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Mental Wellbeing

Education for Mental Health Toolkit - Validation and Curriculum Development

Research for this project (conducted via interviews with Quality staff, Curriculum Development teams* and teaching academics) has revealed a spectrum of approaches to validation and curriculum approval processes.

Validation And Curriculum Development

Research for this project (conducted via interviews with Quality staff, Curriculum Development teams* and teaching academics) has revealed a spectrum of approaches to validation and curriculum approval processes. In some universities, validation appears to have a purely compliance role, ensuring curriculum meets internal and external standards and regulations. In these circumstances, academics report a potential disconnect between the meaningful aspects of curriculum and the validation process (1). This leads them to see curriculum development and validation as two separate and barely connected activities. Academics report that completing validation documents and processes then becomes a ‘tick boxing exercise’ that bears no relation to the curriculum or the design process (1-2). This can have a negative impact on staff wellbeing as this bureaucratic exercise is perceived to be largely meaningless, adding unhelpful extra workload and being divorced from an academic’s key roles of teaching and research (3). 

Education for Mental Health

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Alternatively, interviews with Quality and Curriculum Development Teams revealed an ongoing shift, across the sector, in which these areas work more closely together and focus is moving from compliance to quality enhancement (e.g. 4-5). In these approaches, validation has been rethought to fit alongside curriculum development support, with a clearer focus on the meat of the curriculum – what is taught, how is it taught and how is it assessed? In some universities, this now means that academic teams must engage with a process of supported development as part of the validation process. This ensures a co-constructed approach as standard and brings a range of expertise to curriculum design. 

This then provides the university with an opportunity to ensure whole university approaches to curriculum design. Some universities have now adopted a standard approach to curriculum design, such as the ABC model (5), to ensure consistency and to provide academic staff with appropriate resources and support. 

Those interviewed for this project agreed that validation and curriculum development processes could play an important role in ensuring that curriculum supported wellbeing and learning, but that this needed to be explicitly designed into the process. Some staff were able to provide examples of how validation panels currently had a positive impact on wellbeing, such as reviewing the curriculum to guard against deadline bunching across modules and including students, who had been prepared for the role, in design and validation processes, to provide expertise by experience.  

In more cohesive approaches, which bring curriculum development support and validation together, there are opportunities to embed consideration of student wellbeing into every stage of the design process. This could include: 

  • using the curriculum development process to increase staff knowledge and understanding of the relationships between learning and wellbeing and the curriculum and wellbeing. 
  • using design models that consider the holistic experiences of the whole student population and ensure aspects such as scaffolding, sequencing, deep learning and social integration are properly considered and embedded from conception. 
  • providing resources to support curriculum design that considers wellbeing – this may include expertise from colleagues across the university in professional services or academic colleagues who have experience of this approach. 
  • final checks in validation paperwork and committees that explicitly address the need to consider how the curriculum has considered student wellbeing and learning. 

In effect, this proposes that university processes should be constructively aligned in purpose, support, resources and approval mechanisms. As with students, the final question in any assessment shapes the learning and the focus of the individual going through that assessment. Embedding questions about student wellbeing into validation can ensure that it remains a focus throughout curriculum design and is therefore an embedded part of the student experience, rather than being seen as an add on. 

Key lessons 

  • While validation remains as a separate process focussed on compliance in some universities, in others there is a clear move to align curriculum development and validation in one process with more of a focus on quality enhancement. 
  • This shift can support academic staff to develop curriculum that supports learning and wellbeing. 
  • Validation processes can assist by providing explicit focus on wellbeing as part of curriculum approval. This can provide a sense of constructive alignment from curriculum conception to approval.  
  • These approaches can ensure curriculum has properly considered those aspects that can support wellbeing and learning such as scaffoldingdeep learningsocial integrationinternal cohesionproducing meaning and the development of student mastery and self-efficacy

Top Tips 

  • Use validation question sets to focus on key issues relating to wellbeing such as workload bunching, transition, internal cohesion, etc. 
  • Align the work of curriculum development teams, quality teams, professional services and teaching teams to focus on quality enhancement that includes consideration of student wellbeing. 
  • Use the Education for Mental Health tool kit to provide academic staff with insight into the relationship between curriculum and wellbeing. 

*Universities tend to use different titles for teams involved in the development of teaching and curriculum. The title Curriculum Development teams here, refers to those teams who have a specific role in supporting the enhancement of curriculum design and delivery.

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  1. Hoecht A. Quality assurance in UK higher education: Issues of trust, control, professional autonomy and accountability. Higher education. 2006 Jun 1;51(4):541-63. Available from: doi:
  2. Wood D, Auhl G, McCarthy S. Accreditation and quality in higher education curriculum design: does the tail wag the dog?. InHEAD'19. 5th International Conference on Higher Education Advances 2019 Jul 5 (pp. 783-791). Editorial Universitat Politècnica de València.
  3. Morrish L. Pressure vessels: The epidemic of poor mental health among higher education staff. Oxford: Higher Education Policy Institute; 2019 May. Available from:
  4. O’Sullivan D. Evolution of internal quality assurance at one university–a case study. Quality Assurance in Education. 2017 Apr 3. Available from: doi:
  5. Young C, Perovic N. Designing programmes and modules with ABC curriculum design. UCL Teaching & Learning [Internet]. 2021. Available from: