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Report of the General Board on the probationary arrangements for academic offices and comparable unestablished posts

The GENERAL BOARD beg leave to report to the University as follows:


This Report brings forward proposals for the introduction of a structured probationary scheme for academic officers and for the holders of comparable unestablished posts.


2.1 Paragraphs 41-44 of the University's Human Resources (HR) Strategy (Reporter, 2001-02, p. 774 ff) addressed performance review, one of the six main priorities earmarked by the HEFCE for the assessment of HR strategies under Phase 1 of their recent funding initiative 'Rewarding and Developing Staff'. The University's proposals relating to this initiative have been accepted by the HEFCE and it is incumbent on the Council and the General Board to ensure that detailed proposals are brought forward for the delivery of the HR Strategy and approved by the Regent House as necessary.

2.2 Until recently no structured probationary scheme existed for any category of staff in the University. As part of its submission on performance review, the University's HR Strategy called for the introduction of structured probationary arrangements for all categories of staff. Such arrangements provide an essential mechanism by which performance can be reviewed during the early stages of appointment and are vital for identifying and improving poor performance at an early stage. As the HR Strategy points out (para. 43), the key to dealing with performance issues is to be proactive and to take appropriate remedial action at an early stage. Structured probationary schemes play an important part in facilitating such action, as do mentoring, appraisal, and staff management skills.

2.3 Considerable progress has been made already in devising and introducing probationary schemes. A scheme has already been introduced for academic-related staff (see paragraph 11 and Appendix 1 of the Joint Report of the Council and the General Board on the changes required in the University's current employment practices as a result of the European Community Directive on Fixed-Term Working (Reporter, 2001-02, p. 1256). A scheme for assistant staff has recently been approved by the University and Assistants Joint Board and the Council and has now been launched for all new staff appointed with effect from 1 October 2003 and thereafter. Probationary arrangements are also being introduced in the near future for contract research staff as part of a more general Career Management Scheme, which has recently been approved by the central bodies.

2.4 The General Board have also signalled the importance of a structured probationary scheme for academic staff in connection with changes proposed in relation to the structure of academic offices in the University. The General Board's Report on this topic (Reporter, 2002-03, p. 618) contained proposals which included the abolition of the University Assistant Lectureship and the opening up of the University Senior Lectureship to appointment by open competition. These proposals - particularly the abolition of the University Assistant Lectureship - were linked to the introduction of structured probationary arrangements for academic staff, which involved a more systematic approach to induction and review, including a written assessment of performance which would be provided to relevant Appointments Committees at the end of the process.


3.1 As noted above, the introduction of a probationary scheme for academic staff has been linked to the abolition of the University Assistant Lectureship. The consultation undertaken in relation to the proposals contained in a document on the academic career structure and the reform of senior academic promotion procedures (Reporter, 2001-02, p. 106) indicated that all, except one, of the fifty-four institutions, including the Councils of the Schools, who responded were in favour of the Board's proposal to abolish the office of University Assistant Lecturer and to introduce a structured and rigorous probationary scheme for University Lecturers. The abolition of the University Assistant Lectureship has now been approved by the University and the approval of the necessary amendments to Statutes by the Privy Council is awaited.

3.2 In March 2003 the General Board consulted all relevant institutions on a draft scheme enclosing a questionnaire on key points such as probation criteria, assessment, referees, and academic staff development. On probationary criteria there was an overwhelming consensus for amending the Statutes in the case of University Lecturers and University Senior Lecturers to allow for an overall assessment of performance which would include general contribution. On assessment, a very strong consensus emerged that assessment should be about the attainment of satisfactory levels in all relevant criteria and that these should not be made more rigorous than they are at present. On referees, the great majority of respondents was in favour of three referees to include one or two externals, with opinion divided on the number of externals. On staff development, the great majority of respondents was in favour of the 'core' element of the pathway programme (see Annex 1 to the Appendix attached to this Report) being mandatory, and that the time allocated for activities in the programme was appropriate. There was also a substantial majority supporting the suggestion that the start date of new appointees should be brought forward in order to allow for appropriate induction.


4.1 The proposed new scheme which has been approved by the General Board for the holders of academic offices and posts is described in detail in the Appendix. The General Board have agreed that the scheme will apply to all new appointments to University academic offices other than to Professorships and Readerships.

4.2 The general approach adopted for the development of more structured probationary arrangements for the different categories of staff of the University has been the same. There are, however, some obvious necessary differences in the detail of the different schemes. These include:

Assessment criteria.  These must clearly take account of the duties of the office/post and will vary according to the role performed.

