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Smoothing the path from the classroom to the lecture hall

01 Jan 2017

How our School Teaching Fellow models support for new students – and could give insight into the new Teaching Excellence Framework

When a child moves from junior to senior school, the changeover is a nerve-racking process for all concerned, and great care is taken by parents and teachers to provide support. But the move from senior school to university – which if anything is a bigger change, involving new ways of learning while also living independently for the first time – receives much less attention.

School Teaching Fellow Dr Kristy Turner, who teaches chemistry both in the classroom and as a university lecturer, believes this needs to change.

“At the moment the difference between the two is less a gap to step over and more a chasm students must leap,” she says. “There is little support for students going from year 13 to university, and yet at this stage of their education their whole way of learning and living has just taken an abrupt change of course.”

Dr Turner teaches chemistry at Lancashire’s independent Bolton School Boys’ Division two days a week and delivers tutorials in general and organic chemistry to students here at the University three days a week.

She is seconded to Manchester from Bolton, with the University paying a proportion of her wages back to the school, so preserving her pay and conditions. She was the driving force behind the arrangement, having become frustrated with the lack of career opportunities for teachers who want to stay in the classroom without following a more managerial route within schools.

She has found the role extremely rewarding; in addition, she could give valuable insight ahead of the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework, which will result in state monitoring and assessment of the quality of teaching in English universities.

Lecturers are unsure of the form these tests will take and unused to being held to account over the standard of their teaching. But Dr Turner says: “I come from an environment where it’s normal to be assessed and inspected. As schoolteachers, we’re used to being looked at and also having the progress of our students tracked.”

As for her special dual role, Dr Turner says that schools and universities need to work towards making the transition between the two institutions “more of a blend, and less of a jump”. She would like to see schools being a little less directive in year 13 and universities a little more so in the first year.

“I now think of my year 13s less as people soon to be leaving school and more as people about to step over to higher education, and so I encourage more independent learning,” she says.

“Also, I’m teaching them the curriculum, but adding in extra bits of information that I know will help them next year. They’re aware of my dual role, so appreciate I know what I’m talking about.”

She also had a new awareness about the difference in skills among undergraduates, despite all having performed well to get into the university in the first place.

“Those getting As are generally no more intelligent than those getting the Bs, but they’re much better organised,” she says. “That seems to make an enormous difference when it comes to keeping up at university, and we need to look at how we can help the less organised better develop that skill.”

She is confident more ways to help students through transition will become apparent. “Ultimately, my hope is that other institutions will look at what I’m doing and consider it a useful model they can think about implementing themselves.”