‘Common Awards’ is the name of a three-way partnership, between your Theological Education Institution, the Church of England (and other participating churches), and Durham University.
[Simple diagram to show three-way partnership between the university, Church of England and TEI]
Your Theological Education Institution (or ‘TEI’) is the body you’re studying with. It might be a residential college like Ridley Hall, or a regional training course, or you might be on a context-based programme.
The partnership includes the Church of England even if you’re not an Anglican student. The Church of England set up the whole scheme on behalf of all the TEIs, selecting Durham University to work with after a competitive tendering process. However, the scheme includes institutions teaching students from various churches: Methodists, Baptists, members of the URC, independents, and many others.
The main body in the Church of England directly involved in maintaining the partnership is the Ministry Development Team (or ‘MDT’ for short).
Durham University has a contract with the Church of England, and separate contracts with each of the TEIs, to offer validation services. We ensure that the programmes offered by the TEIs lead to recognised, high-quality, university-backed awards: certificates, diplomas, degrees, etc. In Durham, there’s a dedicated Common Awards team: three academics (who are members of the Department of Theology and Religion), and an administrative and management team. When we talk about the ‘Common Awards Team’, we’re normally referring to all these people.
The whole Common Awards Framework is designed to be responsive to student feedback. It is sometimes difficult, however, for students to know which aspects of their programme depend upon Durham, and which depend upon their local institution, and so difficult to know how to direct feedback. This page should help you to know where responsibility falls.
The Common Awards Framework doesn’t dictate every detail of the programmes that you take. Instead, it sets some broad parameters for those programmes. It includes, amongst other things, the following elements:
Your TEI, on the other hand, has considerable freedom within these rules and guidelines. Staff of your TEI chose which programmes to offer, picked which modules to include and how they should be arranged and taught, designed the detailed syllabuses for each module, decided what assessments to set, and created their own academic policies within the parameters set by Common Awards.
Suppose you are sitting in an evening class, learning about the Book of Acts, and thinking about how this class will help with a 2,500-word essay you have to write soon on mission in the New Testament. You know this is part of the module ‘New Testament in Context (TMM2031)’ which itself is part of your Diploma of Higher Education in Theology, Ministry and Mission. It’s a Level 5 module, in the second half of your programme.
The decisions of staff in your TEI account for much of what you are experiencing:
Some of that was decided just by your individual tutor for this module. Some of it was decided by staff working informally together. Some of it was decided in one of your TEI’s committees. Some of it was decided in other ways.
The exact ways that decision-making works in each TEI are different – but staff in your TEI should be able to tell you how the decisions were made.
However, the national Common Awards Framework did dictate some of what you are experiencing.
This is set out in the ‘Syllabus’ Appendix of the programme specification for the Diploma. That rule is there because one of the Learning Outcomes for the Diploma is that ‘On successful completion of the programme, students will be able to engage in detail with selected texts of the Old and New Testaments in their cultural and religious contexts, analysing and using a range of approaches to interpretation, leading to an ability to articulate the texts’ significance for the church and world, and the questions to which they give rise.’
You can go to our full list of Common Awards modules and review which category each module falls under. The choices that each TEI made of modules to offer as part of its Common Awards programmes are set out in their programme regulations documents.
These parameters are set out in the relevant Module Outline. You can see, for instance, that the Content has to include ‘Worked examples of how New Testament texts can be related to a range of contexts', and the Learning Outcomes specify that you need to be learning how to ‘Relate New Testament texts to contemporary situations and practices of discipleship, ministry and mission, and explore questions to which this gives rise.’ These parameters are quite generic, though: the detail is left up to your TEI.
Our rules on undergraduate assessment patterns don’t say that the TEI has to set an essay for this module (or any module), or how long it should be if they do – but they do for instance specify that, if you are set a 2,500-word essay, it will count for half of the summative assessment for a twenty-credit module.
If you look at our rules about learning hours, you'll see that the expected overall study time is 200 hours for a twenty-credit module, and that within that you shouldn't normally have more than forty hours of classroom time (with the rest of the time typically spent reading, thinking, preparing for assessments, in informal discussion, or in other activities related to the content of the module).
You can find some generic marking criteria, some guidelines for different kinds of assessment, and some more general comments on what numerical marks mean in our assessment pages. It is important to combine the generic marking criteria with the ‘learning outcomes’ in the relevant Module Outline. You are being assessed as to how well you fulfil those outcomes.
We have different levels of freedom to modify the various parts of the Common Awards framework.
Although there is a definite distinction between the issues decided at TEI level and those that are part of the national Common Awards Framework, TEIs do not make their internal decisions in complete independence from Durham. As the validating body, it is Durham’s responsibility to hold TEIs accountable for the decisions they make, where those decisions affect students’ ability to complete their programmes successfully.
We in the Common Awards Team therefore have a number of ways of checking that your TEI’s ways of making all the decisions above are working well, and that they remain within the parameters we set out.
More generally, however, the whole Common Awards setup functions collaboratively. The University, the TEIs and the Ministry Development Team all work closely together to deliver the programmes to students, and continuously provide feedback to one another, with the student voice being an essential part of this ongoing conversation.