Interview: Dr Catherine McNamara Discusses her Principal Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

At the end of 2015, Dr Cattherine McNamara, Central’s Director of Learning, Teaching and Student Experience, was certified as having achieved the status of Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

The Higher Education Academy (HEA) is the national body which champions teaching quality.  It provides value to the HE sector by focusing on the contribution of teaching as part of the wider student learning experience.  Its mission is to improve learning outcomes by raising the quality and status of teaching in higher education as an essential driver for student success.  HEA Fellowship is an international recognition of a commitment to professionalism in teaching and learning in higher education.  To date, fewer than 500 educators have obtained the elite status of Principal Fellowship.  

Dr McNamara’s status of Principal Fellow recognises a particular level of attainment against the UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and learning support in Higher Education. Over a sustained period of time, Dr McNamara’s role at Central has involved strategic leadership in order to enhance student learning in a range of ways.

We sat down with her to discuss this achievement and what it means to her – both personally and professionally.

Q: What is your background?

I have been actively engaged in learning, teaching and assessing in a professional capacity for 17 years. This began with my own experience of undertaking a PGCE Drama and teaching Drama and Performing Arts in a Further Education setting where I was also a mentor to trainee teachers doing their own PGCE courses.

Q: When did you make the shift into working in the University sector?

I moved into Higher Education, teaching at Royal Holloway (University of London) for a while and then leading a PGCE Drama program at Central. I undertook my own PG Cert Learning and Teaching in Higher Education and although I was already a qualified teacher, the focus on pedagogic practice within HE was incredibly valuable to me at that early stage of my career. I went on to be Course Leader of the MA Applied Theatre and am now part of the Executive Management team as Director of Learning, Teaching and Student Experience.

Q: What was involved in the application process for Principal Fellowship?

A lot of reflection, rather like an audit of my work over the past years. In making an application for Principal Fellowship, I was required to evidence a range of ways I have provided strategic leadership to enhance student learning, how I have established effective organisational policies or strategies for supporting and promoting others and championed an integrated approach to academic practice. I was thinking about some of the projects and relationships I’ve developed with community or ‘industry’ organisations.  I was asked to evidence my sustained and successful commitment to, and engagement in, continuing professional development related to academic, institutional and/or other professional practices. It was a lengthy process but a very useful one.

Q: What does this achievement mean to you?

Preparing the application helped me to reflect on the rich experiences I have gained throughout my career here at Central. Chief Executive of the HEA, Stephanie Marshall sent congratulations when I heard my application was successful. At that point, there were 66,500 Fellows in the UK and internationally, with a “small but very prestigious group of just under 500 who have attained Principal Fellowship”.  Professional recognition feels good and it’s something I’m keen to support others to achieve.

Preparing the application helped me to reflect on the rich experiences I have gained throughout my career here at Central. 

Dr Catherine McNamara