Towards a Manifesto for Programme Leadership: Advocacy, Inspiration & Action

In recent years, programme leadership emerged, tentatively, from the institutional shadows to be acknowledged for the pivotal position it plays between student learning, academic practice and strategic decision-making. This was particularly striking during the emergency phases of the pandemic, where programme leaders came to the fore, reassuring and supporting learners and guiding teaching team colleagues through the challenges of rapid change in institutional policy and educational delivery.  Yet questions remain about the extent of institutional appreciation of the programme leadership role and the practical support, recognition and resourcing that flows to those in these positions.  Continued advocacy and collective championing is, we argue, vital.

Collective Action to Champion Programme Leadership

During this period of turbulence, the Scottish HE sector focused collective enhancement activity on building Resilient Learning Communities.  As part of this work, a strand of collaborative activity opened space for programme leaders (and those who support them) to come together to share experience across institutional boundaries, offer practical tips to address key challenges, and work collaboratively as part of sector-wide Action Learning Sets. 

The conversations that emerged reinforced the widespread appreciation of the complexity and breadth of the programme leadership role and identified the interconnected spheres of influence and action that need addressed if (a) PLs are to be truly supported as educational leaders and (b) institutions are to harness the benefits of programme-focused approaches to learning, teaching and assessment.  

Cartoon image of reflections on programme leadership

The drive for accelerated support within and across spheres of impact includes the need for:

  • Support to develop skills and create time to effectively deliver the breadth of a PL role;
  • Space for development & peer-support within institutions and in pan-sector forum;
  • Recognition and reward for PLs, recognising the key educational leadership they provide;
  • Scholarship, sector visibility & evidence-based drive for change.
Diagram of spheres of influence and action

We specifically highlight through this work the importance of connected sector support as key to championing programme leadership and inspiring change.  Building sector visibility will in turn shape and drive institutional advocacy, ambition and action.

A Rallying Call for Action

As we look towards further pan-sector activity in support of programme leadership and effective enhancement of the student learning experience, we advocate continued collective action to raise both sector and institutional esteem and practical support for programme leaders. To frame this and sustain momentum, we call for the collective, collaborative development of a Manifesto for Programme Leadership (Review of Collaborative Cluster Activity 2021) and are now driving this as a focal point for continued collective action across the Scottish sector. 

This urgency and calls for advocacy, inspiration and action echoes through the chapters and final rallying call of Supporting Course and Programme Leaders in HE: Practical wisdom for leaders, educational developers and programme leaders. Routledge: UK.  Indeed, Lawrence et al also invoke the drive for a ‘manifesto for sustainable programme leadership’, emphasising the vital need for collective voice and common drive for practical change.   

Supporting programme leadership cannot simply be about training, support and tweaked job descriptions.  It must be framed by a strong statement of intent to value PLs for their educational leadership and empower them to act to shape student learning and develop string teaching teams. This call for a manifesto, for direct advocacy backed by purposeful action, is vital as we work collectively across the sector to bring programme leadership out of the shadows and into the heart of our enhancement and strategic change agendas.

Inspired by Caddell, M. Ellis, S. Haddow, C. and Wilder-Davis, K.(2022) A National Approach: Foregrounding programme leadership in Scotland in Lawrence, J Moron-Garcia, S and Senior, R (2022) Supporting Course and Programme Leaders in HE: Practical wisdom for leaders, educational developers and programme leaders. Routledge: UK

The Enhancing Programme Leadership Collaborative Cluster was supported by QAA Scotland from 2017 to 2021. The work was facilitated by Julie Blackwell-Young, Martha Caddell, Sam Ellis, Christine Haddow and Kim Wilder-Davis. The suite of materials developed as part of this work is available to explore on the QAAS Enhancement Themes website:


Martha Caddell
Julie Blackwell Young

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