Academic Operations

Academic Operations Task & Finish Group

Latest update – 10 December 2020

The final meeting of the Academic Operations Programme Board took place on 7 October 2020 and following this, the last meeting of the Implementation Group took place on 19 October 2020 where it was agreed to formally close the Academic Operations programme of work.

The AOTF Group was set up to reduce, remove or simplify academic processes and systems, in response to feedback (in many forms) from academic staff that many of them felt frustrated, disempowered, devalued and over-burdened.

Academic Operations was a time-bound programme and has set in motion some important work, some of which has been completed and some which now will be managed elsewhere. Academic Essentials, one key achievement of this work, continues to be updated and a separate operational group meets regularly to focus on this. Outstanding work from Academic Operations will be aligned to current business priorities. Professor Roger Eccleston (DVC Academic) will continue to meet regularly with the Trade Union reps to keep an open dialogue about ongoing efforts to reduce the burden on academic staff.

You can view a summary of each workstream’s successes, key progress and areas for further development on the attached slides.


Update: 26 June 2020

The AOTF Group was set up to reduce, remove or simplify academic processes and systems, in response to feedback (in many forms) from academic staff that many of them felt frustrated, disempowered, devalued and over-burdened.  Five workstreams – Roles and Responsibilities, Teaching and Delivery, Assessment and Feedback, Quality Assurance and Enhancement, and Academic Advising (Student Support Triangle) – have been consulting, and developing and implementing short term solutions and planning longer term developments. The latest summaries of the progress made so far by each of the workstreams, are set out below.

Roles and Responsibilities (led by Elaine Buckley)

Course Leader role descriptors are being reviewed and refreshed, and Module Leader role description and accompanying guidance has been widely consulted on and has been drafted – soon to be available. We plan to set up a website and community for Module Leaders in the same way we’ve done for Course Leaders. This will also expand to Subject Group Leaders in due course, and we will soon start work on scoping the Subject Leader role. The purpose of this workstream  is to develop a clear and consistent set of expectations for these roles across the University. This will then in turn identify the support and development needs for colleagues undertaking these roles,  We have also delivered our first ever online Course Leader Fest  –  on 17 June – which was all about using COVID-19 as an opportunity to rethink inclusivity within our curriculum. Recordings of most of the sessions are now available on the Course Leader Essentials site.

Teaching Delivery (led by Helen Best/Philip Wain)

Our current focus is on getting the timetable published to staff and students as soon as is possible – construction of a timetable in ‘normal’ circumstances is a complex process, and the current situation has significantly increased that complexity. We need to align with the approaches to Autumn 2020 delivery and our aim is to provide a timetabled guide to learning for students and staff which incorporates our blended face-to-face and remote teaching approach.  But everyone is responding as best they can and working collaboratively – and we’ll be working closely with HoDs to ensure the process and timelines are agreed, understood and implemented.

We are planning a virtual timetabling workshop to look at the Academic Timetabling Lead role (which needs clarity so that expectations are consistent across all Departments), Change Requests and touch points between the Timetabling team and Departments.

Assessment and Feedback (led by Alison Metcalfe/Neil McKay)

Clearly, we’ve had to implement a significant shift in practice and all immediate activity has been focussed on moving to remote delivery, but this has meant that many of the changes in response to COVID-19 have addressed issues much more quickly than we  might otherwise have been able to.

We have moved all assessment online, simplified our moderation policy, replaced exams with online or alternative assessments, produced guidance on ensuring no student’s assessment is adversely affected by our COVID-19 response, made the extensions process more flexible and accessible, and implemented Foundation Year/Level 4 automatic progression.  A huge amount of work has gone into this from all staff across the University, and the pace at which these changes have been made is incredible.

We’re committed to learning from these changes – what was needed, what has improved or not been missed, for example – but learning from these  may not be clear until after the assessment boards when outcomes and impact are known, and the full evaluation of the student experience has been made – all of which will inform our next steps.

Quality Assurance and Enhancement (led by Alison Metcalfe/Leopold Green)

Colleagues in AQS and SPI have been working on a revised approach to planning, to ensure that Business Planning and Annual Review are aligned under a single continuous improvement approach to avoid previous duplication in action planning.  From2020/21, CIPs will become ongoing Course Enhancement Plans (CEPs) with a 3-year ‘planning horizon’. For Course, Department and College level planning, quarterly performance monitoring dashboards will be produced by SPI and published on The Source – by bringing together all University KPIs and other relevant metrics into a single dashboard, Course, Department and College teams will have access to performance data in a timely manner without having to search through multiple dashboards.

