TEF means more work but not better teaching, union members say

Only one in 10 respondents to UCU survey welcomes introduction of UK’s teaching assessment

February 14, 2019
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The UK’s teaching excellence framework has led to increased staff workloads but has had a limited effect on improving teaching, according to a survey that confirms the assessment’s deep unpopularity.

In the survey of 6,337 members of the University and College Union, published on 14 February, 71 per cent of respondents said the TEF awards failed to recognise and reward teaching excellence. Only one in 10 respondents welcomed the introduction of the assessment, which is based on data on student satisfaction, retention and graduate employment, plus institutional submissions.

Qualitative data drawn from seminars and interviews found that many of the respondents feel that the introduction of the TEF has led to a higher workload for staff.

A strong theme that emerged “was how the TEF had created another layer of administrative bureaucracy, which had given rise to additional work streams, often with no additional resources to support this extra workload”, the report says.

One respondent said that concerns about National Student Survey scores – which feed into TEF ratings – had seen their institution enforce a 14-day turnaround deadline for marking. As a result, some staff were expected to mark 60 5,000-word essays in less than five days, a load the respondent described as being “very stressful”.

However, a large proportion of respondents – more than 80 per cent – said that they had no involvement in their institution’s TEF submission. Those who had something to do with the submission were most likely to work in senior management or professional services, the report says.

And twice as many respondents reported not being aware of changes in policies at their institution as a result of the TEF as being aware. While participants from post-92 institutions were more likely to report being aware of changes, compared with respondents from pre-92 universities, these changes were typically not linked to pedagogical practice and frequently related to monitoring and accountability. They included a steep rise in the use of learning analytics, increased programme evaluations, more performance management observations and standardisation of templates for assessment.

Matt O’Leary, professor of education at Birmingham City University and one of the authors of the report, said that many of the reasons why the assessment had been so unpopular reflected “that failure to engage with staff on what quality of teaching actually means and how to capture that”.

One thing the report showed, he continued, was that academics did welcome the TEF’s goal to shift the focus more evenly between teaching and research in higher education.

“However, what is clear is that staff feel that under the framework and the methodology, [the TEF] fails to address teaching in any meaningful way or to capture what we understand as the quality of teaching,” he said.

Professor O’Leary described the process of submitting TEF responses as being “detached from the chalkface”.

“There’s a sense that those staff with teaching experiences are not involved, they weren’t able to actually inform the narrative on the teaching that goes on at their institutions,” he said.

The UCU report follows the publication last month of a survey of 2,838 students commissioned by the Department for Education that found that two-thirds of applicants who had heard of the TEF mistakenly believed that the ratings it produced were based on Ofsted-style inspections of universities.

A spokeswoman for the Office for Students, which operates the TEF, said that the UCU’s findings “don’t reflect the results of other research carried out at higher education providers”.

The DfE research, which surveyed 195 providers, “found that on balance they were broadly positive towards the TEF and that in many cases it had already increased focus on teaching quality and student outcomes”.

A review of the TEF was ongoing, she added.

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (3)

I'm drafting the response to the consultation for the Council for Defence of British Universities, and can add that our members are similarly either disengaged or disillusioned with TEF. Personally, I don't think this can be fixed by revamping TEF: it was always a bad idea to introduce yet another ranking system into the sector; the problems it was designed to fix have much simpler solutions: see http://cdbu.org.uk/tef-an-ill-conceived-solution-to-a-wrongly-posed-problem/. There is one further point to note, which is that original linkage of TEF with fee-raising powers has damaged confidence of students in NSS, with many boycotting the survey. So one unintended consequence of TEF is that an instrument used to evaluate what students think of their courses is no longer reliable.
***A spokeswoman for the Office for Students, which operates the TEF, said that the UCU’s findings “don’t reflect the results of other research carried out at higher education providers”. The DfE research, which surveyed 195 providers, “found that on balance they were broadly positive towards the TEF and that in many cases it had already increased focus on teaching quality and student outcomes”.*** Well they would say that, would they not? These consultations or surveys of "providers" are meaningless as they are usually answered by the VCs metrics minions without a clue about teaching, research but who are great at BS and Excel. VCs and their mouthpiece UniversitiesUK are not fit for purpose, if that purpose is to represent the interests of UK academia and not just the interests of the ever growing managerial class and admin bureaucracy (the people who hang out at WONKHE). Their very jobs depend on that increase in auditing, monitoring and scoring initiated by and for not only the TEF (but also REF, accreditation agencies and the various questionable rankings including the ones peddled by THE). No wonder that they are "broadly positive" about it.
The Teaching Excellence Framework is nothing to do with teaching at all. It is just another complete waste of money and yet and more bureaucracy. It actually harms teaching by wasting lecturers time and swallowing up more resources and budgets. Some of the lowest quality institutions end up with gold and some of the best get silver/bronze - it is a complete joke.

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