Professional standards are back on the agenda

As the next phase of sector consultation on a draft revised Professional Standards Framework launches, Kathryn Harrison-Graves reflects on the continued strategic importance it plays in learning and teaching

Kathryn Harrison-Graves is Executive Director for Membership, Innovation, and Development at Advance HE. She is responsible for the current project revising the UKPSF.

Since its inception in 2006, the UK Professional Standards Framework (PSF) has developed and evolved.

The first iterations were focused on new academic staff, and on training. Fast forward to now, and the PSF embraces all who teach and support learning in the broadest range of higher education contexts; from students who teach to strategic leaders of education, across the disciplines and professional services and increasingly, across the globe.

And we can see how, over time, the PSF has supported institutional policies – becoming embedded in probation, promotion criteria, teaching professoriates, and teaching awards. It underpins continuing professional learning and development for those supporting student learning.

The adaptability of the framework has helped it to become relied upon in diverse UK higher education, and a growing population of international institutions. There are now 174 accredited institutions and nearly 160,000 Fellows who have had their practice recognised against the PSF.

The framework also has opened up conversations about what constitutes the dimensions of teaching in higher education. Covering the professional values that underpin inclusive and evidence-informed approaches, the core knowledge required, and the design and delivery of high-quality teaching, learning, and assessment, the PSF has proved an exceptionally successful tool.

A changed landscape

The learning and teaching landscape has changed considerably since the last review in 2011, so earlier this year Advance HE committed to facilitating a sector-wide review to ensure the framework continues to be relevant to higher education – now and in the future.

Overseen by a sector-led steering group, the independent project team undertook a qualitative, thematic analysis of the existing evidence base gathered from multiple sources over the past seven years – to ensure we were not solely responding to the pandemic context.

This analysis was clear – there is no sector appetite for dismantling the current structure of the framework.What we found suggested that the framework’s unique capacity and its “elasticity” to support the diversity of higher education learning and teaching should be maintained whilst the context and focus required both updating and clarifying in places.

This analysis informed the first phase of the review’s consultation. More than 20 sessions (with in excess of 300 total attendees) were held, contributing constructive and insightful comments to help inform the next iteration of the PSF.

Key issues identified here included aspects related to the use of digital and technological approaches to enhance learning; how inclusion and inclusive practice could best be represented in the framework; how to retain and enhance the framework’s portability and value within different global contexts; how and where impact and effectiveness could best be incorporated, and how descriptor 4 (on strategic leadership) could be enhanced to have a wider appeal.

What’s new

Our new proposals for the revised framework retain the original structure of dimensions and descriptors. These have been revised, reworded, and updated to include a small number of new additions.

There is now a heightened emphasis on aspects of inclusion, effectiveness, and context and a renewed focus on improved outcomes enhancing the learner experience and outcomes.

Similarly, there was a strong demand for clarification of the relationship between descriptors and dimensions of the framework, which has been addressed.

We’re really grateful for the engagement we’ve had from the sector so far, and it has been essential in shaping how the review has moved forward.

The sector is now invited to share their views on the draft through an online survey, which offers respondents opportunities to comment on the full draft, its wording, structure, and layout.

A core principle of the review is stakeholder consultation and as such, I would like to encourage people to take this opportunity to support the creation of a revised PSF that can continue to support the development of high-quality teaching and support for learning.

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