Staff Update: October 2020

Dear Student Service colleagues,

It’s a long time since I have been able to sit down and compile an update for you all – It feels like it has been all hands to the pump for a long time now. However, we have together achieved a MASSIVE amount – some of which I attempt to capture below, but first there are some important things I need to flag for ACTION:

  1. In recognition of everyone’s hard work getting this term underway the VC has announced two additional Christmas Closure days (22nd and 23rd Dec) . ACTION: If you have booked these days as part of your annual leave allowance do now cancel them.
  2. Annual leave carry over – As an exceptional arrangement for this year we are permitted to carry over a total of 10 days of leave if you have been unable to use them in 2019/20. HR are currently working to manually add these to our holiday balances, so they should show up soon on ESS. ACTION:  please please plan now for how you are going to use your leave. I am asking all Team leads to be pro-active in planning leave across their team. I am very keen to make sure everyone can take their full leave allowance but it will take some managing so please help your team leads/line managers to facilitate this by being pro-active about planning now.
  3. Christmas lunch – This will be a challenge this year as I don’t think any of us are clear what restrictions will be in place. I suspect a whole group Christmas lunch will be out of the question but hopefully, you will have some ideas. So to give you the basics to work from I will endorse up to 2hrs to be taken off work to do whatever your team wants as a pre-Christmas celebration. This may for example be 2 hrs in addition to your normal lunch in the middle of the day or if it suits the team better you may finish work 2 hours early on a particular day for a late afternoon activity. ACTION: get your creative brains working on what your team could do.

Student Services Inclusive Practice Network

Anne-Marie Henderson and Kassie Stringer (Student Success & Engagement Team) are establishing this network to promote inclusive ways of working and to share good practice amongst the professional teams within Student Services. The intention is that this should develop depending on needs so the intention is to be very flexible and informal. A teams channel has been established and the network will host regular workshop sessions.  The first session  will be held on Tuesday 03 November, 11:00 – 12:00 and will cover: Social Mobility at the University of Reading: access, attainment and continuation gaps.  We hope to see many of you there but if you can’t make it please join the Teams channel where we will share good practice and information about upcoming events and resources.  If you are interested in hosting a session please get in touch, we really want this network to be for everyone.

Heads up on equipment

In March when we all started to work from home many of us took various pieces of equipment home to allow us to fulfil our roles. Many of us continue to work from home some or all of the time so that is equipment is still needed off campus. We do however need to collect information on where everything is, so in November we will be asked you to log this information. Further guidance will be provided then.

University strategy phase 2 proposals – feedback session

Many of you will have attended the VC’s Talk a few weeks ago where Professor Mark Fellows outlined the proposals for how the University needed to change in order to restore financial sustainability. I have been asked to run a feedback session to collect your views on these proposals so that the views of a wide range of staff can inform these proposals before they are finalised. I will hold this session at 11am on Mon 2nd Nov. I will send around the documents summarising the proposals and the calendar invitation shortly.

New Permanent Covid Testing Centre on Campus

After a lot of hard work with many different organisations over the last 2 months, a permanent testing centre opened at the London Road Campus over the weekend. It is NOT a drop in centre, appointments do need to be made, but this will add huge capacity to testing in the Reading area. I believe they have capacity to do over 1,000 tests every day and the centre will be open between 8am and 8pm. It is open to the public and University staff and students.

How do you know what students have been told?

Since the beginning of term we have been sending weekly Covid updates to students, most of the time I manage to send you a copy but just a reminder that as we have been doing since the beginning of the pandemic all central student communications that are sent as available on the Essentials ‘University Updates’ page, so you can easily check what is the latest students have been told.

What does Tier 2 (High alert level) mean for Student Services?

Some of you may be starting to think about what is means for you and your team if Reading moves into Tier 2 or beyond. The University will shortly be publishing what this means across all of our activities in a document that looks quite like the ‘Roadmap’ that was created to chart the ‘return to campus’. In terms of Student Services, I wanted to share the summary that I have provided (student support) and the broader office based working summary with you ahead of its publication. I don’t think you will find it surprising. I will be discussing the detail shortly with the Student Services Senior Management team so if you have any feedback on this do please bring it to the attention of your line manager so they can feed it through for discussion. In terms of office based working I don’t envisage that we can really reduce any further from our current position if we move into tier 2, without triggering action that is actually more suited to tier 3, so I don’t envisage much if any change.

