Learning and Teaching Conference 2014

This year’s University L&T conference, run as part of StaffFest2014 had as its theme Student success: raising attainment. Attendance was better than it has been in previous years, which was good news, but more of this later.

An introduction and welcome by the VC, Prof Michael Gunn, was followed by an introduction by me, where I looked at our league table position, emphasising the importance of student attainment. Using the strapline “we can be better than this”, I also introduced some of the data around attainment of BME students, before summarising the outline for the day and introducing our speakers.

Prof Liz Thomas

Liz spoke about Inclusive Pedagogy, introducing the 4 outcome indicators used by HEFCE – achievement of a degree; classification; employment, and graduate outcome. She explored the key themes of engagement:

  • Active and collaborative learning
  • Participation in challenging acadmei activities
  • Formative communication with academic staff
  • Involvement in enriching educational experiences
  • Feeling legitimated and supported by university learning communities

Successful engagement involves an overlap between social, service and academic spheres, as below:


Liz also introduced data on differential attainment based on gender, ethnicity and disability, as well as looking at the impact of students from the different quintiles of the Polar3 classification.

Liz emphasised the importance of engaging all staff, not just academic, and said that the partnerships between staff and students were a key strategic enabler.


Dr Winston Morgan

Focussing in now on a specific issue, Winston took us through ideas on how to solve the attainment gap between BMR (or BAME) students and white students.

As well as presenting plenty of data to illustrate the existence of an attainment gap, Winston presented key questions to ask about our institution, before we start to understand how to solve the gap:


The main factors that determine or drive the gap are:

  • Prior knowledge
  • Student age on entry
  • Performance of white stdunets
  • Other more difficult to identify factors (academic confidence of BAME students)

If qualifications on entry are the driver of the attainment gap, then the institution must change either the admissions policy or change the L&T practices to suit the admissions policy. For example, on admission policy, students must be selected by specific subjects and grades, not just UCAS points When admitting students form BTEC backgrounds, then the entry tariff must be raised by 20-30% to allow for their previous learning styles. An increase of 30-40% should be considered for the tariff from access courses.

If the admissions policy can’t be changed, then Winston proposed changing the L&T practices to sit the admissions, by adopting the practices of BTEC and Access programmes, ie, fewer exams, multiple assessments, lower SSRs. Finally, provide the skills so that students can cope with the challenges and assessments of university.

Winston concluded by looking at the “identity gap”, as shown below:


Followed by messages to close the racial identity gap:


This was a challenging talk, and even though Winston spoke for longer than intended, I wasn’t going to ask him to stop! Over the next few days I heard so many positive comments about what a great talk it was.

Nonetheless, it does leave us with some significant challenges, some of which the BME project group can look into, but the key questions will be:

  • How much do we know about the issue at Staffordshire?
  • How could we change our admissions policy?
  • How could we change our L&T practices?
  • How could we address the issue of racial identity, and do we have role models in senior posts?

Paul Mangnall

The final keynote speaker was Paul Mangnall, Principal of Stoke on Trent 6th Form College. Paul provided a quick run through the processes used in schools (and in FE) maintain and ensure consistency.

Paul ran through the processes of teaching observations, noting that one observation a year led to a “cup final” scenario, with possible over preparation, unrepresentative performances, and increased pressure to perform. Instead, the process now involved observing a member of staff twice over a three day window.

  • The formal lesson observations were operationlised by:
  • Each member of staff formally observed twice per year
  • Observation window – any lesson to be observed within a 3 day period
  • Key strengths and areas for improvement identified for “close the loop”
  • Holistic view – included student progress against target grade, assessment, and student files
  • Trained observation team, formal moderation process
  • Links to departmental and individual performance management targets

The interesting thing about Pauls’ talk was that he described the same kind of observation processes that are used already in other universities. There is clearly scope for us to learn from other sectors and institutions.

Plenary sessions in the afternoon were on: the work of the BME project group; the Paul Hamlyn ”What Works” project group; the new personal tutoring policy;, and supporting students through the enabling centre. The final question time provided an opportunity for speakers to respond to queries about BME attainment, transitions to HE, electronic assessment and digital literacy

In conclusion, I was really pleased with the conference and the way in whuch so many people really engaged with the important theme of improving student attainment.

The only question I have is this: since we are a teaching-led organisation, then why weren’t all of our academic staff in attendance? It was particularly interesting to see who went to the leadership event three days later instead.

For future years we’ll be working hard to make this event much harder to avoid – with topics that are important for everyone who teaches or who supports teaching, then this shouldn’t be difficult. Well also work more closely with our faculties to engage them earlier in the planning process.

1 thought on “Learning and Teaching Conference 2014

  1. A really interesting day. Liz Thomas, well informed and strong research base. Winston had much to contribute too despite being allowed to over-run by 20 minutes and clipping the time available to his ‘following’ colleague. Overall, a very good day.

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