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Teaching and learning political science for careers on the Fast Stream
Read Nick Kirsop-Taylor and Oussama Kardi’s innovative approach to preparing students for the Fast Stream. This piece will also be published on the UK Civil Service Fast Stream blog (https://faststream.blog.gov.uk/).
The Times Top 100 Graduate Careers consistently rate civil service careers through the Fast Stream as the most attractive of graduate career. The Fast Stream offers a fast paced, varied and rewarding pathway into long-term careers at the heart of government and the senior civil service, and the selection process is rightly rigorous and highly selective. Undergraduates aspiring towards these careers often seek support from their University careers services – and in the majority of cases these provide excellent knowledge and advice about the Fast Stream as a career opportunity and the recruitment process in general. Whilst this approach has historically offered good levels of support, in the contemporary competitive marketplace of UK Higher Education provision we argue that Universities have a wider opportunity to offer more integrated and contextualised teaching and learning experience about the senior civil service as a professional career embedded in expertise and knowledge. In short – potential undergraduates are highly motivated to choose Universities that offer clear and credible pathways into rewarding high value careers, and this is an opportunity for innovation in careers-integrated teaching and learning.
In this blog we report on an experimental new approach that merged the teaching and learning of public administration as an academic discipline, with a detailed and in-depth career-orientated programme of support for learners pursuing careers on the Fast Stream. This new approach was trialled at the University of Exeter (Cornwall campus) in 2019 and 2020 with third year undergraduates on the BA Politics and International Relations on a module called: ‘Working in Government: the modern civil service’. This module adopted an eleven week programme of taught lectures about the values and components that comprise ‘good governance’ in the bureaucracy; coupled with ten weeks of seminars that use a combination of student-led learning, alumni guest lectures, Fast Stream assessment centre-based workshop events, games and tests to prepare learners for applications to the Fast Stream. It utilised a mixed assessment programme comprising theory-testing essays with Fast Stream-orientated assessment centre personal statements of key behaviours; and presentations about new and emerging challenges facing the UK civil service. At the conclusion of the first two-year phase of this experimental approach we have derived three core learnings that we want to share:
- The majority of undergraduate learners had either tried unsuccessfully in the year before to apply to the Fast Stream, or were going to try in the year of the module, and so having a deep and ongoing space in which they could discuss how they could improve their chances of success was very welcome. Learners are very appreciative of integrated approaches to learning that combine theory with career-orientated practice. Modules that meet learner career aspirations are well received and build a positive sense of student experience.
- The inclusion of alumni guest speakers currently on the Fast Stream was key to contextualising their current experiences and their own journey. Being able to draw a direct line from their current situation to the alumni on the Fast Stream, and their professional journey, helped offer a sense of progression, structured development and continuity. This also helped learners get a sense of the day-to-day life on the Fast Stream – for good and bad!
- You need different kinds of assessments within the same assessment process to properly reflect and prepare for the Fast Stream selection process, whilst also testing their engagement with Public Administration theory. Increasingly this will involve digital assessment formats that go beyond essays and exams to recorded presentations and viva, debates, and assessed command tasks.
The end of the 2020 spring term marked the conclusion of the first stage in the development of this module and the wider project of offering integrated pedagogies for Public Administration and careers on the Fast Stream. We have learnt a lot about what works and is more challenging: but most importantly we have developed a broad and ambitious programme for how we want to develop this into the future. We think there are far wider opportunities for employing this integrated approach in other settings and for strengthening and developing the level and forms of integration between Universities and the Fast Stream programme. This is an opportunity to deliver innovative new approaches that meet the needs of the future civil service and undergraduate career aspirations.
Dr Nick Kirsop-Taylor (University of Exeter, Politics), Oussama Kardi (Alumni of University of Exeter Politics and Fast Stream generalist).
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