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Durham University

Human Resources & Organisational Development

Probationary Lecturers: Guidance to Heads of Departments

This guidance should be read in conjunction with the Guidance to Probationary Lecturers approved by Senate and Council in 2010.

The guidance and forms apply to all probationary lecturers. The following guidance also applies to teaching fellows (please note teaching fellow versions of the Probation Agreement and Interim/Final Reports should be used - see related links).

Your Responsibilities

As Head of Department your main responsibilities regarding probationary staff are:

1. To ensure there are appropriate arrangements for the induction of a new member of staff, along with integration and support into your department throughout the probationary period.

2. To arrange mentoring and support throughout the whole of the probationary period for the new member of staff. It is expected that new staff will be informed of their mentor before they take up appointment and will be introduced to their mentor within the first few days of their appointment. It is also your responsibility to ensure that the mentor you assign to help the new member of staff is appropriate and is adequately prepared to take on the role.

3. To agree as early as possible within the first three months of the appointment, a Probation Agreement with the new member of staff which sets out your expectations and the objectives they need to achieve for confirmation of their appointment. You are expected to consult/involve the Faculty PVC in the process of drafting the Probation Agreement prior to seeking the PVC's approval of the proposed Agreement.

4. To ensure that the new member of staff is aware during the course of the discussion on the Probation Agreement that in order to have their appointment confirmed, the University will need to be satisfied that they have:

  • fulfilled all the expectations and requirements as set out in the Probation Agreement;
  • engaged in the teaching of prescribed courses and the supervisory and tutorial work assigned to them to a high standard;
  • engaged in research towards the advancement of their discipline through the publication of research in peer reviewed and refereed journals, monographs or other recognised forms of dissemination, to a high international standard;
  • conscientiously carried out such examining duties and efficiently and effectively performed such administrative duties as have been required of them;
  • shown promise by their work and enterprise of continuing to develop as a University teacher and a scholar;
  • successfully completed modules 1 and 2 of the Durham Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PG CAP) and applied for Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy;
  • demonstrated the potential to continue, for the foreseeable future, publishing research considered 'internationally excellent', and as a leader in a collegial academic community of the first rank.

(See the Guidance to Probationary Lecturers for full details)

5. To review or arrange to have reviewed at the end of the first 6 months of appointment the work and progress of the new member of staff, and to report to the Faculty PVC and your HR contact either that progress is entirely satisfactory or that you have concerns about some aspect, e.g. about research, teaching, or good citizenship and conduct, or any other matter which has the potential to disrupt satisfactory progress.

6. To ensure that there are satisfactory arrangements for the new member of staff's ASR and that the reviewer is aware of their responsibility to provide you with a report at 15 and 30 months which you can incorporate into the interim and final reports you are required to provide to the Academic Progression Committee.

Note - there is clearly some overlap between the Annual Staff Review (ASR) process and probation. It is therefore recommended that staff on probation have one review meeting that encompasses the probationary requirements and also covers the development aspects of the ASR. If this is not possible, care should be taken to ensure the objectives in both processes are the same.

7. To ensure that the probationer has a full and balanced academic load commensurate with their position as a probationary lecturer. In doing so, you should require the probationary lecturer to teach at least some subjects within their discipline but which are not central to their personal research interests.

8. To help a new member of staff focus on their teaching and research activities you should ensure that they are not asked to undertake major service to the Department or University during the probationary period.

9. To draw attention to relevant University policies, including equality and diversity, promoting good campus relations and health and safety.

10. To ensure that the new member of staff is engaged in professional development programmes and activities relating to research and learning & teaching, and that he/she enrols on and successfully completes modules 1 and 2 of the PG CAP and applies for Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy, which is an essential requirement for confirmation of appointment. There are different contractural requirements depending on the academic role.

11. To highlight as early as possible with your Faculty PVC and your HR contact, in writing, any concerns about work and progress towards meeting the objectives for confirmation of appointment.

12. To provide the Academic Progression Committee with

  • (A) an Interim Report on work and progress at approximately 15 months into the appointment and;
  • (B) a Final Report at approximately 30 months into the appointment.

Any publications referred to in probation reports, must be uploaded to Durham Research Online (wherever possible) and included in the web profile of the member of staff.

Your final report must also be signed by your department's Director of Research and Director of Learning & Teaching/Education. HR will provide advance notice of the need for these reports via an email to the Head of Department.

Please ensure that the member of staff is provided with a copy of the interim and final reports. Where performance is not satisfactory, please ensure the member of staff is given the opportunity to comment on the report.

Where there is a clear recommendation to confirm and this is fully supported by the appropriate Faculty PVC, this is reported to Academic Progression Committee (APC). HR will write to the member of staff once confirmation of appointment is received from the Faculty PVC (via the completed and signed Final Report form).

