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Heads of Department Update 27 November

Hi All

I’m hoping everyone is still ok – we’re two weeks away from the end of term and a decent break looms thereafter – even if it is in a somewhat restricted environment. You all saw the result of last week’s “All student vote” and I’ve also received some of the feedback from regular focus groups that have been taking place to monitor student sentiment. And while I wouldn’t want to claim that all is fine, I think you can all take pride in the fact that our students have been very positive about the experience that they have been having. There is widespread and genuine appreciation of the efforts that have been made across the University and especially in Academic Depts, to deliver our mix of f2f and online teaching and to organise extra-curricular activity to offer a campus experience (albeit on that is very different from the normal one). So, thank you to you and to all of your colleagues (and also to colleagues in Professional Services and CCSG).

And some updates for this week:

Plans for January

Thanks to everyone who has provided feedback on the possible scenarios for the return to campus in January. This has been very helpful and will feed through into the discussion around planning. We are still waiting for the release of the official guidance from Government and until we get this, we cannot determine what our final position will be. But there is quite a bit of consensus across the feedback you have provided and so I hope that we can recognise the need for f2f lab/practical teaching to be progressed while delaying the start of f2f in other areas. At the moment though, nothing is certain but I’ll let you know more as soon as I can.

Tier 3 for Coventry, Warwickshire and Solihull……..

……… really annoying and frustrating given the relatively low levels of infection, although there are some NHS pressures. This was a marginal decision (I’m told) and so things may get easier when the categorisation is reviewed. I’m not sure it changes much over the next few weeks, but clearly we will need to monitor when the January guidance becomes clearer. For now, student departure arrangements are progressing – we have taken delivery of around 67k lateral flow tests and, as of yesterday, about 3500 students had signed up to take 7000 tests (they do two each).

GTA Issues – Workload and the current Framework

At a recent meeting with UCU (separate from the dispute resolution process that I mentioned in my earlier email), we discussed a range of issues relating to the implementation of the new GTA contract. Many of these were essentially “teething troubles” associated with an implementation process that was more rushed than we had expected. There are two issues of more substance which we’re in the process of addressing. One of these relates to the exceptional circumstances related to the current teaching environment and a concern that these circumstances mean that GTAs are working longer hours to undertake their teaching allocations. My feeling is that we already know that there have been some workload implications – particularly as a result of the need to mix and move delivery formats. It will be impossible to quantify precisely but we do need to respond and provide some guidance on how this can be addressed. And it probably won’t surprise you to know that this process is complicated. So there is guidance below which you can implement with immediate effect and share with others (which in reality means for work done in December and going forward).

Where aspects of the pandemic have impacted on the workload of sessional teachers during 2020-21 academic year, HoDs will have the discretion to make adjustment to the payments being made to GTA/STP staff. HoDs are probably the best placed to understand the impact and needs in their Department, but we need to provide a framework for this process to try to ensure that we are treating individuals as fairly and as consistently as possible. This provision is to recognise that the rapid move to a blended model of teaching and the need to deliver either online or in Covid secure environments may have had a particular impact on hourly paid staff where there is not the same opportunity to adjust overall workload balance.

As a framework – and on an exceptional basis for this year only, where there is

· the need to deliver the same material through different channels (eg a requirement to deliver a given seminar both online and face to face)

· the need to move planned delivery between online and face to face

· the need to devote additional time to ensuring that practical sessions are delivered in an environment that is as covid secure as possible

HoDs may agree to pay up to one additional hour of preparation time where they are confident that the additional time has been required because of the current exceptional circumstances. In agreeing any additional payment it will be essential to ensure that Tier 4 visa holders do not exceed the allowed 20 hours per week.

I’m trying to see if we can backdate – at the moment, this is horribly difficult, time-consuming and manual (especially because of the need for retrospective cross payroll checks). Had UCU raised this earlier we could have done something earlier. But I’m continuing to talk to the STP about trying to find a work-round. For now, could you simply present this as a change going forward.

GTA involvement in Departmental/Faculty Committees

Following from the above, the second issue relates to the extent to which the GTA voice is accommodated in relevant department processes/activities. This is mostly a reminder, as I think all these points are covered in the framework. It may also simply be a legacy of rushed implementation and a hectic start to the year. But the issue was raised as apparently a “significant” problem. Now that GTAs are genuinely fractional staff on the same sort of terms and conditions as other staff, it is important that they are represented appropriately in relevant meetings and communications. However, the GTA role continues to be an hourly paid one (at the request of the students/UCU to provide maximum flexibility) and so where GTAs are required to attend departmental meetings they should be paid for the meeting time and can exceptionally be paid preparation and/or follow-up time too (30 mins max per 1 hour or per meeting) but only if there is significant preparation or follow-up required.

It’s also worth noting that as GDPR training is required of all staff, GTAs can be paid for the completion of these training requirements.

Feedback on things to stop/ease

We discussed this at ARC with HoDs – i.e. what we might do to ease some of the pressures on you. I’ve had a number of suggestions – many of these have been shared with Ed Exec who will be looking at how they might adjust in response to request. It’s also been suggested that we could try to simplify the ARC planning round – and we’ll explore this and come back with some suggestions. And if there is anything else, do please let me know.

I’m sure that as soon as I press the “send” button, something new will come through, but for now, I think that’s all for this week.



Professor Christine Ennew OBE