Period of probation.  This must be appropriate for forming a fair and thorough assessment of performance in relation to the duties of the office or post. A proper assessment of teaching and research will usually require more time than, say, administrative and technical duties.

Appointments Committees.  The Board believe that it is appropriate that Appointments Committees should continue to have a central and decisive role in the assessment of the case for confirming or not confirming the tenure of academic staff.

4.3 With regard to the assessment criteria and the period of probation for academic staff, the Board draw attention to the following considerations.

Assessment criteria

The March 2003 consultation revealed a strong consensus for taking into account general contribution. Although consultation clearly indicated that assessment should be about the attainment of satisfactory levels in all relevant criteria, it is doubtful that, as Statute D stands, attainment of satisfactory levels of general contribution for University Lecturers and University Senior Lecturers can be made a requirement together with teaching and research. However, pending further consideration of this matter, the General Board have agreed that general contribution may be taken into account in the overall assessment of performance of University Lecturers and University Senior Lecturers if the assessment of general contribution is positive. The Board have also agreed, in the light of the outcome of the consultation, that College teaching may also be taken into account as part of the assessment of overall performance provided there is no adverse effect on the teaching contribution to the Faculty or Department.

Period of probation

The General Board believe that probation should, in the interest of equity, be the same for all academic officers with the proviso that there be some flexibility, making it possible for tenure to be confirmed earlier than the maximum period of normal probation. Under the proposed new arrangements it is recommended that the probationary period for the holder of a University academic office or post be five years. However, whereas under current arrangements the period of initial appointment is either three or five years and may not be reduced, it is recommended that under the new scheme the Head of an institution may recommend that the probationary period be reduced to a period of not less than three years. This feature of the scheme will require an amendment to Statute D, XVII for University Lecturers and the introduction of a provision for probation in Statute D, XVIII for University Senior Lecturers.

5. Accordingly, the General Board recommend:

That approval be given to the proposals in this Report, and that, subject to the approval of Her Majesty in Council, the Statutes of the University be amended as follows, and the proposed amendments be submitted under the Common Seal of the University to Her Majesty for approval:

Statute D




Section 6.

By amending the section so as to read:

6. (a) The appointment to a University Lectureship shall be subject to the satisfactory completion of a period of probation under arrangements approved from time to time by the University unless the waiver of this requirement is recommended by the Appointments Committee and approved by the General Board.

(b) On confirmation of an appointment, a University Lecturer shall hold office, subject to the provisions of Statute U, until the retiring age, so long as he or she satisfactorily performs the duties of the office.

Section 7.

By repealing sub-section (a).



Section 3.

By replacing the final sentence of the section by the following sentences:

Such appointment shall be subject to the satisfactory completion of a period of probation under arrangements approved from time to time by the University unless the waiver of this requirement is recommended by the Appointments Committee and approved by the General Board. On confirmation of an appointment, a University Senior Lecturer shall hold office, subject to the provisions of Statute U, until the retiring age, so long as he or she satisfactorily performs the duties of the office.

5 November 2003 ALISON F. RICHARD, Vice-Chancellor N. O. A. BULLOCK D. W. B. MACDONALD



1. To whom does this scheme apply?

1.1 This scheme applies to all non-clinical academic appointments and comparable unestablished posts on permanent or fixed-term contracts below Readership level. It does not apply to contract research staff for whom there is a separate scheme1.

1.2 Where doubt arises as to whether the scheme applies in a particular case and cannot be resolved by the Director or Assistant Director of Personnel, the matter will be decided by the Chairman of the Personnel Committee on behalf of the General Board or, if circumstances require it, by the General Board on the advice of the Personnel Committee.

2. What is probation?

2.1 Probation is the period of the appointment of a new member of staff during which the probationer will demonstrate that s/he has the capability to undertake the duties of the role to which s/he has been appointed, and in which the Head of Institution2 will provide guidance and support to enable the individual to become an effective member of the University.

2.2 The duties of an academic officer involve teaching and research or, in the case of some officers, just research. It is also expected that all academic officers will make a general contribution to the activities of their institution. There must be clear evidence of consistent, satisfactory performance of duties during the probationary period if an appointment is to be confirmed upon completion (see 4.6.1 - 4.7.2 below).

