Editorial – Technical Education Reforms

What are “T-Levels”? By Peter Yates, Technical Operations Manager

In their Spring budget, the Treasury announced significant extra funding for technical education, with the annual figure available rising to around £500m by the year 2022, however the early steps on the road to this decision were taken back in November 2015. At that time Nick Boles MP, on behalf of the secretaries of State for Education and for Business, Innovation and Skills, commissioned an independent panel to conduct a review of technical education, to be led by Lord Sainsbury. The panel members were asked to consider best practice both in this country and internationally and then advise ministers on measures to improve the current system in England. The panel’s report and the Government’s ‘Post-16 Skills plan’ were both published in July 2016. The government plan accepted “unequivocally where possible within existing budgets”, all 34 recommendations of the Sainsbury review and described itself as “the most ambitious post-16 education reforms since the introduction of A-Levels 70 years ago”.

Lord Sainsbury’s report highlighted significant problems with the existing system and in particular its complexity – there are currently around 13,000 technical education qualifications available to 16–18 year olds. The report calls for the creation of two distinct pathways, academic or technical, with the technical pathway based on a framework of 15 routes encompassing all technical education at levels 2–5. The recommendation for a ‘bridging provision’ will allow some flexibility for those wishing to move between academic and technical pathways. The routes will group together related occupations and each occupation, or cluster of occupations, will have a single technical qualification – dubbed by the media as ‘T-Levels’.  The full programme for a route will consist of a technical qualification, English and maths, digital skills and a significant work placement, together with any sector-specific learning deemed essential by the employers. Whilst Lord Sainsbury concedes that it will be necessary for the Government to design the overall national system, he categorically states that “employer-designed standards must be placed at its heart to ensure it works in the market place”. Awarding bodies, or consortia of awarding bodies, will follow a bidding process to be granted the licence to deliver each of these qualifications.

What are the 15 routes?

Agriculture, Environmental and Animal CareHair and Beauty
Business and AdministrativeHealth and Science
Catering and HospitalityLegal, Finance and Accounting
Childcare and EducationProtective Services*
ConstructionSales, Marketing and Procurement*
Creative and DesignSocial Care*
DigitalTransport and Logistics*
Engineering and Manufacturing

(*Routes primarily delivered through apprenticeship)

What is the timescale for the introduction of T-Levels?

By April 2018, it is proposed that the Institute for Apprenticeships, which launches this month, will expand its remit to cover all technical education, overseeing the developmental work for the new training routes and being renamed: Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education. In October 2018, procurement and bidding begins to find the single awarding bodies for the new technical qualifications. Technical qualifications for two ‘pathfinder’ routes will be approved in February 2019, with first teaching of these routes due to start in September 2019. The first certificates will be issued in September 2021, with all 15 routes phased in and available during the period September 2020 – September 2022.
Lord Sainsbury’s report summary states: “By 2020, the UK is set to fall to 28th out of 33 OECD countries in terms of developing intermediate skills and the size of the post-secondary technical education sector in England is extremely small by international standards. This adversely affects our productivity, where we lag behind competitors like Germany and France by as much as 36 percentage points”. It seems the Government hopes that the proposed technical education routes will eventually achieve parity of esteem with the well-defined academic pathways, attracting students who will eventually begin to fill the looming technical skills gap.

The full text of the Sainsbury report can be found at: www.gatsby.org.uk

The Governments ‘Post-16 Skills plan’ can be found at: www.gov.uk

TEaM member presents work at IAT National Congress

The past decade has seen an increasing trend of Zebrafish usage in biomedical research leading to increased pressure on animal technicians to breed them efficiently and improve juvenile survival rates. With this end in mind, David Mortell, an aquatics technician at BSF, conducted a Zebra Fish feeding trial involving 420 fish over 2 months. David published his work as a poster which he then went on to present at the Institute of Animal Technology (IAT) national congress in March 2017.

