On a sunny morning on Wednesday 20th June, I travelled down with colleagues Linda Chadderton and Simon Price to the Celebrating Excellence in Law Teaching Conference at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool.
Over the course of the day, it was wonderful to hear from a range of speakers covering topics as diverse as the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), Student Mental Health and The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF). There was also an opportunity to meet the Oxford University Press Law Teacher of the Year Candidates.
On the subject of SQE, it was enlightening to hear from the OUP editors who introduced the findings of the market research they had conducted with 60 universities with the aim of finding out what the Universities’ plans are in respect of their preparations for the introduction of the SQE in September 2020. Some had no plans; others were already changing their modules to become more practical, others were introducing new modules geared at preparing students for SQE1. Some were completely changing the focus of their degree to be SQE-focused from Day 1. In group discussions, it was refreshing to hear that, as so little is known about the format of the SQE at the moment, it is not easy to form a definitive plan although we can all make provisional plans particularly in terms of exposing students to more practical elements and assessment by Multiple Choice Questions. With the first exams envisaged taking place in September 2020, it is clear that law schools must start planning sooner rather than later.
After a coffee break, which provided an opportunity for networking, previous Law Teacher of the Year finalist Michael Fay from Keele University chaired a panel discussion with students on the role of academics in student health. This session was based on a report entitled Student Mental Health: the Role and Experiences of Academics that takes an in-depth look at student mental health and how the problems they may suffer can affect academics. As an academic, I take a keen interest in the health and wellbeing of the students that I teach; also, in my role as Academic Advisor, I have witnessed first-hand the difficulties being faced by some students. I therefore was not surprised to hear that one of the key findings of the report was that the academic’s role is ambiguous and there is a need for the sector to define the role of the academic in relation to mental health. The report also found that there is difficulty in maintaining boundaries, and, although responding to problems is a necessary part of an academic’s role, Universities must provide ongoing support and access to training. This is certainly something that I would welcome as, although there is a plethora of support available at UCLan, I think more could be done in both defining and maintaining boundaries.
After a reviving networking buffet lunch, there was a chance to meet three more inspiring Law Teacher of the Year Award Finalists before the final presentation of the day: Professor Warren Barr of the University of Liverpool who spoke about the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) at subject level. This remains at pilot stage and, as Warren is on the pilot panel, this was the delegates ‘chance to get the inside track from the results of the pilot. It certainly seems that TEF will have a big impact on students when it comes down to subject level and it is clear that law schools need to start gathering evidence now, concentrating on content. .
The day concluded with the announcement and celebration of Lydia Bleasdale, Associate Professor at the University of Leeds, as the Law Teacher of the Year 2018. I first met Lydia at a Conference last year and it is clear that she is an inspirational teacher and someone who is always looking for new ways to engage and enlighten her students. This was, in my view, and one clearly shared by the OUP Panel and the audience alike, a much-deserved award.
So, after an informative and inspiring day, it was time to hit the road back to sunny Preston. It had been a great day, of meeting old acquaintances, making new ones and learning how to give our students the best experience we can.