2.3 The probationer has the right to be given induction and guidance into the objectives of her/his institution and its academic activities. This will involve enabling the probationer to develop skills in teaching, examining, and research, and wherever practicable to contribute to the general work of the institution.

2.4 Instances of misconduct, rather than lack of capability, will be dealt with separately in accordance with the relevant disciplinary procedures and not under the probationary scheme.

2.5 It is essential that the requirements of the probationary scheme be observed throughout the process. The Head of Institution should be aware that the termination of an appointment at the end of probation is a dismissal in law and that in all cases the University must be able to demonstrate that the probationary procedure has been conducted properly and fairly.

3. How long is the probationary period?

3.1 The probationary period for the holder of a University academic office or post will be five years unless the Head of Institution makes a case to the Appointments Committee3 for the requirement to be reduced (to a period of not less than three years) or to be waived where the officer has held a senior academic position at another university and has already acquired relevant skills and experience. For extensions of the probationary period beyond five years in exceptional circumstances, see 3.3.

3.2 Confirmation (or non-confirmation) of tenure by the Appointments Committee must occur, if possible, not less than nine months before the end of the five-year period. In cases where the Head of Institution is clear that there is sufficient evidence, s/he may recommend to the relevant Appointments Committee confirmation of an appointment before the end of the five-year period but not less than three years into the probationary period.

3.3 Exceptionally, the probationary period may be extended where a new officer has not had sufficient time to demonstrate her/his suitability due to factors beyond her/his control, for example because of long leave of absence taken on account of illness or family commitments (see 4.7.6 below). Normally such extension will be for no longer than one year.

4. How will the Probationary Scheme work in practice?

4.1 It is important that the duties of the officer are made clear and are understood by the new officer at the outset; that the work of staff undergoing probation is monitored to ensure that any problems that occur are discussed directly with the probationer as and when they arise; and that an overall view of the individual's progress, commitment and general contribution to the work of the institution is formed.

4.2 Advice and Assistance

4.2.1 Probationary staff will each be assigned a mentor. A mentor will be an experienced senior colleague nominated by the Head of Institution who is able to give advice and provide valuable links to the officer under probation and support over the whole range of duties the probationer is expected to undertake, and with whom s/he can share problems and concerns in confidence. If requested by the probationer, an alternative mentor may be agreed in discussion with the Head of Institution.

4.3 Academic Staff Development

4.3.1 The University places great emphasis on the development of its staff, wishes to encourage participation in appropriate training and development activities, and offers a range of opportunities as part of the Development Programme, including a three-day Introductory Seminar. The University is developing a Pathway Programme in HE Practice for new teaching staff. Attendance on 'core' activities, including those dealing with the statutory and legal framework in which new members of staff whose duties include teaching, is mandatory.

4.4 Meetings and Preliminary Assessment

4.4.1 Before the beginning of the probationer's first teaching term the Head of Institution or person nominated by her/him will hold a preliminary one-to-one meeting with the probationer to discuss the duties of the office, mutual expectations, and the individual's development needs. In addition to those core activities in which the University believes it is essential that all new members of staff should participate, the Head of Institution will identify in consultation with the probationer any further essential requirements and note these on the record of progress form.

4.4.2 In the course of the probationary period, information as to progress will be gathered at appropriate intervals and will normally include the views of senior colleagues on both teaching, research, and general contribution. Student feedback and peer observation may also be taken into account.

4.4.3 The Head of Institution, or the person delegated to oversee the probationer, will meet with the probationer at least once a year. A written record of progress will be completed and kept by both parties. Where concern arises about aspects of an officer's performance, more regular meetings (e.g. twice a year) should be held and a record kept (see also 4.6.6). The purpose of each meeting is to review the probationer's progress under the general headings of teaching, research, and, where appropriate, general contribution to the work of the institution and to provide an opportunity for the individual to comment on the assessment. Model forms that will be required for each year of probation are attached as Annexes 2A and 2B.

4.5 Performance Criteria

4.5.1 Performance will be assessed against the criteria appropriate for the office or post held; it will therefore be concerned with 'outputs'. There must be no doubt that the probationer has been performing according to all the relevant criteria and at a level appropriate in the Cambridge context. The main focus of assessment will be on some or all of the following: teaching, examining, and research. A positive general contribution to the work of the institution may also be taken into account in the overall assessment of performance.4 College teaching may also be taken into account as part of the assessment of overall performance provided there is no adverse effect on the contribution to the Faculty.