David explains his work:

The zebrafish is important in studying developmental origins of health and disease. Their embryos are transparent and develop outside the body, allowing simple study of the developing embryo. Zebrafish research provides a unique visual approach to under-standing the developmental defects in adult diseases and age-related abnormalities, such as cardiovascular diseases. Fish are the third most commonly used protected species in research after mice and rats.

Like the mouse, the zebrafish is suitable for genetic analysis, and is a valuable tool for creating genetic models of human diseases. Although the zebrafish genome is only half the length of the human genome, the genetic structure is remarkably similar. Genes responsible for human diseases often have equivalents in the zebrafish.

The past decade has seen an increasing trend of Zebrafish usage in biomedical research leading to increased pressure on animal technicians to breed them efficiently and improve juvenile survival rates. With this end in mind, David Mortell, an aquatics technician at the Biological Services Facility (BSF), has conducted a Zebra Fish feeding trial involving 420 fish over 2 months. The purpose of this trial was to confirm an optimal feeding regime that resulted in the best embryo survival rates. Six different feeding regimes were examined involving various combinations of powder food, live brine shrimp and live rotifer.

The optimal feeding regime resulted in survival rates of 98.6% which were previously as low as 65%. This increased embryo survival rate means that less fish need to be bred which is in keeping with the 3Rs of animal technology, Replacement/Reduction/Refinement. David published his work as a poster which he then went on to present at the Institute of Animal Technology (IAT) national congress in March 2017, the ideal place to share ideas with fellow technicians from around the country. This trial highlights how technical practices can be improved and how technicians are central to the advancement and refinement of biomedical as well as all other research.

PSS Distinguished Achievement Awards 2017 – Anthony Steel

Faculties and all individual members of staff are invited annually to nominate colleagues for a Professional Support Services, Library and Cultural Institutions’ Distinguished Achievement Award.

One of 2017’s runners-up is Anthony Steel, FBMH.  Congratulations!

Here is an excerpt from Mrs Hayley Monk’s interview on her winning nominee.

What qualities do you think merit a distinguished achievement award?

I think a Distinguished Achievement Award should represent a sustained and demonstrable dedication to the PSS core values, especially teamwork and a respectful working environment.  For an individual nominee I think strengths as a team player are essential and someone who continually looks at ways to help and actively contributes to support others to keep motivation and performance high.

What made you nominate Anthony?

Anthony – like lots of people – was affected by the restructure of 2016 but was in the frustrating position of still being in a long-term acting up role at the time that the restructure came into force.  He was, therefore, ineligible to receive an aspirational interview for an equivalent grade position in the new technical structure yet had other technical staff ‘aspiring’ to the role that he was largely already fulfilling.  Anthony dealt with this in a true altruistic fashion, by being open with his knowledge and skills and helping anyone who approached him for advice ahead of their own aspirational interview.  He was extremely professional and behaved as a real team player and since subsequently being successfully employed into his current Technical Manager position he has brought about some very effective changes in a relatively short timeframe.  Motivation in his team has never been higher.

Why do you think it’s important to have these awards?

It’s extremely important to recognise what we do well and to send out a positive message about the real strengths of the University’s Professional Support Staff workforce.  It’s wonderful to be able to celebrate this success each year by recognising those individuals and teams who have really gone above and beyond in their efforts and dedication to their role.

What impact does Anthony have on your team?

Quite simply Anthony is extremely good at what he does but because he is so natural in his approach, he probably doesn’t realise it himself half the time!  He provides an extremely high level of customer service to his academic colleagues by taking the time to listen to their requirements and is not afraid to make suggestions offer feedback to their practical classes.  As a manager he is very supportive of his team and often puts their needs ahead of his own in order to motivation high and deliver a First Class service to every student who passes through his labs.

Here are a few words from Anthony.

Could you provide a very brief history of your career here at Manchester?

