“Opportunities multiply as they are seized”

Prof. Mark O’Hara (pictured below), of Birmigham City University BCU reflects on a team success in gaining a Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE); that “recognises and rewards collaborative work that has had a demonstrable impact on teaching and learning”. Now read on………….

I spent last Wednesday at the NTFS and CATE Awards ceremony in Edinburgh. I was part of the BCU CATE-winning team for the High Achievers’ Recognition Scheme (HARS). Team members – Juliette and Marsha – receive the Award on behalf of the team:

What a fantastic choice of venue. It was my first time in the Scottish capital but I’m definitely going back.

As an example of inclusivity and partnership with students the idea of providing additional developmental opportunities for high achievers may appear counter-intuitive at first glance. Historically these students have often been regarded as a safe bet, one that requires little intervention as though their outcomes are somehow assured. However, our view is that high achieving students are entitled to and will benefit from being stretched still further. We piloted HARS in 2015 and students who meet the entry requirements are invited to apply for access to the Scheme’s enhancement opportunities in addition to their regular studies. The opportunities offered fall into 4 Tracks: advanced academic skills; community engagement; leadership development; and international mobility. As a widening participation institution we’ve been determined to avoid the trap of reinforcing pre-existing historical, social, economic and educational advantages. To do this we incorporated ‘distance travelled’ metrics and individual recommendation routes alongside the standard end-of-year average grades in and around the 1st class category. From an initial 120 students the Scheme now boasts over 800 eligible students annually.

Our students play an active part in shaping their route through the Scheme and their voices have been a key feature of it from the start through the early discussions with the Students’ Union to the establishment of the standing HARS Student Steering Group. It was fabulous to have four of our Steering Group members and Scholars representing students at the Awards. Listening to what our students are telling us about our practices and their development is a prerequisite for excellence and relevance on any programme of study and the co-curricular HARS is no exception. Many of our students are the first in their family to secure a place in HE and/or are mature and returning to education for the first time in many years. We are only too well aware of how much these students are often anxious for feedback that they rightly occupy their place in the academic community of practice which exists in the University. The momentum that an invitation to join HARS can impart often drives students onto even greater achievements both personally and professionally.

Galvanising colleagues across Departments and Schools as well as Central Teams to offer additional developmental opportunities for students that are doing well but want to do better has not been without its challenges. Initially we were questioned on the need for such an initiative; ‘Why bother? They’re doing well already; focus on those who are struggling!’  We have always argued passionately in opposition to that position. We believe that we need to do both and more besides. As an early years and primary teacher in a previous professional life, my starting point has always been that every student matters, every student. Our students’ engagement with HARS, their enthusiasm and the Team’s presence that evening were a vindication of that stance. It’s hard to put into words the immense sense of pride and achievement I felt as our Academic Lead, Juliette and Marsha one of our Student Steering Group members went up to accept the award. The results back at BCU meanwhile are plain to see; this is an immensely valuable and rewarding initiative and ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet!’

 

* Sun Tzu

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