Table of tiers - for full details please read Paddy's original email






Some of our fantastic achievements recently

  •  Firstly, we have actually managed to start the year and move to a blended approach of delivering the vast majority of our services – this was no mean achievement and I remain very impressed by the fantastic work everyone did over the summer in planning how to do all of this.
  • Timetabling – Devising the teaching timetable for this term was of course one of the fundamental milestones that needed to be achieved in order to start the year. The Timetabling & room bookings team did a phenomenal job in delivering the Autumn term timetable in the face of ever shifting requirements and expectations. Just to give you an idea of scale of work, this involved scheduling a staggering 17,000 on campus events and 11,000 virtual events. The team are now starting to work on the Spring term timetable.
  • Enrolment of students is always a very big task in any year, but this year was almost of the scale of achievements, requiring intensive collaborative work across several teams inside and outside of student services (SIS Team, International Student Advisory, DTS, Campus Cards, Admissions, Applicant Engagement, Student Comms, Welcome Week). Vanessa and Nat (SIS Team) rebuilt the RISIS systems for enrolling new students to accommodate enrolment at a distance setup several reports that allows us to monitor what was happening during a very uncertain time. The Interantional Student Advisory team and the Student Financial Support team stepped up to monitor and progress enrolment of distance students and Katie Robertson took on oversight on the ground of the whole operation which in itself has still not yet completed (HBS students still enrolling). In addition Debbie Hobbs has been managing the enrolment (or I should actually say non-enrolment) of returning students. Due to the hardwork and expertise of these many people we have now succeeded in enrolling around 15,000 students, almost 2,000 of which are studying at a distance.
  • Welcome Week & Student Communications – Welcome Week underwent an entire over haul over the summer which was a hugely challenging task for Kate Booth and Anne-Marie Henderson, but the whole Student Success and Engagement team really pulled together to achieve the massive changes needed. Student Comms is a fundamental part of pre-arrival and welcome week and the Student Services Student Comms team worked tirelessly on this, while also balancing the relentless requirements to add to and rejig the wealth of info on Essentials in relation to Autumn 2020, Exams, resits, CIPs, safety Nets etc etc. And believe it or not the team were also working on migrating the whole of Essentials to a New CMS platform and ensuring that the content complying with the new EU legislation around accessibility which came into force.
  • Module selection is another one of those mammoth tasks even in a normal year. Over the last 2 or 3 years we have been getting better and better at this with more and more students being able to make all their selections online without significant staff interventions, and this year – despite the additional challenges 94% of students selected their full set of modules by the end of week3, thanks to the hard work and excellent preparations of a range of staff across the programme admin teams, student communications and Schools.
  • September Exam Results – Last Friday we were able to publish results for around 800 students who took assessment in September. As in July this was again a huge feat of collaborative achievement with the Exams team, Support Centres and SIS Team working hand in glove to ensure results were published on time despite the complexities of so many different programme regulations and covid related amendments to those regulation. Unfortunately though the story doesn’t end here as the Support Centres are processing all of the extenuating circs requests post the results publication and there is still substantial work to be undertaken to ensure that any students who have a right to resit are recorded as such for their next attempt in summer 2021.
  • Attendance Management Project – In preparation for this Ac year we changed the focus of this project in order to provide some very practical tools for staff in different roles to be able to assess the engagement of students in their learning. This required the small project team to change direction very quickly and once they had the necessary approvals for this they have begun to do fantastic work in terms of delivering on this. The first plank of the plan was to deliver the ‘blackboard login report’ which has allowed staff to quickly and easily identify students who have no logged into Blackboard. Given the fundamental importance of Blackboard for delivering teaching this year not logging in is a very strong indicator that all is not well with a student. This report has been very well received by academic colleagues and others.
  • Hardship application process now online – The Student Financial Support Team have worked quickly and efficiently with the SIS Team over the last few months to move the hardship application process. This is a notoriously paper heavy process, which of course has become even more difficult to manage than normal when working from home. The online process will not only allow the team to work more efficiently but it will mean that students will have their applications concerned more much quickly. This is something that we have been wanted to do for several years so it is wonderful that we have been able to be agile enough to realise its greater importance in the current environment and to be able to move it up the agenda to achieve what will be a lasting ‘win’