I started at the university in 1997 as a Grade A (1) Term Time only Technical Assistant in the School of Biological Sciences Teaching Labs. I arrived with no real science background, a handful of GCSE’s and no particular plans for a future career.
As new technology appeared in the lab, the need for a qualified science/IT technician broadened my horizons. I attended night school at Openshaw College and day release at MMU where I gained both a HNC in Applied Biology and a City and Guilds qualification in IT Maintenance and Repair. Over the years I have worked in teaching I have seen, and been part of, the development of the department where we now have more than 2000 science students using the labs for the practical part of their degree course. This is stark contrast to the 60 science students that we had when I started 20 years ago!

What does receiving the distinguished achievement award mean to you?

Receiving the distinguished achievement award has been important to me because it has recognised not only my contribution to the teaching labs over the last 20 years but the contribution that is made by all the teaching staff day in day out. The success of the Stopford Undergraduate Teaching Labs is a real team effort and I feel thrilled that we have been rewarded with this award.

What would you say is your greatest work achievement to date?

I would say that my greatest achievement has been my whole career progression. As a 19 year old lad with no real idea about what I wanted to do with my future, I have worked through every grade available in the Teaching Labs from Grade 1 to Grade 6. I have been fortunate enough to be nurtured in a similar way to our Apprentices and through my involvement with the Apprenticeship programme I   can now give back and help nurture others. One could also argue my greatest work achievement was meeting my wife!

PSS Distinguished Achievement Awards 2017 – Neil O’Hara

Faculties and all individual members of staff are invited annually to nominate colleagues for a Professional Support Services, Library and Cultural Institutions’ Distinguished Achievement Award.

One of 2017’s runners-up is Neil O’Hara, FBMH.  Congratulations!

Here is an excerpt from Doctor Elena Bichenkova’s interview on her winning nominee.

What do you think are the qualities that make for a successful technician in your research group?

The qualities that make for a successful technician in any research group include excellent professional performance and high level of competence in every aspect of professional activity, as well as the ability to transform the working environment by providing a safe, well-functioning and highly efficient professional setting for academics, researchers and students to allow them achieving outstanding organisational benefits.

What qualities do you think merit a Distinguished Achievement Award?

From the Guidance on the Profession Support Services, Library and Cultural Institutions’ Awards: ‘Specifically, nominations should evidence how the individuals or teams have significantly and tangibly contributed to maintaining a positive, open and respectful working environment where people work cooperatively together, have excelled at breaking down boundaries and communicating fully to achieve outstanding organisational benefits’.

What made you nominate Neil?

My nomination of Neil for a Distinguished Achievement Award was based on three main criteria:
(i)    Outstanding Professional Performance
From the very beginning of his work in the Division, Neil became known as an exceptionally skilled, knowledgeable and proactive technician, who was recognized for his outstanding professional abilities not only by his PSS colleagues, but also by research & academic staff and postgraduate research students. Neil is one of the most motivated, enthusiastic and hard-working technicians, with a high level of commitments and wiliness to support the most vital areas of research activity within the Division/School/Faculty. He simply does not have any fear or barriers for learning any analytical techniques or experimental methods since he possesses a natural ability and desire for learning by being exposed to new exciting challenges.
(ii)    Excellence in Maintaining Safe Working Environment
Neil is responsible for carrying out the maintenance of the NMR instrumentation in the Division is an intellectually demanding, technically challenging and potentially dangerous task, and he does it in a safe, professional and responsible manner. Neil is responsible for providing both safety and professional training for every single new NMR user, including PhD student and research staff, to ensure that they can operate instruments knowledgably, efficiently and safely at all times.
(iii)    Evidence of Excellence in Providing Training
From personal observations and from informal communications with the PhD students and researchers, it is evident that Neil provides an excellent training and experience on the basis of quality of information, approachability and willingness to help. In every instance Neil behaves in a professional, committed and patient manner, using a wise and tolerant approach while helping his younger colleagues to resolve any difficult situation (either  technical or scientific). He always takes time to explore any difficult issues with PhD students, breaking the complicated concepts down to the fundamentals until they grasped the underlying science or technical issues.

Why do you think it is appropriate to have these awards?

