My ATS experience: Alex Downing

What motivated you to undertake Advanced Teacher Status (ATS)?

Having worked in further education for over a decade, I believed that achieving ATS would not only emphasise my commitment to teaching and learning but demonstrate my commitment to raising standards and improving not just my own, but my team and my students’ skills. In my role as Head of Department it is my responsibility to regularly conduct learning walks and provide constructive feedback to teaching staff. In my opinion, I felt I needed to upskill myself for my team to have confidence in my judgements towards teaching, learning and assessment.

Alex Downing, Head of Department at Askham Bryan College

Can you tell us more about the research project that you undertook as part of ATS?

I embarked upon a quality improvement project focussing on the development and implementation of strategies to improve practices of teaching, learning and assessment during the Covid-19 pandemic. I collaborated with individuals across sites and developed online practical resources for teaching which could be utilised across multiple campuses.

The development of these resources aided in learners understanding and practice of practical tasks during the time of lockdown whereby they were unable to access the college sites. The resources were highly successful with our learners excelling in their practical tasks as part of their synoptic assessments. 

How did you find the ATS process?

I found it challenging but a fulfilling opportunity to develop a number of skills including mentoring and self-reflection of my own performance. I liked having the freedom to select a project that was personal to me and my current role and at the time the Covid-19 pandemic. The online portfolio was easy to follow, and the webinars helped to identify what was required at the different stages. I am quite a motivated person and hate to fall behind, so I did find I was sometimes working ahead of the webinars which made it tricky at times, however, having full control over your portfolio with the ability to work at a particular pace was really helpful to me.


What impact has ATS had on your role and your organisation?

Through my current leadership and engagement with a variety of digital platforms during the ATS process, I can now train, support, observe and provide developmental feedback with authority across my organisation.

I have developed my mentoring skills and feel much more confident at adapting to new situations. Mentoring, peer collaboration and supporting new academic staff - typically inexperienced and unqualified teachers - is now a key feature of my operational strategy.


How has your teaching practice changed as a result of ATS?

I feel more confident and have taken on board suggestions from ATS observations to adapt my practice. I am happy to welcome others to observe my lessons and hope I can pass ideas and strategies onto them too. I also find it useful for others to view my current teaching practice and provide suggestions I may never have considered in the past. There is always something new we can learn!


Do you have any advice to anyone considering undertaking ATS?

I found the experience to be very rewarding, but you have to be motivated to work remotely on your portfolio and put in the time. I felt I personally needed to upskill on aspects such as learning theory, so I undertook a lot of reading around the subject.

I also benefitted from having a great mentor who was just at the end of a phone should I need some advice.

You also need to be flexible. I found some weeks I could be logging onto my portfolio daily but then others it could be much longer. I also completed ATS during the Covid-19 pandemic and because of this I had to make changes to my original idea for the improvement project when the second lockdown was announced. Flexibility, motivation, commitment, and a passion to improve one’s practice is essential in the process. 


Finally, please tell us a fun fact about yourself

According to my mother, I was a horrible child that never stopped crying and the only way she could get me to go to sleep was by singing the theme tune to the British sitcom, Blackadder!


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