Skip to main content

Education Fellowships

“That’s all, folks!” Or is it? Reflections on the end of ‘Learning to Teach’

21 July 2023
Person smiling

Michael Willett, Senior Lecturer and lead the AdvanceHE-accredited Associate Fellowship Programme and Fellow Development Scheme reflects on the end of ‘Learning to Teach’, focusing on the Associate Fellowship Programme.

With the Associate Fellowship Programme well into its second year of full operation, and the successful ‘Launchpad’ workshop set to become mandatory training for all new graduate tutors and graduate demonstrators from September 2023, it would be easy to forget just how far the University has travelled in supporting postgraduates engaged in teaching and demonstrating. It’s hard to believe that, just three years ago, there was no University-wide provision to support those in the earliest stages of their academic careers in developing the knowledge, skills and competencies to succeed in creating engaging, effective and inclusive experiences for their learners.

To date, the Associate Fellowship Programme has completed 11 runs, with 116 AFHEA awards at the time of writing. To continue the metaphor of distance travelled, its journey is now well underway. But earlier this year, its elder sibling, ‘Learning to Teach’, reached journey’s end, when the final cohort of postgraduates enrolled on the course completed their portfolios and gained AFHEA status. Learning to Teach was a ground-breaking programme in several ways. Conceived in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy in 2008, under the leadership of Dr Heather Worthington, Dr Elizabeth Staddon and Professor Martin Coyle, this was the first provision in the University specifically designed to support postgraduates in developing their teaching skills and provide a supportive pathway towards the [then relatively new] Associate Fellowship status, offering sector-wide recognition of participants’ commitment to attaining professional standards and developing their teaching practice. Though slightly behind similar offerings at Bristol and Exeter, Learning to Teach was well ahead of many other provisions in the sector. The programme was also innovative in its approach to assessment. Rather than require a single ‘reflective account of practice’, as is still the case with direct applications to the Higher Education Academy (now Advance-HE), Learning to Teach adopted a portfolio approach, taking cues from many PGCE provisions and segmenting the assessment into a diverse range of activities, including short reflective accounts, peer reviews, session plans and analyses of student feedback. The idea behind this was to prompt a ‘little and often’ approach to reflection that led to tangible developments in practice, and to avoid the temptation for participants to write a single victory narrative. This was a firmly practice-based programme, foregrounding the development of skills and ways of working alongside developing knowledge of theoretical concepts – always a difficult balance to strike in a programme of this kind (see discussion in Allen, 2009; Resch, Schrittesser and Knapp, forthcoming).

With my leadership in late 2014 came new momentum. As an alumnus of the programme, I was keen to involve learners more fully in the design and facilitation of the course, and to further develop the learning community by providing more substantive opportunities for PGRs to share some of the engaging – and often innovative – teaching practices and methods they were using. To this end, and drawing on pedagogy such as Healey, Flint and Harrington’s (2014) work on ‘students-as-partners’, I implemented a series of new learning activities across the workshops, such as an ‘innovation micro-teach’ segment, where participants who had completed the course previously and gained their AFHEA returned to engage learners in 5-10 minute interactive demonstrations of new methods or activities they had developed. With each passing year, the course gained a strong reputation for excellence and learner satisfaction, and garnered increasing interest from postgraduates outside ENCAP. In September 2017, under the direction of AHSS Pro-Vice Chancellor Damian Walford Davies, Learning to Teach was made available to PGRs in all ten Schools across the AHSS College. The stage was set for a University-wide provision, and in 2019-20, development began on our new range of Fellowships programmes.

I am proud to have been the leader of Learning to Teach from 2014 until its cessation this year, and that the large taskforce behind the development of the Fellowships programmes recognised the strengths of the course: its clear focus on practice, its portfolio assessment, and its development of a meaningful learning community which fosters interaction with peers and a genuine sense of belonging. I am heartened that these hallmarks were carried over into the development of its successor, and have been positively received and well-documented in learner feedback. I look back with fondness on the innovations shared by participants in Learning to Teach, and have enjoyed using and adapting many of these in my own practice. Particularly memorable examples have included:

  • ‘the view from my window’, a new kind of icebreaker for online teaching developed during the Covid-19 pandemic – thank you to Anya Richards in JOMEC
  • encouraging students to use a favourite photo to reflect on a particular experience – thank you to Stephen Jennings in SOCSI
  • using Skittles (other confectionery is available) to teach students about financial modelling – thank you to Evelina Kazakeviciute in CARBS
  • hosting a class debate in the style of a mock COP-conference to teach negotiation skills and the process of reaching a decision with diplomacy – thank you to Rosa Maryon in LAWPL
  • using Beyoncé songs to help students understand poetry – thank you Anna-Marie Young in ENCAP

Perhaps most of all, my key learning point has been that it is vital to inspire, encourage and support innovation. Innovation exists in many forms, and does not need to mean sector-leading or sector-changing practices that have never been seen before. Rather, innovation can mean something new to our own practice; something we have not yet tried-out in our own contexts. Providing there is a clear rationale and the student learning experience at its heart, innovating our practice is fundamental to our success as educators.

In closing, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the large number of people who gave their time and support to Learning to Teach over the years, in particular:

Anna Field Angela Parry Catherine Camps
Clare Kell Damian Walford Davies Elizabeth Staddon
Elizabeth (Bettie) Heatley Emily Blewitt Emmajane Milton
Heather Worthington Iain Mossman Kara Johnson
Martin Coyle Martin Jephcote Martin Kayman
Nathan Roberts Neil Harris Robert Gossedge
Sarah Robertson Sarah Williamson Stephen Rutherford


I would also like to thank all 200 postgraduates across AHSS who completed the programme with me and gained their AFHEA between 2014-22. I sincerely hope you enjoyed the course and found it useful. Your feedback certainly suggests you did.

Here’s to the next 10 years of reflection, innovation and sharing of good practice!

If you are interested in completing the Associate Fellowship Programme, there are two ways to enrol. If you have access to CoreHR, you find and register for the programme using the code TEAC9600. If you do not have access to CoreHR, please contact the Fellowships Team directly to enrol:

Intake points onto the programme are currently offered in September, November and January each academic year. There is no joining fee for the Associate Fellowship Programme, and it is open to all graduate tutors, graduate demonstrators and staff employed by Cardiff University (including those on honorary contracts and associate contracts, such as NHS staff involved in University teaching).


Allen, J. (2009) “Valuing practice over theory: How beginning teachers re-orient their practice in the transition from the university to the workplace”. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25 (5): 647-654.

Healey, M., Flint, A., and Harrington, K. (2014) ‘Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education’. York: Higher Education Academy. Available online at, accessed 01.06.2023.

Resch, K., Schrittesser. I., and Knapp, M. (forthcoming) “Overcoming the theory-practice divide in teacher education with the ‘Partner School Programme’. A conceptual mapping”. European Journal of Teacher Education.