Preparation and writing the Annual Review of Courses

All courses should be included in the report, including sub-degree courses such as Foundation degrees, Diplomas of Higher Education, and Certificates of Higher Education as well as modules which are not linked to a course, for example CPD modules.

Courses and modules (single department)

The ARC report should be an evaluative document, reflecting on the previous academic year and identifying actions for the current and future years which will contribute to the enhancement of quality and standards. This report should be written after the department has considered all the different pieces of evidence available. The content of the report should be discussed at a meeting of all academic staff. The final ARC report should be submitted before the end of the Autumn Term.

At least one student representative for each course should be included in the constituency of the departmental meeting and should be given an opportunity to submit comments by correspondence if the meeting is held at a time of year which makes it inconvenient for them to attend. The student representative(s) should normally be the Students' Union Departmental Lead Representative(s) and the total number of student representatives should not outnumber academic staff representatives.

Joint courses

The lead department should, in negotiation with the other departments involved, determine how the ARC report is produced. The content of this report form should be discussed at a meeting of all academic staff. Ideally this meeting should take place to allow the department to have prepared a draft prior to its autumn review meeting with the Faculty Executive Dean as part of the annual strategic planning process. Alternatively, an individual Course Director may be asked to take responsibility for preparing an ARC report in discussion with academics on the courses for which they are responsible. At least one student representative should have the opportunity to comment on the report. Where there are 10 or more students registered on a joint course, a meeting of the course leaders must consider the ARC report.

Where there are fewer than 10 students, a meeting of the course leaders is not compulsory, although it would represent good practice.

As far as is practicably possible, at least one student representative for each course should be included in the constituency of the course leaders' meeting, or in the Course Director’s preparation of the report. The student representative(s) should be given an opportunity to submit comments by correspondence if the meeting is held at a time of year which makes it inconvenient for them to attend. The student representative(s) should normally be the Students' Union Departmental Lead Representative(s), or Course/Module/Year Representatives if more appropriate, and the total number of student representatives should not outnumber academic staff representatives.

Writing the report

The previous action plan will provide a starting point and the ARC should indicate clearly what progress has been made on the actions identified and indicate any further action that may still be required. The form is designed to guide departments through the areas, supporting data and evidence that should be considered. Some departments have found it helpful to store relevant information in a designated file during the year so that it is available when the report needs to be written.

If a department is discontinuing a course or has suspended recruitment, but there are still students on the course, this would need to be reflected in the ARC. Consideration is likely to concentrate on issues in relation to the student experience. The report is typically devised of four sections:

Section one

Section one requires an update on progress from the previous action plan and should include who is responsible for the action being completed. The measure of whether an action has been completed should provide evidence of the impact of steps taken to address areas identified for enhancement.

Please ensure that updates are provided for all objectives identified in the previous year’s Annual Review of Courses, as well as objectives that are still outstanding from the Annual Review of Courses of previous years.

The department should also indicate whether objectives are to be carried forward, and make sure that all objectives being carried forward are included in the updated action plan.

Section two

Section two should be written using the appropriate evidence from the range of information and departmental monitoring systems in place, including Key Performance Indicators, NSS, DLHE/Graduate Outcomes, UKES, Student Module Feedback, SVGs (formerly SSLCs) or equivalent, student entry profile, progression, retention and achievement data, equality, diversity and inclusion data, and External Examiner reports. Triangulating this evidence should present a clear overview of the course strengths, and the departments’ awareness and response to areas to improve or which need to be monitored.

The first part of this section asks for an overview of strengths and areas where enhancements are, or might be, needed. Please indicate where identified good practice could be shared, and where good practice has been adopted from other departments.

A course’s failure to recruit should be considered under Section 2 of the ARC. Departments should include a few paragraphs about the course under ‘what issues have arisen this year’ and in the action plan. The department may wish to change the course’s title, modify its content or withdraw the course from the department’s portfolio.

External engagement provides an opportunity to show the level of external engagement and influence on course changes and developments, and how external feedback has been acted upon. This could, for example, be linked to liaison with External Examiners over proposed course changes, or consultation through the Employer Advisory Boards (EABs). Changes could also have been made in response to the requirements of a professional body. The answers are not intended to go into great detail, but to summarise the action taken. For example, a mapping exercise might have been carried out to ensure a course aligns with a professional body’s new requirements. Or a skill identified as being important by the EAB might have been included in a module.

Departments are asked to highlight how they have responded to changes in the QAA subject or qualification benchmarks.

Departments should consider their employability data in comparison with other centres or schools elsewhere, and how initiatives which have been introduced or planned have, or might in the future, affect the results. This data is available on the Planning Information Portal (password restricted) and for further information, please contact the Planning and Data Insight Office by email: poquery@essex.ac.uk.

The complete form should provide assurance that there are effective arrangements for managing, supervising, monitoring and reviewing work-based learning, and highlight improvements made or planned. An evaluation should also be made as to how effectively work-based learning (WBL) has contributed to student learning opportunities.