It is very important to have these awards because it is very easy to spot domains that need improvement and miss areas which are running perfectly. The Distinguished Achievement Awards allow us to recognise this and celebrate the work that has been carried out superbly and show that all these invaluable efforts are appreciated and recognised by staff and the University.

Here are a few words from Neil.

Could you provide a very brief history of your career here at Manchester i.e., where & when did you start, where have you been since starting and where & what are you doing now?

After working for 10 years in a number of industrial roles I started my career with the University of Manchester. In Jan 2010 I started working within the QC group at the WMIC. In Jan 2014 I moved to my current role of Instrument technician here at the Division of Pharmacy and Optometry working for Prof Anna Nicolaou’s group and Dr Elena Bichenkova. My current role uses a lot of my past experiences of using numerous instrumentation techniques to help maintain the equipment and to train staff and students in its use.

What does the achievement award mean to you?

It was a bit of surprise to be nominated for the award. I think I am an approachable person and will always try to help out others where I can around the building, I just see that as part and parcel of the role I perform here at the university. It’s nice that my colleagues felt that I deserved recognition and took the time to write such nice things on the nomination form, it means a lot to me so I would like to thank them for that.

What would you say is your greatest achievement since starting at the University & what are your plans for the future?

Each day I have the usual  little wins, whether it  fixing a problem with an instrument or finding a new way to solve a problem. I take each of these wins as a mini-achievement.
Since starting at the University a lot of things have changed in my life, I now have two little ones, Amy who is 5 and Callum who is 1. They keep me on my toes and I don’t think anything could top them as my greatest achievement (although there are days!!).
Future plans are just to keep on doing what I am doing, I get to take on new challenges as my role evolves to new things and I get to meet and work with lots of great staff and students.


PSS Distinguished Achievement Awards 2017 – Nicola Begley

**update: Nicola went on to win the individual Distinguished Award at the whole-University level.**

Faculties and all individual members of staff are invited annually to nominate colleagues for a Professional Support Services, Library and Cultural Institutions’ Distinguished Achievement Award.

The 2017 Winner is Nicola Begley, FBMH (Pictured below being presented the award by Professor Ian Greer. Congratulations!

Here is an excerpt from Professor Andrew Loudon’s interview on his winning nominee.

What made you nominate Nicola?

Nicola is a natural born leader. She works in a large busy environment with many conflicting pressures on her time, and carries considerable responsibility, in terms of financial and legal and regulatory. The presence of an experienced efficient support-staff leader is a necessary common feature in all large successful laboratories world-wide. Put simply, laboratories such as ours cannot operate without such support. Post-graduate and post-doctoral staff are of necessity short-term employees, so experienced support staff are the essential long-term glue that holds the team together.

Why do you think it is appropriate to have these awards?

Yes, it is very important. The support staff in the faculty are often the un-sung heroes of our science, and are critical to our operation across the board. We are very fortunate to have such a well-run operation at Manchester, from the core facilities to individual laboratories.

Here are a few words from Nicola.

Could you provide a very brief history of your career here at Manchester ?

I started working at the University in 2011 as a Research Technician for Dr. Julie Gibbs in Prof. Andrew Loudon’s lab.  I have remained in the Loudon lab where my role has developed to not only provide technical support but to also provide transgenic research programme management for multiple labs across the FBMH.

What does the achievement award mean to you?

I feel extremely grateful to have received the award.  I am very lucky to work with such supportive PI’s and colleagues and the nomination alone reinforced this support.  Winning the award reiterated how I feel day to day which is greatly appreciated for the work that I do.

What would you say is your greatest achievement since starting at the University & what are your plans for the future?

My greatest achievement was in being a middle author on an article in Nature medicine. This represented the culmination of 4 years work on a research programme into circadian control of inflammation which I was heavily involved in and supported the over research effort. To me this shows the importance of my work and role in research. In the future I hope to develop in my career, particularly in a research management role.


