ECH – Teaching Qualifications

1 October 2014

A feature of university life in recent years has been an increasing  focus on the quality of teaching undergraduates receive, especially in the light of the new fees regime. This has raised a concern about the historic failure of the higher education profession to develop professional teaching qualifications of the kind standard for schoolteachers for some time now.  In 2003 the Higher Education Academy (HEA) was founded from a merger of several predecessor bodies to support the sector in maintaining professional standards, offering teachers in HE a variety of ways of accrediting their professional activity and resources to improve their pedagogy. The HEA went through further change in 2014 (see below), but it has retained its role in supporting professional standards.

For historic reasons there is still a substantial body of teachers in HE with no formal teaching qualifications, and it would be fair to say that the sector has not universally accepted that the model of professional recognition delivered by the HEA is the best measure of the actual teaching ability of individuals. Nevertheless, it will soon be possible for potential students to establish what proportion of staff at an HEI have teaching qualifications of this kind, and this is one of a number of pressures encouraging most institutions to take the issue much more seriously than in the past. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that regardless of any concrete benefit to their pedagogical practice any early career historian is well advised to engage with framework of qualifications available, as some job specifications will now include a requirement for evidence of such engagement.

At the GTA level, this may well be in the form of a locally controlled training programme endorsed by the HEA which results in the award of a formal qualification such as the Statement of Teaching Proficiency awarded at King’s College London on the back of attendance at workshops and peer observation of teaching over the course of an academic year. Such a programme will also contribute towards the next stage of accreditation, fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. This (highly bureaucratic!) process may well be an appropriate activity for a postdoctoral teacher seeking to position themselves for a permanent position.

It is also worth noting that most HEIs will also run award schemes for good teaching practice and innovation, in some cases with the nominations coming from the student body. Such awards are quite often won by early-career teachers, and are a very strong card to have on an academic CV.

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