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Introducing the revised professional standards framework

Helen O’Sullivan, chair of the PSF Review Steering Group, on how comprehensive consultation led to a professional standards framework by the sector, for the sector
This article is more than 1 year old

Helen O’Sullivan is Deputy Vice Chancellor and Provost at the University of Chester. 

As I pressed the send button on our TEF submission last week, I concluded a period of intense reflection about what makes excellent teaching and learning and how you evidence that excellence.

The key theme of our submission was the community that is built between our staff and students and many of the sections referred back to the creativity, collaboration and curiosity that our staff show and how there is a strategic need to develop and refine those skills and talents.

That has always been the case, but the lockdowns and periods of social distancing has meant that many things have had to change quickly and often in our universities.

Qualified professionals

One of the more straightforward things to evidence in the TEF submission was the number of staff who have some form of accreditation against the current professional standards framework. This includes colleagues who have completed the accredited PGCert or have achieved Fellowship, Senior Fellowship and Principal Fellowship of Advance HE as well as other accredited programmes.

The reviewed framework will enhance the way that we are able to support, develop and reward our most valuable resource into the future.

In bringing together a steering group to support the latest refresh of the PSF, we wanted to make sure that there was a community of experts who lead education across the sector. The group included colleagues from Australasia as that region is the next largest user of the PSF after the UK. In my mind throughout the review was the phrase that I had as the aim of the review; to be “for the sector, by the sector” and we constantly challenged ourselves to ensure that this process involved the widest possible level of consultation.

We also had the more difficult job of steering the project team in negotiating the feedback from those consultation exercises. Sometimes, that feedback was challenging to our own views about the purpose of the framework; sometimes it was contradictory; often it was intellectually sophisticated and nuanced and the discussions were focused, engaging and satisfying. As a collective, the steering group was conscious of the complexity of the context and discourse that we operate in and we strived to present the framework in a way that faithfully represents the nuanced discussions that we had while retaining the clarity that is required for a document that will have global reach.

New for 2023

One of the most obvious changes since the framework was last reviewed is the increase in online learning and the use of digital technology and it is easy to see that this move has been accelerated by the pandemic. However, it hasn’t been a straightforward and linear acceleration; much of what has become known as emergency remote teaching probably worked in the opposite direction of high quality, digitally enabled education.

The revised framework supports the development of sustainable, high quality hybrid pedagogies and the achievement of enhanced student outcomes in these contemporary educational settings. The increased focus on inclusion and context will support our access and participation (APP) work and help us ensure the equality of student outcomes both UK and internationally. The increased focus on context will support development in a range of HE settings with direct links to policy developments such as the Lifelong Loan Entitlement and the skills agenda in the UK.


When I’m not chairing the PSF Review Steering Group I am a university leader who makes good use of the current Framework and so some of the main messages from the stakeholder engagement resonated. It is clearly important, for example, that there is a requirement to have influence and impact = and that this is directly in line with the institution’s learning and teaching strategy. The revised framework emphasises context in practice, and greater emphasis on effectiveness of practice and better outcomes for students. (In the English context this will help institutions meet and exceed their B3 conditions of registration with OfS.)

The framework has always been an influential part of an institution’s approach to reward and recognition through being referenced in promotions criteria. There is now the opportunity for more explicit support for teaching practice and leadership in teaching and learning to be evidenced and recognised so encouraging and enabling the benefits of distributed leadership as well as enabling more people to have a leadership role in relation to learning and teaching.

And the addition of collaboration will support the sharing of effective practice and encourage team approaches that best meet student needs and enable their success. This is a slight counterpoint to the earlier point about reward and recognition; institutional promotions criteria nearly always focus on individual achievement whereas we all understand that a truly great educational experience results from a series of team achievements.

Reflecting on the review process, I am confident that we achieved our aim of being data-led and evidence-based. The comprehensive and repeated consultation and co-creation with a broad range of representatives achieved our ambition to be ’by the sector, for the sector.

It was a pleasure to work with the independent project group led by Julie Baldry Currens and managed by Dallas Alexandrou. The work was supported throughout by Advance HE and the scale and speed that we achieved reflects the esteem with which they are held in across the UK sector and internationally. And I would like to thank the members of the Steering Group and their networks for their expertise, insight, creativity and professionalism; indeed, for modelling the Framework in action! It was a great privilege to work with you and I learned a lot from the experience.

PSF 2023 is launched today, Tuesday 31 January, to a global audience of more than 1,100 colleagues.

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