In the interim, we’ve made some transitional revisions to the annual review process for this year, including streamlining CIPs so that the focus is on the challenges and opportunities resulting from the changes made to teaching, learning and assessment as a result of COVID-19,  to reflect on the course delivery over the last academic year and to keep momentum in relation to implementation of the Hallam Model; AQS will upload completed CIPs to a central space on the AQS SharePoint site (accessible to all) and will provide a Departmental overview of which CIPs have been completed. Module reviews have now been replaced by Course and Module Review meetings and Course teams will be provided with a data pack to support discussions. AQS has also taken over all Curriculum Catalogue processing from academic colleagues for emergency assessment changes required in response to COVID-19, and we are currently considering a revised approach to curriculum planning to be implemented next session.

Student Support Triangle – Academic Advising (led by Alison Metcalfe/Melissa Jacobi)

There is real commitment to recognising and supporting academic advising with a consistent structure across the University, with decisions now being made on a standard Academic Advising lead role and a central point of contact to provide consistent information and to ensure students receive consistent messages. Resources are being developed to support academic advising activities and the Student Support Triangle including the development of an online resource including an electronic referral form for Academic Advisers to refer students to a Student Support Adviser or Employability Adviser. Work is also underway to implement Academic Advising into HDA courses from September 2020. And we have plans to raise the profile of the Academic Adviser role ensuring that recognition can be given to staff providing exceptional levels of student support.

Our focus since moving to remote working has been on trying to provide consistent, supportive information to Academic Advising Leads on a range of areas including changes to working practices and the remote working arrangements for the Student Support Triangle.  Concerns and questions have been regularly taken from Academic Adviser Lead forums and followed up centrally to enable capacity at a Department level and a consistent response to students. We implemented a text communication to all students quickly after lockdown to identify those in need or without access to a computer to enable them to engage with their studies, both of which were significant concerns for academic staff across all Departments.


Introduction to the five workstreams

Each workstream has a task and finish group, led by a member of the Delivery Board.

The task and finish groups have been asked to:

  • identify the drivers for change / problem statements for thematic area
  • consider the opportunities for the rapid improvement of the academic staff experience
  • undertake verification (through engagement activities) that colleagues would see proposed changes as an improvement
  • consider the timings of changes and any relevant dependencies
  • provide assurance that in making changes further problems are not being created within professional services or related areas of activity


Opportunities identified should be specific, with the potential for change to be implemented for the 2020/21 academic year.


Overview of approach to date

At the start a review of staff feedback from the last 12 months was undertaken to identify the relevant themes from the staff engagement survey and other feedback mechanisms.

For the Assessment and Feedback, Quality Assurance and Enhancement and Academic Advising workstreams (led by Alison Metcalfe, PVC Learning & Teaching):  

An initial workshop was held for each workstream with the members of the workstream task and finish group to identify problem statements, areas requiring improvement and potential opportunities. This was followed by a two hour workshop session for each workstream with a wider group (task and finish group members and others who had expressed interest in being involved) to explore the root causes in more detail, and to identify both immediate actions and areas for further investigation and staff engagement.

For the Teaching Delivery (led by Helen Best and Philip Wain) and Academic Roles and Responsibilities (led by Elaine Buckley):

A slightly different approach was taken to the initial workshops as both areas had pre-existing work available for review and further development. However, the expectations and outputs for all workstreams have remained consistent. For example, the findings from each of the five workstreams are being grouped into the following categories for review by the Delivery:

  • What solutions can be put in place immediately
  • Solutions which need further investigation and understanding
  • Actions and solutions which require further staff engagement
  • Longer-term actions


Below are examples of activity already undertaken:

Next Steps

The next steps are for the findings under the headings below to be reviewed by the Academic Operations Delivery Board after Easter, with recommendations to be taken to the Programme Board w/c 27th April.