Runners up include:  Neil O’Hara (research technician) and Anthony Steel  (technical manager) FBMH. Well done!  Read Neil’s interview here and Anthony’s here.


TEaM Workplace tours

TEaM workplace tours continue to be a hit.

In Early February over 50 Technical staff from across the university attended a BSF Facility tour. The tour highlighted the varied and diverse research that’s taking place and the staff gave some very interesting background and information into the research and the facility. The Technical staff who attended the tour got a full tour of the facility. Thanks to all the staff from the BSF for giving such an interesting and informative tour.

The Whitworth Art Gallery has recently undergone a £15 million development programme seeing it double in size and embrace Whitworth Park; with the inclusion of the landscape gallery, learning studio and the café in the trees. On the morning of 24rd March 2017, Dean Whiteside, Buildings and Operations Manager, gave the opportunity to TEaM members to have access to an ‘exclusive’ behind the scenes tour of this wonderful transformation. (Pictured)

On 23rd March 2017, members of TEaM had the opportunity to attend a behind the scenes tour of Manchester Museum. Individuals saw many archived items, such as: spears, knives and ceremonial clothing; they also got to find out about preservation and restoration, the importance of pest control in the museum collections, display mounting to the actual logistics involved in obtaining  artefacts for the museum, such as the massive Easter Island statue and the reinforced floor!


TEaM at FBMH Technical Skills Day

TEaM attended the FBMH Technical Skills Day in AV Hill Building, on Thursday 30th March 2017.

The event concentrated on technical advice for immunohistochemistry methodologies.

Over one hundred delegates attended throughout the day event. 

The TEaM stand was there to promote the values of TEaM and recruit new members too!

Poonam Halai and Suzanna Dickson hosted the stand and new member Bushra Almari won the giant prize chocolate egg.

If you are interested in becoming a member of TEaM, please email, technical.excellence@manchester.ac.uk for further information.


May Newsletter Introduction

On behalf of the Steering Group, I would like to welcome you to the inaugural newsletter for Technical Excellence at Manchester (TEaM)!

TEaM is a cross-Faculty network, created by technical staff for technical staff, and is open to all staff members with a technical role.  It has been estimated that across the University, there are likely to be more than 600 members of staff with technical roles that cover a diverse range of skills, specialisms and job titles; based on the responses to the pre-TEaM launch questionnaire, which was completed by 298 people, over 55 different job titles were associated with technical roles.

 Since its launch in December 2016, 256 people have now subscribed to the TEaM email distribution list**, we have had 3 workplace tours, including the ‘Biological Services Facility’ (BSF), the Whitworth Art Gallery and the Manchester Museum, which have all been extremely popular and we have had the first of our networking/coffee morning events, which was attended by over 80 staff. To quote Michele Jennae*, “Networking is not about just connecting people. It’s about connecting people with people, people with ideas, and people with opportunities…. Networking means the act of exchanging information with people who can help you professionally.”   To this end, the newsletter will support the TEaM mission statement,

To raise the profile of technical staff, recognise their contribution to the University and empower them to develop their careers’ .

 TEaM will provide technical staff with the opportunity to learn about training and development opportunities on and off-campus, share experiences and knowledge and promote career pathways and career opportunities.

To fully achieve this, we need you to help shape the future of this exciting initiative. Maybe you are aware of an event or training opportunity that you would like to share, maybe you would like to share your career history &/or secondment experience and your future plans, or maybe you are a budding artist and would like to submit a ‘topical’ cartoon or illustration? We are looking for contributions to bring together technical staff from all areas of the University, to share our achievements and celebrate our vital contribution to teaching and research within our University and beyond. For further editorial details, please see the TEaM blog (http://blogging2.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/team/) .

Just one final thought…….

“If you want 1 year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people.“ Chinese Proverb

 Rae Watkins (Chair)

* Artuitive & Career coach, Communications & Connection Strategist

** technical-excellence@listserv.manchester.ac.uk

TEaM Launch Event 12th December 2016

TEaM Networking Event 31st January 2017