Strategy for managing academic standards

This paper sets out how the School assures the quality of its teaching, learning and assessment activity. As the awarding body, the School must be in a position to assure the standards of its degrees. At the same time, it believes that the design of quality assurance should respect different departmental cultures and academic histories.

In its discussion of previous versions of this strategy the Academic Board affirmed its belief that the School offers high-quality teaching through traditional pedagogic structures and in an environment of cutting edge research in the Social Sciences. The arrangements set out in this strategy reflect that belief.

The School believes that the following principles should inform its approach to quality assurance:

  • quality assurance should not detract from or become a substitute for quality;
  • quality assurance operates at the departmental level, with the responsibilities that this entails (including resolving short-term breakdowns and gathering and using regular feedback on courses and programmes), within a broader context where the Academic Board has collective responsibility for the standard of the School's academic awards;
  • the exercise of these departmental responsibilities should be collective, through departmental teaching committees, for example;
  • quality assurance should be a preliminary to quality enhancement and a greater proportion of energy and resource should be devoted to the latter;
  • good quality internal evidence, including student opinion, external examiner reports and student performance data, should be used to support quality assurance and enhancement processes;
  • the findings from quality assurance should be made public in such a way as to share different practices and innovations across departments and to show students that quality is taken seriously;
  • departmental teaching, learning and assessment practices should be subject to review, for example through use of teaching observation, as a means both of assuring quality, of aiding staff development and of sharing different practice;
  • the School must be in a position to demonstrate its standards to its students and their families/sponsors.

If these principles are generally shared across the School, how best can they be put into practice? The processes for delivering this strategy should be:

1. a system of initial programme approval, with input from the providers of resource-based services (including the Library, IT Services and the Academic Planning and Resources Committee) and including an external assessor's report, to be conducted by the School's central academic bodies;

2. a system of initial course approval, with input from the providers of resource-based services and conducted by the School's central academic bodies;

3. a system of approval of major modifications to programmes and courses, conducted by the School's central academic bodies;

4. a system of central review of departmental taught provision every five years or so, informed by available evidence, including student views, the main purposes being to promote development, identify and disseminate good practice, and to flag any concerns over standards to departments, without adjudicating on them;

5. a system of gaining student feedback on their teaching and learning experience in the School;

6. periodic review by the School's academic bodies of its internal Codes of Practice;

7. due and appropriate consideration of national quality assurance requirements through the School's committee structure; and

8. departments have the following arrangements in place for assuring their quality and standards:

8.1.  Staff-Student Liaison Committees for all students that meet regularly, with minutes of meetings produced and circulated to staff and students;

8.2.  Departmental Staff meetings that involve all staff, meet at least three times per academic year, and consider information from any other extant departmental committees. Minutes should be produced and circulated to staff;

8.3.  A Teaching Committee that involves appropriate departmental staff, meets regularly each academic session and considers all aspects of departmental learning and teaching, including new programme and course proposals. Minutes should be produced and circulated to members;

8.4.  A system for ensuring the effective participation in the School's annual programme monitoring exercise;

8.5.  A system for considering course and programme results annually, and revising taught provision as appropriate;

8.6.  A system for considering student survey course results annually, and revising taught provision as appropriate;

8.7.  A system for considering external examiners' reports, and acting on them, on an annual basis, with the School having an associated responsibility (a) to ensure that the system functions and (b) for any School-wide lessons on both good practice and areas of concern from the reports collectively.

May 2013