4.6 Evidence of Formal/Final Assessments

4.6.1 The responsibility for making the final overall assessment of the performance of the individual probationer and the recommendation to the Appointments Committee (see 3.2) rests with the Head of Institution.


4.6.2 Consideration should be given to any special circumstances that may have resulted in a lack of opportunity for a new officer to perform to her/his full potential on account of disability.

4.6.3 The Personnel Division will remind Faculties, Departments, and other institutions each year of the current position with regard to academic staff on probation and of the need to complete formal and final assessments.

4.6.4 The evidence on which formal and final assessments should be based is the record of assessment on the forms contained in Annexes 2A and 2B and both internal and external references.

4.6.5 In the course of the third year of probation, there should be a formal assessment. An overall minimum of three references should be sought of which at least one should be external, unless there is no duty to undertake research. The probationer will nominate two referees. The Head of Institution may seek additional references if these are required. Names of referees are not disclosable to the probationer for the purposes of this procedure. The Head of Institution may decide at this stage, on the basis of the referees' reports and the record of probation, to recommend to the Appointments Committee that the appointment be confirmed (see 4.7.1).

4.6.6 If a concern arises about the probationer's research performance, the Head of Institution may wish to seek an external reference sooner rather than later in order to be able to assess progress during the period leading up to the third year formal assessment (see 4.4.3).

4.6.7 The final assessment may take place in the course of the third, fourth, or fifth year depending on the probationer's progress. The evidence should be the record of probation (Annexes 2A and 2B) and references. If it is decided that confirmation of tenure in the third year of probation is premature, references should be updated and/or additional references sought for the final assessment. The requirements set out in 4.6.5 relating to number of references will apply for the final assessment.

4.7 Decision and Subsequent Action

4.7.1 Where performance during probation has been satisfactory, the Head of Institution will make a positive recommendation for the confirmation of appointment to the Appointments Committee. Performance records and references should be made available to the Appointments Committee.

4.7.2 On confirmation of appointment by the Appointments Committee, a University Officer shall hold office, subject to the provisions of Statute U, until the retiring age or until the end of her or his tenure in the case of officers on fixed-term appointments, so long as s/he satisfactorily performs the duties of the office. It will be for the Head of Institution to inform the member of staff concerned that probation has been satisfactorily completed although written confirmation will be issued by the Personnel Division.

4.7.3 Where there have been concerns about the performance of the probationer, the Head of Institution should detail these concerns on the form and ensure that the individual receives a copy.

4.7.4 In the event that performance is judged not to be satisfactory, the Head of Institution will inform the probationer that the recommendation to the Appointments Committee will be the termination of appointment. The probationer must be given an opportunity to make written representations to the Appointments Committee and may attend the meeting of the Appointments Committee if s/he wishes to do so in order to present her/his case. If a decision to dismiss is made by the Appointments Committee, the probationer will be given written reasons for non-confirmation and will be given notice (see 4.8.1 below).

4.7.5 If the appointment is terminated, the officer will have the right to appeal, either under the provisions of Statute U, V, or in accordance with the disciplinary and grievances procedures for unestablished appointments as appropriate.

4.7.6 In cases where there has been an extension (see 3.3), at the end of that period, subject to satisfactory progress being made, the action will be as in 4.7.1 or 4.7.3 or 4 as appropriate.

4.8 Period of notice required during the probationary period

4.8.1 The period of notice to be given by the member of staff, or by the Head of Institution following a decision to terminate the appointment during the probationary period, will normally be three months on either side.5 The Head of Institution will convey the decision of the Appointments Committee to the probationer after consulting the Personnel Division.

5. What happens after the probationary period?

5.1 The Staff Review and Development process provides a formal means of carrying out a continuing review. Updated guidance on appraisal will be issued in due course by the Personnel Division.


University of Cambridge: Academic Staff Development

The Cambridge Programme in Higher Education Practice

Planned pathway for New Teaching Staff: Academical Year 2003/4

Participants: New UTOs and CTOs. (New UTOs and CTOs come to Cambridge from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, and with differing levels of experience of HE teaching: these will be accommodated by planning engagement with the Programme on an individual basis, subject to formal contractual requirements)

Timescale: Normally to be completed within 2-3 years of starting

Requirement: Attendance on 'core' activities (asterisked) is mandatory for UTOs. In addition, Heads of Institution may identify other essential requirements in consultation with the probationer

Assessment: No formal assessment procedures are proposed: but reflection on the 'PHEP' experiences might, where appropriate, form part of a teaching portfolio for possible assessment, were such to be required for satisfactory completion of probation