  • Disability Registration process now online – following extensive work over the last academic year between the Disability Advisory Team and the SIS Team we were able to launch the online registration process for DAS. As with the hardship application process, registering a disability is also traditionally a very paper heavy process. And again similar to the hardship applications, the fact that this can now be done online with not only relieve some of the administrative burden but it should mean that students reasonable adjustments can be identified a bit more quickly and put in place.
  • Systems development work – In six out of the seven big achievements listed above, the work of the SIS Team has been fundamental in the success of each, but almost unbelievably in addition, the SIS Team have also managed to carry on with many of the development projects scheduled to be done last year. The work achieved includes: Moving exam reports from Access to RISIS, Immigration compliance developments, Review of the disability MS reports, Module selection enhancements, Integrations necessary for the implementation of the student app, UoRM applications processing enhancements, ECFs process for Greenlands-based programmes, ACMO fee waiver for late arrival in UPP Halls, Clearing enhancements, School reports on numbers of enrolled students on campus/distance etc.
  • Careers – the Autumn term is traditionally a very busy term for the Careers Service and Autumn 2020 is not different. The team have already run two extremely successful virtual Careers Fairs (CareersFest in week 1 and the biggest fair of the year ‘Careers and Placement Fair’ in week 3). Both were a lot more effort for staff to put together and instead of being a half day and full day event respectively they were actually run over 2 days and 5 days. Although it was a lot more difficult to attract employers to the fairs given the economic climate engagement from students was very strong indeed. For example during CareersFest the team ran 17 x 1hr webinars which were attended by over 1,500 students attending. What a way to start the term!
  • Student Welfare and Discipline –  this year, more than ever, these two aspects go hand and hand. The Student Welfare Team and the Halls Welfare Teams have really stepped into the breach since the start of term. Before term started we established a small sub team called the Covid Support and Behaviour team to be the first response to the many Covid related queries and grumbles from students about other students, working closely with the wardens, UPP, Unite Students, our local community engagement team and the Dean of Discipline. As it turned out this team ended up having to take on almost 3 weeks worth of undertaking contact tracing when it became apparent that NHS test & Trace were not, after all, happy to undertake contact tracing within the University. Thankfully this work has now passed to the new covid case management team who have just completed their first full week of work so the CSBT team, along with the student welfare team and the Warden can now return to their primary role of provided good support and guidance for students particularly when they are in self-isolation whether in Halls or living in the local community. On Friday we had around 45 active positive student cases, with slightly more in the local community than in halls. And around 300 students isolating in Halls, but spread across about 10 different halls. The wardens and the welfare team are being allocated to each positive case household in order to ensure they have everything they need to complete their self-isolation successfully. This includes access to food. And just to reassure you – UoR students in isolation are being supplied with very high quality food through our amazing Catering team who have worked their socks off. Catered students are received a weekly delivery of fresh fruit and veg (including pineapples last week!), they had custom made gingerbread men last week and this week they will be receiving pumpkins for carving and making pumpkin pie! (I’m promised a photo of a lorry load of pumkins …)
  • Counselling & Wellbeing – Amidst all of the struggle to keep our heads above water over the last 8 months, the Counselling and Wellbeing Team have had the foresight to take a giant step back and review their, if you like, ‘service model’ recognising that it was most likely that the service would be under more pressure than ever before. They have therefore introduced a new way of working which tries to, much more quickly, and ideally in the very first appointment,  identify the specific and immediate issue for the student and equip them with tools to address this, with a follow up a few weeks later to check how things are going. This approach comes about as result of feedback from students, i.e. the most important things for them is to be seen quickly, and also as a means of managing the every increasing demands on the Service. Feedback from students has been very positive so far – they very much like the practical approach, and waiting lists are lower than usually at this time of year.

So, as I said above, together we have achieved a MASSIVE amount over the last few months and I’m very proud to be able to say that I am the Director of such a fabulous Student Services.

I’ll leave you with the wonderful news that Beth Blewitt had her baby boy (Arthur) last Wednesday. Mother and baby doing well!  Isn’t he just totally adorable!

Portrait of Baby Arthur - Beth Blewitt's newborn.

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