Other than in exceptional circumstances, the probationary period cannot be extended but, were appropriate, an application can be made to APC to defer a decision.

When Performance is Not Satisfactory

It is essential that any concerns about performance are highlighted as early as possible in the probationary period. You are advised to speak to your HR Manager and consideration given to whether the formal process should commence - Regulation for Dealing with Unsatisfactory Performance during Probation.

If you intend to recommend that the decision be deferred or to decline to retain a probationary member of staff on the grounds of inadequate performance or insufficient promise or personal unsuitability, as Head of Department you must be able to show that:

  • (a) you made sure training in teaching was available and that you and/or other senior staff such as your Director of Learning and Teaching/Education encouraged participation and gave appropriate feedback following peer observation of teaching where this has taken place;
  • (b) you and your Director of Research provided satisfactory advice and support on developing a research profile throughout the probationary period, e.g. on writing research articles, on where to publish, or the typical number of articles expected;
  • (c) you and your Director of Research ensured there was continued support to undertake research throughout the probationary period;
  • (d) you ensured advice and help towards improvement were offered throughout the period; and
  • (e) you gave due warning(s) of poor performance with advice and support on how to improve, with timescales.

Records of Advice

You have a responsibility to make sure that advice and warning is given as early as possible and repeated as often as necessary. You should seek advice from the Faculty PVC and/or your HR contact at the earliest opportunity.

You must keep a detailed record of work and progress and this is especially important where it appears a probationary member of staff is failing to make satisfactory progress or is unable to meet the expectations and outcomes identified in the Probation Agreement. This should contain enough detail so that it can be used as evidence if required. In particular, details of the advice and warnings you or others have given must be included. This detailed record should NOT contain evidence or information relating to problems which had not been brought to the attention of the probationary member of staff.

Oral and written warnings

Where matters are sufficiently serious to justify consideration of non-confirmation of appointment you will need to give an oral or written warning and retain a copy in the probationary record. This should be done in good time prior to compiling your final probation report in order to allow sufficient time for improvement/meet the Probation Agreement objective(s). Your HR contact will guide you on the drafting of your written warning, which should specify the deficiencies concerned, the action to be taken to remedy them and the timescale for further review(s). Experience has shown such written records to be essential to enable the University to show that you have acted reasonably.

Regulation - Unsatisfactory Progress during Probation.

Right of Appeal

You should note that members of staff have the right of appeal against a decision to defer or a decision not to confirm the appointment (outlined in the Regulation above). Such an appeal will involve an independent assessment of the actions you and other staff have taken throughout the probationary period and whether these have been a reasonable response in all the circumstances. Any assessment will naturally be based on a comparison against the above guidance as well as the guidance provided to probationers, along with the objectives in the Probation Agreement.

Additional information

Previous Probationary Service

Provided the duties and responsibilities of their previous post were the same as those required for a lecturer at Durham, new staff who have successfully completed a probationary period as a lecturer at a pre-92 UK university may not be required to undertake a full three year probationary period at Durham (subject to approval by the Faculty PVC). This concession does not cancel out the requirement to complete modules 1 and 2 of the Durham Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PG CAP). Faculty PVCs must approve any exemption to completion of modules 1 and 2 of the PG CAP, for example because probationers have completed an equivalent course at another University. In such cases these staff are expected to apply for and become Fellows of the HEA as a probationary requirement.


Permission must be sought by any member of staff in your Department to undertake consultancy or other outside work. As Head of Department you are asked particularly to ensure that probationary lecturing staff keep any consultancy to a minimum and only in areas which will benefit their research and teaching, and ensure any external work is not to the detriment of their teaching and research or proper completion of their probationary requirements.

Decisions by Academic Progression Committee

Following consultation with you, the Faculty PVC is required by Academic Progression Committee to consider probation reports and put forward a recommendation, which may be:

  1. to confirm the appointment, or
  2. to defer the decision, or
  3. to recommend that the appointment be terminated with proper notice (refer to the Regulation for Dealing with Unsatisfactory Performance during Probation).

Confirmation of appointment at the end of the probationary period requires a positive decision by the University. It is therefore important that your final probation report contains a clear and unequivocal evidence-based recommendation in line with one of the above options.

Any deferrment is made without any commitment to later confirm the appointment. Re-assessment by the Head of Department or Faculty PVC towards the end of deferred period is based on performance during the entire probationary period and not just the deferred period alone. Any targets agreed for the deferrment period will be taken into account by the Head of Department or Faculty PVC but they may not be the only determining factors.

Where there is a recommendation to defer the decision, or not to confirm the appointment, the member of staff will be invited to provide written comments to the Academic Progression Committee to be considered before a decision is made. Please note, in both cases, the member of staff will have the right of appeal against the decision of the Academic Progression Committee - Appeal Process.