Pathway of Activities

*1. Preliminary 1:1 meeting with member of the academic staff development team to discuss development expectations and needs, followed by a meeting with the Head of Institution or Senior Tutor, as appropriate, to agree a personal engagement with the Programme, before beginning of first teaching Term (approx 2-3 hrs: Year 1)

*2. Participation in 3-day September/October Seminar (also to be run in spring) for New Academic Staff (3 days: Year 1)

Day 1: The University and College teaching system

am: Introduction; the University's system of Undergraduate Teaching in the Sciences; Differences in the Arts and Humanities; Undergraduate student assessment at Cambridge; Graduate student selection and supervision; 'Things I wish I'd known a year ago'

pm: Workshops on Student Supervision, Data Projection/Powerpoint in teaching

Day 2: Legal Duties and Considerations; Lecturing Skills Workshops

am: Health and safety issues; the UTO and students with disabilities; Equal Opportunities - the law and its implications; legal obligations towards students; Staff Development opportunities to support development in these and other areas

pm: Lecturing Workshops (groups of up to ten held in parallel, to accommodate demand)

Day 3: General Introduction to the University and its Facilities

am: Address and Welcome to the University by the Vice-Chancellor; How the University works; Support from the Central Administrative System; Departmental and College Perspectives; Exhibition of University resources; Personnel Matters

pm: Teaching and Research in a Collegiate University - an in-tray exercise and discussion; or Cross-cultural and language awareness - a session devised by colleagues in the Language Centre for staff new to Cambridge and the UK

3. Participation in national discipline-based course for new HE teachers (eg from LTSN Centres): offered where available as optional activity (1-2 days: Years 1-2)

4. Further individual review/Personal Development Programme action-planning re. engagement with Staff Development Programme (and possibly towards ILTHE Membership) (2 hrs: Year 1)

5. Participation in centrally-organised Staff Development Programme activities, some of which might be identified as mandatory in consultation with the Head of Institution, depending on a participant's past experience (time depends upon extent of engagement: Years 1-3)

or 1-day sessions over the two years will include:

• Undergraduate supervising or small group teaching
• Lecturing
• Supervising postgraduates
• Working with students with special needs; access
• Undergraduate selection interviewing
• Student Assessment, principles and practice (including uses of external examiners in the Cambridge system)
• Team management
• Grant-getting
• Project management
• Bespoke activities for UTOs with particular needs (eg Voice Projection)
Shorter sessions drawn from the Staff Development programme or undertaken in the department/faculty will include:
• University governance
• Specialist Health and Safety issues, as appropriate to the officer's discipline

6. Individual teaching support, such as peer-observation of lectures, buddying, and guidance regarding any 'Teaching Academy' or ILTHE Membership application (estimate 20 hrs: Years 1-3)

7. Residential Review Seminar in year 2 or 3 for skills development and to review progress/issues faced and plan revised PDP and application for tenure (3-5 days: Years 2 or 3)

8. Optional educational project work will be encouraged and supported as appropriate

Typical total time devoted to the Programme: This will depend upon individuals' needs: the mandatory components amount to 26 hours (3 days + 2-3 hours); someone familiar with Cambridge might be expected to participate in 2 - 6 additional sessions and/or ask for individual teaching support over the following 2/3 years (a further 6 - 50 hours), but a new teaching officer with broad development needs could attend more sessions (maximum additional time over 3 years, 70 hours); any might find attendance on the Residential Review Seminar helpful.

1 For the purposes of the scheme an academic officer is one whose duties are primarily concerned with research (e.g. an ADR) or teaching and research. An unestablished post is defined as academic by analogy with a comparable University office.

2 The term Head of Institution as used throughout the document applies to Heads of Departments and of other academic institutions and Chairmen of Faculty Boards not divided into Departments.

3 The body specified in Statutes and Ordinances (Statute D, XVII) as having authority for making an appointment or reappointment to an office of University Lecturer or University Senior Lecturer and to other academic offices such as ADRships.

4 In relation to University Lecturers and Senior Lecturers, this will require an amendment of Statute D. General contribution may be taken into account in the case of other academic offices the duties of which are not prescribed by Statute but which are defined, in accordance with regulations in Ordinances, by the local authority concerned or by the General Board.

5 One month's notice for a period of less than one year.

Annexes 2A and 2B [37Kb pdf]

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Cambridge University Reporter, 19 November 2003
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