make it an invaluable tool in the drive to professionalise the teaching role in higher education and ultimately thereby to improve the learning experience of the students.

 

Concise and compact

The whole document contains less than 1500 words, which makes it much more usable than many comparable sets of professional standards. This is made possible because of the very general nature of the Descriptors and the avoidance of attempts to provide a detailed description of the minutiae of the roles. It is truly a classic case of less is more!

 

Comprehensive

Yet nonetheless it manages to capture all of the dimensions of teaching and supporting learning in a way which enables anyone who performs such roles to recognise and interrogate their practice. The typical roles column, whilst by no means comprehensive or limiting, gives an idea of the breadth of roles covered by the Framework. And not only does it enable an individual to capture their role and activity, it also facilitates that process at team and institutional level.

 

Coherent

There is a strong inner logic and clarity to the framework reflected both in the sequencing of the component elements of each Dimension, the interrelationships of the Dimensions to each other and the ways in which they are combined to generate the Descriptors.

 

Legitimate

It also has the great advantage that it is not the product of any single institution, nor the outcome of an externally imposed political or bureaucratic decision. Instead it is the product of a lengthy (some might say too lengthy!) consultation process in which the views of the whole HE sector - crucially including students this time - were sought and given. The initial consultation documentwas certainly provocative, which had the advantage that it brought strong and definite reactions as discussed in the report on the consultation (Law 2011). For example the principle of sector ownership was emphatically reaffirmed as central to the Framework and this clear consensus has been fully reflected in the final document. The role of the HEA in relation to the Framework is that of a steward rather than an owner.

 

Practical and rigorous

The Framework strongly emphasises engagement in the practice of teaching and supporting learning but stresses also the importance of a thoughtful and evidence based approach to that practice. For example CPD, scholarship and evaluation of practice are referenced in each of the Dimensions and all Descriptor categories.

 

Developmental

The Framework has huge potential to support and foster the professional development of individual staff engaged in teaching and learning support roles. They can use it to:

  • Gain recognition of their teaching and learning support activities through the HEA Fellowship scheme. Depending on their specific role they can use it to apply to become an Associate, Fellow, Senior Fellow or Principal Fellow. This will give them national recognition as a higher education educator. They don’t necessarily have to start as an Associate and work through to Fellow, Senior Fellow and Principal Fellow. They can gain appropriate recognition for any descriptor depending on their current role and recent experience.
  • Plan and guide their own Continuing Professional Development in the area of teaching and learning. There is a natural progression through the framework as the scope of their teaching/learning support role widens and deepens and the framework can help staff whatever stage they are at and whatever might be their goals in this field of activity.
  •  Foster creative and innovative approaches to teaching and learning

 

Strategic

As well as helping individual staff it has immense potential at the team, department and whole institution level. It can be used to:

  • Gain Academy accreditation for education development programmes and schemes. Accreditation of a scheme or programme by the HEA means that staff successfully completing it, are entitled to claim recognition at the accredited category. Gaining accreditation enables the institution to award the appropriate Fellowship recognition to its own staff so this is a valuable means of enabling staff to gain HEA recognition.
  • Enhance the quality and prominence of teaching and learning activities through Accredited CPD schemes and programmes. As mentioned above this enables the institution to offer HEA Fellowships - at whichever levels accreditation has been granted - to its own staff in a highly cost effective way.
  • Facilitate and support the design and delivery of initial and continuing education development programmes and activities. Staff involved in the training and development of teaching and/or learning support staff, can use the framework to design and structure their development programmes. The Framework isn’t dependent on any one particular theoretical foundation so it can be adapted to whichever perspectives are preferred.
  • Demonstrate to students and other stakeholders the professionalism that staff and institutions bring to teaching and support for student learning through published information about staff qualifications and achievements. From 2012 academic year the HESA stats will include a section recording the teaching qualifications of staff so institution level comparison data will become available.
  • Senior and strategic education managers can use the framework to help to enhance the quality and prominence of the teaching and learning activities within their remit. There are many ways in which it can be used. Two examples would be:
    • Its requirements could be incorporated into job descriptions and person specifications for posts with substantive teaching requirements
    • It could be used to construct policy statements with regard to teaching and learning.

 

In summary the Framework is a flexible, practical and highly development tool that can be used in many different ways to help to raise the status and quality of the professional role of teaching and supporting learning within higher education. The degree to which it fulfills this potential depends on its widespread adoption and utilisation within HE institutions and the education development community has a central part to play in making this happen.

 

Want to know more?

The HEA has developed Guidance Notes to support the effective use of the framework; these will be extended and amended over time. You can go to http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/professional-recognition  for further information, or you can contact the Teacher Excellence team directly on at ukpsf@heacademy.ac.uk or by calling 01904 717 500.

 

References

HEA (2011). The United Kingdom Professional Standards Framework for Teaching and Supporting Learning in Higher Education

Eraut M (1993), ‘The characterisation and development of professional expertise in school management and in teaching’’ in Educational Management and Administration, 21 (4)

Law, S (2011),Recognising Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Report from the consultation on the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) for Teaching and Supporting Learning in Higher Education