  • What solutions can be put in place immediately
  • Solutions which need further investigation and understanding
  • Actions and solutions which require further staff engagement
  • Longer-term actions


After this, further staff engagement sessions will be scheduled to discuss the proposals and to begin implementing the agreed actions.


How to get involved


We want to encourage as wide an involvement as possible by all colleagues across all of the workstreams. This will help us develop and deliver effective and timely solutions. If you have questions, suggestions or would like to be involved, please contact:


We also want to compile a ‘snag list’ of the specific problems and frustrations that people have been contending with – if you have examples that you would like to be logged (along with ideas if you have them of how these could be improved), please do so through the link below:




Longer-term workstreams

1. Continuous Improvement 

The objectives for the Academic Operations programme include the ability to make changes to academic practices and processes in a way that validates and appropriately utilises colleagues’ academic expertise and experience.

To develop and sustain this approach, we propose embedding a Continuous Improvement capability and network within the academic community. This approach has been working well within professional services and is a highly-regarded approach in industry.


2. Planning and the annual cycle of activity

One of the observations from the Staff Engagement Survey: Process & Systems Task and Finish Group was that sequencing of related activities throughout the year was not optimal, with dependencies between activities not always being well sequenced. and data not always flowing effectively between different processes.

The objective for this longer-term workstream is to provide a holistic view of the annual academic operational cycle, giving particular focus to the optimum sequencing and timing.



Latest News


  • We will post fortnightly updates here, in addition to sharing content via the Fortnightly Change Programme email.
  • We will also use the staff intranet scrolling news to promote important updates.
  • We provide face-to-face briefings through existing groups wherever possible, for example, the Course Leaders Forum, Departmental meetings etc.



23rd March

Over the last two months, this Group has undertaken detailed work in relation to the five workstreams. This has included gathering existing staff feedback and engaging with colleagues across different group and workshop settings. We have learnt much about how the way we do things is perceived, what works well and what doesn’t work so well; we have also gathered some significant actions from all this work. Key themes from the work to date relate to how we manage change and communication, both of which are particularly pertinent at the moment.

Due to the developing and continuing COVID-19 over the last few weeks, the Group has got slightly out of sequence with meetings.  We are currently planning how we get this work back into a sensible sequence and are reflecting on how we might need to adapt some of the proposed solutions. Over the next few weeks it is likely that we will need to schedule in some virtual meetings and workshops, as we adapt to the online working environment that we all find ourselves in.

I would like to thank colleagues for the contributions they have made so far, directly with workstream leads, through the task and finish group meetings and wider workshops.

12th March

Workshops have been taking place over the last 2-3 weeks, aligned to the five workstreams: Teaching Delivery; Academic Roles and Responsibilities; Student Support Triangle – Academic Advising; Assessment and Feedback – Systems & Processes; and Quality Assurance & Enhancement. 

The Academic Operations Delivery Board and the Programme Board also met at the end of February to receive and review the interim report, which includes the findings to date in relation to identified problems and opportunities. 

The outputs of the recent workshops will contribute to the recommendations that will be presented to the  Academic Operations Programme Board at the end of March.

Further details of the workstreams and ways to get in touch are now available at this link.

26th February

The Academic Operations Delivery Board is meeting again this week to review progress to date, prior to the first meeting of the Academic Operations Programme Board on 27 February. Interim reports will be provided from each of the workstreams, including: Teaching Delivery; Academic Roles and Responsibilities; Student Support Triangle – Academic Advising; Assessment and Feedback – Systems & Processes; and Quality Assurance & Enhancement.  

The Academic Operations Delivery Board will be reporting their full recommendations to the Programme Board at the end of March. We are committed to developing a trusting and empowered culture, as well as improving the day-to-day experience of processes and systems. On the basis of progress to date, I am optimistic that we will be able to initiate actions in April that will deliver tangible improvements.

A webpage, providing details of the work of the group, regular updates and opportunities to contribute issues and comments is now available at this link. There will be a further update to all academic staff included in the February issue of the Academic Update.

17th February

The first meeting of the Academic Operations Delivery Board (chaired by Helen Best, Dean of Academic Strategy) took place last week. The workstreams have now been established and are; Teaching Delivery; Academic Roles and Responsibilities; Student Support Triangle – Academic Advising role; Assessment and Feedback – systems & processes and Quality Assurance & Enhancement (including Course Improvement Plans).

