Skip to main content

How life changed since my NTF award

23 Jan 2020 | Kay Sambell Kay Sambell shares her thoughts on the impact that winning a National Teaching Fellowship has had on her academic career.

I won my NTF in 2002, so I was amongst some of the earliest winners of a National Teaching Fellowship.  It was very exciting - I remember getting the phone call to this day - but at that point I hadn’t a clue about how far, and in what ways it would change the future shape of my academic career.

I received my award in London and that’s where I first met the ‘NTF Class of 2000.’ In those days there were just 20 awards per annum, so we all got to know each other well. It was there that I discovered the benefits of an abiding and mutually supporting network of like-minded learning and teaching specialists. I soon struck up some lasting connections which have served me, and I hope others, well on many levels. This definitely opened new horizons for me and I went on to work on a range of projects with several of these outstanding colleagues. 

Following the award, I soon starting working well beyond my own disciplinary area to work collaboratively on a range of exciting cross-institutional initiatives. I was lucky enough to have some brilliant mentors, and they encouraged me to capitalise on my new-found network and bid for major project-funding. These collaborations took me well beyond Northumbria University, where I was based at the time. For example, I spearheaded a national network which brought together a number of NTFs from different disciplinary backgrounds, all of whom shared an interest in teaching about childhood. I also worked closely with the late Liz McDowell (who became an NTF in 2004) to establish our pathfinding Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching in Assessment for Learning (AfL) at Northumbria.

The impact on my career was immense, as I started to become known for my expertise in AfL, and the balance of my work started to shift away from my disciplinary expertise (children’s literature) towards assessment for learning. I’m proud of the esteem I enjoy in both areas, but I guess most people now know me, nationally and internationally, for my contributions to the assessment for learning movement. I regularly receive invitations to offer keynotes, run workshops, produce materials and offer advice to a range of universities and organisations. I have also helped establish the hugely successful international Assessment in HE Conference series. None of this, I’m sure, would have happened without the push-start of winning an NTF.    

One thing that surprised me when I won was the extent to which people started to view me differently. The following year I was invited to consider applying for a personal chair on the newly introduced Learning and Teaching internal promotions pathway at my university. I became Northumbria University’s first Professor of Learning and Teaching, and there is no doubt that the award contributed to this.

Personally, what I’ve valued most, though, is the spirit of camaraderie and collegiality I’ve encountered amongst the NTF community. The Association of National Teaching Fellows continues to be an excellent source of support, and I look forward to its symposium each year.

Like many NTFs, I have been lucky enough to benefit from the generosity of an outstanding mentor, Sally Brown. And I do my best, as many of us do, to follow her lead and pay this generosity forward. I’m proud to have directly supported a host of colleagues to gain NTFs and, increasingly, personal chairs in learning and teaching. I helped launch the Edinburgh Napier scheme as soon as Scotland became eligible for these prestigious Learning and Teaching awards shortly after I moved there, and it’s been a pleasure to work closely with the highly experienced and talented colleagues who the university has selected for nomination to date, helping them hone their applications.  I’m extremely proud that Napier is, quite deservedly, leading the way in Scotland, having scooped more than its fair share of these highly competitive teaching-related accolades. It’s important, now more than ever, to recognise the diverse ways in which outstanding university teachers support and inspire students to enjoy learning and to make the most of the opportunities on offer. Here’s to many more!


Kay Sambell currently works at Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland, where she is Professor of HE Pedagogy. She is in demand nationally and internationally for keynotes on assessment for learning, and you can find out about her book and some of her other publications here. She is president of the international Assessment in Higher Education conference.

The ANTF Annual Symposium 2020 – A Decade of Change? will be held 5-6 March in Birmingham. Find out more and book your place


Applications for a National Teaching Fellowship 2020 close on Wednesday 18 March 2020. Institutions can nominate up to three individuals for the award. Find out more.

Share your #NTFSis20 story with us on Twitter and join the Advance HE Connect group especially for National Teaching Fellows.

Keep up to date - Sign up to Advance HE communications

Our monthly newsletter contains the latest news from Advance HE, updates from around the sector, links to articles sharing knowledge and best practice and information on our services and upcoming events. Don't miss out, sign up to our newsletter now.

Sign up to our enewsletter