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Peter Hartley interview – teaching is a proper intellectual pursuit

17 Mar 2020 | Advance HE One of the first cohort of NTF winners in 2000, Prof Peter Hartley, discusses the impact of the award on his career and shares advice for those thinking of applying in the future.

The higher education teaching landscape has changed significantly since Peter was given his award and he explains he hoped that the advent of the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme (NTFS) would help alter perceptions around the sector.

“My overall hope was that teaching was given the status it deserves. At that time teaching was very much a private activity and there was not much attention or discussion afforded to it.

“As long as students were not complaining or rioting you were just left to get on with it. There was very little training or continuing professional development and virtually no everyday discussion of pedagogy.”

Teaching prominence

He says that the NTFS gave teaching the prominence it deserves.

“Yes, it did, because at that time you didn’t have awards. It highlighted that there is a status to teaching, it is a proper intellectual pursuit that must be taken seriously. It also encouraged people to examine their institutional schemes, if they had any, to reward teaching.”

His award gave him the opportunity to mentor future NTF applicants and in turn develop their own teaching practice.

“One of the things I was able to do in the following year was to help the next generation of applicants, so we effectively set up a small Continuous Professional Development (CPD) scheme, based around, ‘Peter’s been successful’ who’s going to be the next lucky candidate?”

He also says that without the support from colleagues he wouldn’t have even applied, and that he feels teaching is a far more collaborative activity than people realise.

“It was the first year and I really wanted to bang the drum for taking teaching seriously, but I will be eternally grateful to colleagues in the Learning and Teaching Unit at Sheffield Hallam for their support at the time. That really reinforces the feeling that teaching is a much more collective activity than you think.”

Living up to the award

Peter has fond memories of finding out he had won the award and the boost that gave to his career.

“You know how sometimes you have events that are etched in your memory forever? I remember the phone call from Sally Brown, because I was called out of a class session. I was surprised at the start, I was delighted and it certainly gave my self-confidence a boost. It also gave me a career opportunity. It was definitely a springboard.

“You get the badge and you then feel like you have to live up to it, you have to walk the walk as they say, and do what you were preaching.

“The NTF enabled me to get my professorship at Sheffield Hallam, that enabled me to apply for a job running an Education Development Unit at Bradford, that enabled me to get involved with various other things and projects, so it was kind of a snowball effect.”

He also thinks that one of the key things the NTFS has done is give a career goal to people focused on educational development.

“NTFS gives tutors and developers something to aim at, rather than having to climb the greasy pole of management. But there are actually many more staff who are equally important in terms of long term impact, such as our learning technologists, librarians, and other colleagues in student support.

“NTF manages to reach out to these constituencies, which is key because classroom teaching is only one part of the equation.”

Better than ever

When thinking about the differences between when he started teaching and now, he feels that, in some ways, things have never been better in the sector for teaching staff.

“Just from the point of view of what we can do and achieve with students, I think that now is the best time to teach in higher education.

“The amount of research around teaching and learning assessment is astonishing. The availability of tools and techniques, down to the internet and the accessibility of information, make teaching much easier and potentially more satisfying. However, many tutors are still not taking advantage of the resources available to them.”

He does, however, have some serious concerns about the direction teaching is moving.

“I think teaching is now over regulated, whereas 20 years ago it was not really regulated at all. As a result, teaching staff feel overwhelmed. It is like a pendulum and I fear we have tilted too far towards regulation and that can stymy creativity. There has also been a dramatic increase in workload and other pressures.”

He thinks that NTF winners should use their award to promote teaching across the sector and to improve standards.

“Teaching is still a bit of a poor relative to research but NTFs can make a substantial difference if they have a really strong focus, and they keep going, and they get sufficient support.

“I don’t think there is a specific formula for teaching excellence, teaching is extremely contextualised. What works somewhere won’t necessarily work somewhere else. Different tutors will find things that suit their style but won’t work for others, but the important thing is that it enhances student learning.”

Tips for the future

As a mentor for numerous NTF applicants in the past Peter is uniquely placed to offer advice to prospective winners.

“Firstly, get as much feedback as you can, ideally from people who know the scheme, but who can apply the criteria from an external perspective. Candidates are invariably too modest about their own achievements.

“One suggestion I make is that candidates work out their pitch as soon as possible, and for people thinking about applying in 2021 they should be thinking about this now, and have a very clear idea of their own focus. Also, people should remember that it’s an achievement to be nominated. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t achieve it this year.

“For 2020 winners: use the NTF network to grow your own network, share your work and get yourself out there using all the tools like social media and blogging etc.”

And his hopes for the future of the scheme?

“I have four hopes: one - that the NTF will continue, it changed my life and I know for so many folks it has done exactly the same.

“Two – that it will be properly rewarded, both nationally and within institutions.

“Three – that there will more collaboration around the network because the big issues in teaching are sector-wide and will need cross-institutional work to solve.

“And four – that I will still be around in another 20 years to join in the celebrations!”

NTFS logo

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.


Peter Hartley is an NTF 2000, independent consultant to higher education and Visiting Professor at Edge Hill University, formerly Professor of Education Development at the University of Bradford and before that Professor of Communication at Sheffield Hallam University.

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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