The group focused on reviewing the evidence already gathered through the 2019 staff engagement survey, recent relevant projects and local workshops. From this, the group identified some initial areas for improvement and agreed a plan for further themed meetings, with sessions taking place from w/c 10 Feb in relation to academic advising (led by Melissa Jacobi) and quality and standards (led by Leopold Green), with a session on assessment and feedback (led by Neil Mckay) planned for w/c 17 Feb. Colleagues from across the colleges and professional services are involved in these themed meetings.  Alison Metcalfe (PVC Learning & Teaching) will be overseeing these workstreams on behalf of the Academic Operations Delivery Board.  A Teaching Delivery Group workshop was held on 5th February, led by Helen Best and Philip Wain to explore timetabling further with areas of action identified.  There will be an update to all academic staff included in the February issue of the Academic Update which is being sent on 19 Feb.

The Academic Operations Delivery Board will be reporting their recommendations to Roger Eccleston, as chair of the Academic Operations Programme Board, at the end of March. We are committed to developing a trusting and empowered culture, as well as improving the day-to-day experience of processes and systems; in receiving the findings and recommendations, I will be looking for ways in which we can tangibly deliver change for the 2020/21 academic year.

29th January

Further to previous communication earlier this month, the holistic review of operational processes across some key thematic areas within the academic cycle has now being initiated. This work has begun with a review of the feedback already provided by colleagues, including  from the Staff Engagement Survey, and workstreams have been identified. The purpose of the work is to identify and address inefficient and/or ineffective ways of working. Progress will be shared with you using this fortnightly Change Programme’s briefing, as well as through a forthcoming dedicated web space containing information relating to the scope and purpose of the different workstreams, and information on how to get involved.


Academic Operations Task & Finish Group

Background and aims

The DVC Academic, Roger Eccleston, has initiated an Academic Operations Task & Finish Group, with the following objectives:

1.To report by 1st April 2020 on actions to reduce the burden on academic staff by identifying and addressing, through reduction, removal or simplification, time-consuming and/or inefficient academic processes.
You can contribute directly to this immediate piece of work through the links below in the Rapid Improvement Workstreams section.

2.To consult broadly, and develop and implement, by the start of the 20/21 academic year, changes to academic practices and processes that validate and appropriately utilise colleagues’ academic expertise and experience.   This will also include the clarification of responsibilities of, and support for, key roles.

This work will complement, and be coordinated with, work that is in progress such as the Teaching Delivery Group’s work on timetabling and the work being led by the PVC Learning and Teaching on assessment and feedback, and quality processes.


Governance and workstreams



Programme Board:

  • Purpose: to provide overall leadership – setting direction and ensuring strategic alignment; to agree significant changes and/or make key policy/practice decisions.
  • Role: to provide prioritisation, resolve escalated issues, ensure coherence of activity. Oversee planning and communication.
  • Frequency: to meet monthly
  • Accountability: Accountable to the Academic Leadership Team (or where appropriate, ULT).



  • DVC Academic (Chair)
  • PVC Teaching & Learning
  • Dean of Academic Strategy
  • Group Directors
  • Deans of College
  • Director of Transformation
  • Chief Estates and Facilities Officer
  • Chief Information Officer
  • UCU representative – Anja Louis, Lesley Gornall, Alison McCamley


Delivery Board:

  • Purpose: to drive the production of an action plan by 1 April. To provide co-ordination of the workstreams required to create the action plan.
  • Role: to identify scope of workstreams, undertake planning and resource allocation, review progress, identify & address risks/issues, communicate and engage with stakeholders and consider equality impact.
  • Frequency: to meet fortnightly
  • Accountability: Accountable to the Programme Board. Monthly reports on progress to be provided to the Programme Board, along with a log of risks, issues and decisions required for the Programme Board.



  • Dean of Academic Strategy (chair)
  • Workstream leads (Alison Metcalfe, Elaine Buckley, Philip Wain)
  • Heads of Department (Luke Desforges, Emma Martin), Chair of Staff Engagement Survey Task & Finish group (Niamh Downing),
  • Dean of Students; Director of Academic Services; Head of Academic Quality and Standards; Director of Academic Advising
  • Head of Business Change; Head of Internal Comms; College Strategic Business Partner
  • Principal Business Analyst