Supporting Programme Leadership in the age of Covid 19: The SEDA Programme Leader Tool-Kit

The programme leader is responsible for ensuring a coherent programme of study is designed and delivered by a diverse collection of academic colleagues. It is arguably one of the most crucial roles in HE (Lawrence and Ellis, 2018).

Working within institutional structures, leading, managing and bringing together academic and professional service colleagues (Lafoe et al, 2013) while addressing various stakeholder requirements and quality assurance process can be difficult (Zutshi et al, 2013) and isolating (Cahill et al, 2015) at the best of times. In the age of COVID 19, where constant change and uncertainty reigns, where the practical and pastoral support needs of staff and students are intense, this kind of educational leadership is all the more demanding.

Now is the time for HE institutions to support programme leaders in their educational leadership so they can bring together colleagues who deliver on their programmes in the creation of a ‘programme team’: a programme team who will work together to ensure a coherent programme that abides by the programme specifications (CRA alert!), academic standards (QAA!), offers constructively aligned, assessment for learning and is agile enough to meet any eventuality; and a programme team who will support each other through the rigours of the coming academic year.

The SEDA Programme Leader Tool Kit offers evidence-based, practical wisdom, which the busy HE leader, educational developer or programme leader can use in building programme leaders educational leadership. The kit will save you time, energy and a comprehensive series of activities to develop programme leaders and programme leadership.

Taking a whole-institution, strategic approach to understanding and then developing the role is crucial, as is understanding the context in which they are working (Lawrence and Ellis, 2020). This context has just changed dramatically. Properly understanding the role can be difficult when on campus, it must seem impossible when working remotely and all the challenges balancing work and life currently entails. The kit will guide you in pulling together an up to the minute profile of programme leadership in your institution. This can be achieved by getting the right people together for an hour and a half (online of course). Really, this works. Rowena Senior offers evidence of how she has done this at Aston University (Senior, 2018; 2020).

Once you have a picture of the role in our ‘new normal’, it’s time to pay attention to working with others. The role spanned the whole university BC (Before Covid), in the age of COVID-19 it is even more important to work with and listen to colleagues in quality, the library, ICT, student support, and educational development offices. Sarah Moore offers a suite of resources that can be adapted to online use to help programme leaders move ‘beyond isolation’ (Moore, 2018) by mapping who they need to connect with, why and the most effective and rewarding ways to do this.

With the learning community behind them programme leaders can now start to address programme-assessment reform with their programme team. Carol Morris and Alec Goodyear (2018) found that bringing programme teams together to look at programme reform not only benefits the programme, it benefits the team as they come to appreciate each others contribution – anything that connects colleagues can only be celebrated.

The Tool Kit is an institutional SEDA member benefit. Hosted on the SEDA VLE (Canvas), all of the resources can be downloaded and adapted to suit your context and are suitable for online / remote working. Alternatively institutional members can create a group for their colleagues and use all of the functions of the VLE – hosting online, asynchronous discussions amongst programme leaders, sharing resources and exploring how they wisdom therein can be adopted. All Institutional Contacts are given access to the Tool Kit, if you have any queries contact the SEDA office. The Tool Kit is based on chapters in the SEDA Special ’Supporting Programme Leaders and Programme Leadership’ (Lawrence and Ellis, 2018), an outline of which can be found on Lawrence and Ellis’ (2018) SEDA Blog.  If your institution isn’t a member of SEDA and cannot access the kit this edition may help you support one of the most important roles in the contemporary HE: the programme leader.

(Note: This blog is an adaptation of a piece published in Educational Development in 2020 ‘Programme Leadership in a Time of Crisis: Supporting programme leadership at pace’)

Dr Jenny Lawrence AFSEDA, PFHEA, NTF is the Head of the Teaching Excellence Academy at the University of Hull. Her research interests include academic and programme leadership and the interrelationship of staff and student wellbeing in HE. @jennywahwah


Cahill,J., Bowyer, J., Rendell, C., Hammond, A., & Korek, S. (2015) An exploration of how programme leaders in higher education can be prepared and supported to discharge their roles and responsibilities effectively, Educational Research, 57:3, 272-286, DOI: 10.1080/00131881.2015.1056640

Lafoe, G.E., Parrish, D.R., Keevers, L.M., Ryan, Y., McKenzie, J and Malfoy,J.  (2013) A CLASS act: the teaching team approach to subject co ordination’, Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice, 10(3)

Lawrence, J. and Ellis, S. (2018) Supporting Programme Leaders and Programme Leadership. London: Staff and Educational Development Association

Lawrence, J., Ellis, S., Senior, R., Moore, S. and Whitfield, R. (2018) Supporting Programme Leaders and Programme Leadership. @LTHEchat  September 2018

Moore, S (2018) Beyond Isolation: exploring the relationality and collegiality of the programme leader role. Lawrence, J. and Ellis, S. (2018) Supporting Programme Leaders and Programme Leadership. London: Staff and Educational Development Association

Morris, C. and Goodyear, A. (2018) Implementing programme reform through a radical change in assessment practice. Lawrence, J. and Ellis, S. (2018) Supporting Programme Leaders and Programme Leadership. London: Staff and Educational Development Association

Senior, R (2018) The shape of programme leadership in the contemporary university. Lawrence, J. and Ellis, S. (2018) Supporting Programme Leaders and Programme Leadership. London: Staff and Educational Development Association

Zutshi, A, Creed, A, Ringer, A, and Osborne, A (2013) Subject coordinator role and responsibility: experiences of Australian academics, Higher education review: international journal for policy and practice in post school education, vol. 46, no. 1, pp. 56-80.

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