Sally Bradley

  • Models of progress files: practices and processes on the ground

    Sally Bradley, Sue Clegg, Ranald Macdonald, Sheffield Hallam University, UK

    Research seminar

    Theme: Managing and implementing change and innovation

    This paper presents preliminary analysis of case study data from a project designed to inform the development of Personal Development Planning (PDP) at Sheffield Hallam University, as part of its strategy of encouraging schools to build on existing experience and practice while at the same time ensuring that practice is consistent with Quality Assurance Agency Guidelines (QAA 2001). The context is, therefore, specific but the aim of the research is to understand the models already available for supporting and developing PDP and the views of different stakeholders about the place of PDP in the curriculum.

    The data will be analysed on the basis of clusters of features to create ‘models’ of different practices and approaches. Models of practice will be multi-dimensional involving the approach adopted (for example how reflection is understood), the implementation strategy (for example whether part of a core module, across all aspects of the curriculum etc), how student support is organised, whether and how it is assessed etc. The study is based on interviews with staff: the Pro-VC leading the implementation strategy; central staff developers supporting schools; Learning Teaching and Assessment Co-ordinators within Schools; and teaching staff who have experience of PDP as well as those for whom PDP is new.

    We already know from the literature that some professional and disciplinary areas have extensive experience of using PDP. Education, health and social work for example all have rich traditions of incorporating reflection into the curriculum. However, in interpreting practice particular care needs to be taken to cross check the meaning of terms such as ‘reflection’ as used by tutors, as the same terms may be used in different disciplinary and course contexts to denote different activities. Moreover, we need to be cautious about the nature of claims for, as Kane, Sandretto and Heath (2002) remind us, much higher education research has looked at espoused theories without distinguishing these from theories in use. Research on primary and secondary teachers suggests that teacher beliefs are relatively resistant to change and act as filters of new knowledge. In the case of university teachers, disciplinary based traditions are still strong in shaping teacher thinking (Henkel 2000) and therefore new national initiatives are likely to be filtered through these beliefs. Studying teachers’ perceptions of their teaching and attempting to classify existing practice is as a way of understanding theories in use, and is a way of engaging in dialogue about change. New initiatives are more likely to succeed if they engage positively with teacher beliefs rather than being posed in contra-distinction to them. The aim of the research is therefore to engage with teacher beliefs in order to provide models of practice that can inform innovation.


    Henkel, M (2000) Academic Identities and Policy Change in Higher Education (Jessica Kingsley, London).
    Kane, R, Sandretto, S and Heath, C (2002) Telling half the story: A critical review of research on the teaching beliefs and practices of university academics, Review of Educational Research, 72, pp 177–228.
    QAA, Guidelines for Progress Files, (Accessed 13/1/03)