One for the archives

September 17, 2015

In his September speech to Universities UK, Jo Johnson reported (anecdotally) that some teaching was “lamentable” and he was “determined to address it”, but did not mention how (“Jo Johnson: research funding should be ‘simpler’”, 9 September). Nor in his July speech to UUK on the teaching excellence framework proposal could he say “exactly what the metrics are going to be”. I am sure that the civil servants from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills who will be helping him all conscientiously read their weekly Times Higher Education. But have they searched its archive and read what went wrong last time teaching assessment was attempted?

The first teaching quality assessments for individual subjects were carried out by the funding councils after the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. The assessments covered curriculum design and content; teaching, learning and assessment; student progression and achievement; student support and guidance; learning resources; and quality management and enhancement. From 1995, numerical scoring was introduced. Six out of six marks for each aspect gave a top score of 24 and most departments scored more than 20.

In 1997, the Dearing report expressed doubts. In the first months of 1999 it was reported that the TQAs, by then being run by the Quality Assurance Agency, had failed to pick up the looming failure of Thames Valley University; then that gamesmanship was becoming increasingly noticeable; then that concerns were emerging about judgements of higher education level teaching in further education colleges; then that higher education institutions were paying large sums for advice from those experienced in conducting assessments for the QAA. In September, the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals (now UUK) expressed concerns about including numerical ratings in any reformed system. By October, dons were reported as keen to sabotage the TQA. In January 2000, it was reported that out of 96 institutions responding, 83 per cent were not happy with the revised proposals. TQA came to an end in 2002, with a crisp THE assessment of what it had all been worth, published in August.

It’s a good read, minister.

G. R. Evans

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