Pedagogy as Transition: Student Directed Tutor Groups on Foundation Years

  • Mike Seal Newman University Birmingham
  • Sarah Parkes Newman University Birmingham


This paper explores the use of student-led tutor groups, viewed as central to the delivery of the Foundation Year in Social Sciences at Newman University. Aimed at ‘non-traditional’ undergraduate students, the programme in design resists the dominant deficit discourse of undergraduate transition. This means that we do not assume that students have failed in the education system, but that the formal educational and/or societal structures and systems within their experience up until the point of university study have failed them. We argue that foundation years should thus seek to support the perpetual process of our students’ becoming; the constantly dissolving, diffusing and recreation of their subjectivity that is engaged in a perpetual process of flux (Quinn, 2010, pp 18-22). Mediating and working through these experiences thus requires an approach that enables teaching staff to respond according to the needs of a student group in any given moment. Our approach is influenced by a combination of the Swedish Folk High School Grundtvig model of education, critical pedagogy and Tavistock experiential group work. This has translated into a three-hour student-led tutor group that is responsive to student need, rather than requiring delivery of pre-determined, set content. Evaluations and student partnership work reveals that students see this as one of the transformative elements of the course that makes their experience coherent and provides a space for them to work through their previous and current constructions of themselves and their education. The paper goes on to explore the underpinning theoretical frames of these tutor groups, tutor roles, skills and experiences and student perspectives.


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Author Biographies

Mike Seal, Newman University Birmingham

Mike is Professor of Education and Social Mobility at the University of Suffolk. He was previously a Reader in Critical Pedagogy at Newman University Birmingham and chair of the Romero Freire Institute. He is a National Teaching Fellow, a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts. He has been Programme Director for foundation year programmes, a Certificate in Community Leadership, a Post Graduate programme in Trade Union Education, a BA in Criminology, and a BA and MA in Youth and Community Work. He worked in the youth work, homelessness and drugs field for over 30 years. He has conducted over 30 pieces of funded research and 20 pieces of consultancy work. He has over 30 publications, including eleven books, and has spoken at over 80 conferences.

Sarah Parkes, Newman University Birmingham

Sarah co-wrote the Foundation Year framework at Newman University, and now leads on the core modules within this. She was project lead of the HEA and Paul Hamlyn ‘What Works: Student Retention and Success Change Programme’ at Newman (2012-16), the HECFE Catalyst Project ‘Using Student Engagement Data to Inform Pedagogic Innovation’ (2016-18) and is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Her principal interests lie in the factors affecting student transition, progression and success within a widening participation context. This includes an interest in the transformational approach to curriculum design and institutional organisation. Websites: and Sarah_Parkes3.