As part of the subject-level teaching excellence framework, the Department for Education is consulting on whether to introduce a new measure of teaching intensity. One of the six options presented for consideration as part of the current consultation is a “gross teaching quotient” weighted by qualification/seniority of teacher. This would weigh contact time by qualification/seniority of the teacher as well as by class size. The idea of equating the seniority of staff with teaching quality has been ridiculed and criticised as a disservice to early career academic and doctoral students who teach.
However, considering the qualifications of those who teach as a proxy for teaching quality is not so easily dismissed. Drawing on years of research in Dimensions of Quality, Graham Gibbs concluded “that what best predicts education gain is measures of educational process: what institutions do with their resources to make the most of whatever students they have”. One of these is who undertakes the teaching. Teachers with teaching qualifications, he notes, have been found to be rated more highly by their students. Not only this, teaching qualifications (eg, postgraduate certificates in learning and teaching or academic practice) result in “improvements in the sophistication of teachers’ thinking” that predict the quality of student learning.
To meet the requirements of accreditation by the UK Professional Standards Framework, postgraduate courses in higher education (as well as accredited continuing professional development provision) include specific training in appropriate methods for teaching, learning and assessment and explorations of how students learn as well as the deployment of appropriate learning technologies.
They also learn how to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching. The result is “reflective practitioners” who are better able to, for example, devise an inclusive curriculum, to engage their students in their learning and to assess the impact and effectiveness of their pedagogy – processes known to promote student learning. Research undertaken, for example by the Higher Education Academy (now Advance HE), showed evidence of a positive relationship between the percentage of teaching staff who have gained HEA professional recognition and student engagement with their learning (as evidenced in the UK Engagement Survey results).
But why then consider teaching qualifications only in relation to “teaching intensity”?
It may be that those more familiar with course design, development and standards set more challenging and stimulating assessment tasks. This may indeed promote the development of greater “independence, knowledge, understanding and skills that reflect their full potential”, which the TEF acknowledges as key evidence of teaching quality under the banner of “rigour and stretch” (TEF year two specification).
As Gibbs concluded: “the number of class contact hours has very little to do with educational quality…What matters is the nature of the class contact.” Better qualified staff are likely to make more effective use of class contact time and independent study time than those without teaching or professional qualifications. But recognising staff qualifications solely in the context of a teaching-intensity measure is to underplay their contribution to the student learning experience as a whole.
Staff qualifications may (or may not) be of value in estimating teaching intensity, but they certainly impact on the student experience and deserve greater weighting in the overall assessment of teaching excellence. Professionally qualified teachers undoubtedly add to the rigour of higher education, and thereby contribute to the enhancement of the student outcomes.
Geoff Stoakes is head of special projects at Advance HE.