by George Brown
A report on the SRHE seminar The impact of the TEF on our understanding, recording and measurement of teaching excellence: implications for policy and practice
This seminar demonstrated that the neo-liberal policy and metrics of TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework) were not consonant with excellent teaching as usually understood.
Michael Tomlinson’s presentation was packed with analyses of the underlying policies of TEF. Tanya Lubicz-Nawrocka considered the theme of students’ perceptions of excellent teaching. Her research demonstrated clearly that students’ views of excellent teaching were very different from those of TEF. Stephen Jones provided a vibrant analysis of public discourses. He pointed to the pre-TEF attacks on universities and staff by major conservative politicians and their supporters. These were to convince students and their parents that Government action was needed. TEF was born and with it the advent of US-style neo-liberalism and its consequences. His final slide suggested ways of combating TEF including promoting the broad purposes of HE teaching. Sal Jarvis succinctly summarised the seminar and took up the theme of purposes. Personal development and civic good were important purposes but were omitted from the TEF framework and metrics.
Like all good seminars, this seminar prompted memories, thoughts and questions during and after the seminar. A few of mine are listed below. Others may wish to add to them.
None of the research evidence supports the policies and metrics of TEF (eg Gibbs, 2018). The indictment of TEF by the Royal Statistics Society is still relevant (RSS, 2018). The chairman of the TEF panel is reported to have said “TEF was not supposed to be a “direct measure of teaching” but rather “a measure based on some [my italics] of the outcomes of teaching” On the continuum of neo-liberalism and collegiality, TEF is very close to the pole of neo-liberalism whereas student perspectives are nearer the pole of collegiality which embraces collaboration between staff and between staff and students. Collaboration will advance excellence in teaching: TEF will not. Collegiality has been shown to increase morale and reinforce academic values in staff and students (Bolden et al, 2012). Analyses of the underlying values of a metric are important because values shape policy, strategies and metrics. ‘Big data’ analysts need to consider ways of incorporating qualitative data. With regard to TEF policy and its metrics, the cautionary note attributed to Einstein is apposite: “Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that is counted counts.”
SRHE member George Brown was Head of an Education Department in a College of Education and Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology of Education in the University of Ulster before becoming Professor of Higher Education at the University of Nottingham. His 250 articles, reports and texts are mostly in Higher and Medical Education, with other work in primary and secondary education. He was senior author of Effective Teaching in Higher Education and Assessing Student Learning in Higher Education and co-founder of the British Education Research Journal, to which he was an early contributor and reviewer. He was the National Co-ordinator of Academic Staff Development for the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals (now Universities UK) and has served on SRHE Council.
Bolden, R et al (2012) Academic Leadership: changing conceptions, identities and experiences in UK higher education London: Leadership Foundation
Gibbs, G (2017) ‘Evidence does not support the rationale of the TEF’, Compass: Journal of Learning and Teaching, 10(2)
Royal Statistical Society (2018) Royal Statistical Society: Response to the teaching excellence and student outcomes framework, subject-level consultation