Where departments have undergone periodic reviews or validations in the last 12 months, the ARC should always include an update on action taken in response to conditions, recommendations and other issues that may have been raised during periodic reviews or course validations. In the first year after a review, the department should provide a comprehensive update on action taken to address any issues and/or disseminate good practice. In subsequent years, an update on ongoing action should be provided.

Section three

Section three is a check-list to ensure the department continues to comply with the University’s expectation for quality assurance and enhancement. The list requires a brief explanation of the process and the evidence to show that this process is taking place, for example dates of meetings, minute references and web links. Please do not attach the meeting minutes or copies of the evidence referred to but ensure that copies are saved and available for review if requested.

Section four

Section four requires an action plan which should summarise all the things the department needs to do over the coming year to address areas identified in the report as being in need of enhancement.

This section should also include any objectives or actions which have been carried over from the previous year. There needs to be an effective means of measuring the impact of actions, and each action needs to have a timescale and someone responsible for overseeing that the action will be completed.

The action plan should also detail how good practice will be built upon and disseminated.

Addressing issues of equality, diversion and inclusion

Departments integrate reasonable adjustments in line with the Equality Act 2010, including areas as set out below. Where appropriate good practice and areas to improve should be commented on throughout the report.

Under the Equality Act 2010, the University has an obligation to make reasonable adjustments in order to ensure its curriculum is fully inclusive. In light of students with disabilities, reasonable adjustments should be made to remove any unfair disadvantage that might come as a result of a disability. The Student Wellbeing and Inclusivity Team in Student Support work closely with other University departments to ensure the provision of things like individual exam arrangements and note takers, but departments can also take active steps in promoting an inclusive curriculum.

When determining how to ensure inclusivity, you may wish to consider the following questions:

  • Do you make supporting materials e.g. handouts, lecture notes, visual display materials available to students? Is this in electronic format (students can use electronic materials with software to read text to them)? Is this in advance (this can aid note taking)?
  • Are a variety of teaching and learning methods to be used, supported by accessible written and visual material? For example:
    • positive communication e.g., by facing the student group when speaking
    • whiteboards
    • electronic presentation packages
    • audio-visuals
    • invitations for student input
  • Is the material displayed on electronic presentation packages, and whiteboards, including graphs and charts, explained orally? Are they available in written form for transcribing purposes?
  • Is complex information summarised through bullet-pointed summaries?
  • Will plain language be used when speaking and to explain specialist terminology, thus avoiding jargon and colloquialisms?
  • Have you made any adjustments for individuals or changes to the way field work or labs are conducted? For example, will students have access to assistive technology or human support if required?
  • Are varied forms of assessment used?
  • Are students given as many opportunities to declare a disability as possible whilst ensuring an individual's confidentiality is maintained?

If you are uncertain about how issues of disability may affect your students, you should contact the Student Wellbeing and Inclusivity Team in the Student Support Office to discuss the issues further either by phone on 01206 873133 or via email at wellbeing@essex.ac.uk.

Submitting reports

All reports should be signed by the Head of Department, collated and submitted electronically to the Executive Dean of the Faculty, via QUAD (email: quad@essex.ac.uk) by the relevant deadline. If electronic signatures have not been attached, then when submitting the report, an email from the Head of Department confirming they have seen and approved the report should be included.

The timeframe for the preparation and submission of the ARC has been designed to align with the University's Annual Strategic Planning process, and to enable reports to be considered by the autumn meeting of the Faculty Education Committee (UG) and spring meeting (PG).

Please note that the Deans will be reviewing these reports and providing the Faculty Education Committee with an overview at their meetings in November (UG) and February (PG). It is therefore essential that reports are submitted by the deadlines provided, or ideally earlier.

How reports considered by the University

The ARC reports are considered by the appropriate Executive Dean or Deputy Dean (Education). The Dean will give specific feedback and ask for additional information where appropriate in response to the report, and will refer issues and areas of good practice to the Faculty Education Committee or other University Committees as appropriate. In addition the ARC report is received by the appropriate Faculty Education Committee for consideration.

Follow-up activity

The ARC report must be received by the appropriate Student Voice Groups (SVGs; formerly Student Staff Liaison Committees [SSLCs]) and the other committees responsible for the academic standards and quality. For joint courses, this applies to all contributing departments. Throughout the year, the action plan generated by the ARC reports should be revisited by the appropriate departmental committees and progress on the action recorded. Where appropriate, the SVG should also be advised of progress made on ARC report actions. Action taken should be reported on and evaluated in the following year’s ARC report.

Record keeping by the department

The department should keep a copy of all papers forming part of the ARC report, together with records of follow-up action taken. ARC documentation should be available for consultations by the Executive Dean, Deputy Dean (Education), Faculty Education Managers, Quality and Academic Development team and external reviewers on request.

Copies of the ARC report and follow up action should be kept by the department for six years.

In the case of courses involving more than one department, it is the responsibility of the Head of the lead department/school to ensure that these records are kept, and that the archive is transferred if there is a change of lead.

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